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How Much Does A Toddler Need To Eat?

Girl Eating Apple
If you're a first time parent with a toddler there are some common questions that you might be asking yourself regarding their nutrition. How many calories does my toddler need? What foods should my toddler be eating? What determines they amount of food they eat? We're going to touch on all of these questions and provide some general guidelines per the USDA My Plate Plan. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines and your child's needs from day to day will vary depending on their activity level and whether or not they're going through a growth spurt. Experienced parents will tell you that there are going to be times when it's very hard to get your child to eat a full meal and there will be times when your child seems to be eating everything in site.
The USDA My Plate Plan shows your food group targets based on the daily recommended calorie intake. The recommended daily calorie intake takes into consideration your child's age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level. Once you know what your child's daily calorie intake should be you'll then know what the equivalent portion size should be. So determine the calorie intake first and then look at the recommended portion sizes for that calorie level.

- Calorie Intake
- Portion Size
- Tips and Considerations
- Our Final Take

Calorie Intake - How many calories does my toddler need?
The USDA recommendations below are based on the average height and weight for a child of that age. So if your child is significantly above or below what your pediatrician tells you is average for your child's age you may need to adjust the calories target up or down slightly.

Male and female 2 years of age the daily recommended calorie intake is 1,000.

Male
- 3 years of age with less than 30 minutes of moderate activity the daily recommended calorie intake is 1,200 calories.

- 3 years of age with at least 30 minutes of moderate activity the daily recommended calorie intake is 1,400 calories.

Female
- 3 years of age with less than 30 minutes of moderate activity the daily recommended calorie intake is 1,000 calories.

- 3 years of age with 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity the daily recommended calorie intake is 1,200 calories.

- 3 years of age with more than 60 minutes of moderate activity the daily recommended calorie intake is 1,400 calories.

Here's a calorie table summarizing the information above. Blue rows are for boys and pink rows are for girls.
AgeModerate Activity TimeCalories
2All1,000
3< 30 min.1,200
3> 30 min.1,400
2All1,000
3< 30 min.1,000
3between 30-60 min.1,200
3> 60 min.1,400
Portion Size - How much of each food group should my toddler be eating?
Now that you've determine how many calories your child needs each day its time to look at the recommended daily portion sizes. Regardless of the calorie intake level all of the plans consist of the same five major food groups including: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. Having a balanced diet is important because it means your toddler is getting all the nutrients they need. Making sure you cover all of the food groups will help ensure their diet is balanced. Let's take a closer look at the 1,000, 1,200 and 1,400 calorie plans to see how portion sizes vary.

The 1,000 calories per day plan consists of the following quantity recommendations that will help you gauge how much to give your toddler.

Fruits - 1 Cup
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of raw, frozen, or cooked/canned fruit
- 1/2 cup dried fruit
- 1 cup 100% fruit juice

Vegetables - 1 Cup
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of raw or cooked/canned vegetables
- 2 cups of leafy salad greens
- 1 cup of 100% vegetable juice

Grains - 3 Ounces
1 ounce from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
- 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal

Protein - 2 Ounces
1 ounce from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 ounce of cooked/canned lean means, poultry or seafood
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1/4 cup cooked beans or peas
- 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds

Dairy - 2 Cups
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 cup of yogurt
- 1 cup of fortified soy beverage
- 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese


The 1,200 calories per day plan consists of the following quantity recommendations that will help you gauge how much to give your toddler.

Fruits - 1 Cup
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of raw, frozen, or cooked/canned fruit
- 1/2 cup dried fruit
- 1 cup 100% fruit juice

Vegetables - 1 1/2 Cup
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of raw or cooked/canned vegetables
- 2 cups of leafy salad greens
- 1 cup of 100% vegetable juice

Grains - 4 Ounces
1 ounce from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
- 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal

Protein - 3 Ounces
1 ounce from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 ounce of cooked/canned lean means, poultry or seafood
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1/4 cup cooked beans or peas
- 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds

Dairy - 2 1/2 Cups
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 cup of yogurt
- 1 cup of fortified soy beverage
- 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese

The 1,400 calories per day plan consists of the following quantity recommendations that will help you gauge how much to give your toddler.

Fruits - 1 1/2 Cup
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of raw, frozen, or cooked/canned fruit
- 1/2 cup dried fruit
- 1 cup 100% fruit juice

Vegetables - 1 1/2 Cup
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of raw or cooked/canned vegetables
- 2 cups of leafy salad greens
- 1 cup of 100% vegetable juice

Grains - 5 Ounces
1 ounce from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
- 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal

Protein - 4 Ounces
1 ounce from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 ounce of cooked/canned lean means, poultry or seafood
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1/4 cup cooked beans or peas
- 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds

Dairy - 2 1/2 Cups
1 cup from the this group counts as one of the following:
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 cup of yogurt
- 1 cup of fortified soy beverage
- 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese
Tips and Considerations
Here are some tips and thing to consider for each of the five major food groups.

Fruits
- Getting toddlers to eat fruit is generally pretty easy due to their sweetness. Providing some variety of fruit might help keep them interested in eating it. Try mixing some frozen into their diet on hot summer days and throw some dried fruit into their diet when you're on the go. Make it fun.

- Go easy on the fruit juice which often is high in sugar content. Substituting whole fruit is generally healthier because there's less sugar per serving and the whole fruit has the added benefit of fiber.

Vegetables
- Although most vegetables are washed when they're farmed/processed make sure you wash them thoroughly before feeding them to your toddler. That will help reduce the chance of getting salmonella.

- If your toddler isn't a fan of vegetables he/she isn't alone. Many toddlers aren't big vegetable fans. Try sprinkling a little Parmesan cheese to make it more appealing to their pallet.

- There are some pastas on the market that are made with vegetables. This a sneaky way to get your toddler to eat more vegetables plus kids generally like the change in the color.

Grains
- If you're little one isn't a fan of bread you could try adding a little peanut butter to sweeten the deal. This will also give them some of their daily recommended protein. If your child is allergic to peanuts you could substitute it with some butter or jelly.

Protein
- If you want to introduce seafood, which contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids, into your toddler's diet you should limit their weekly intake to two meals of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. You should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish which generally contain high levels of mercury.

Dairy
- We noticed our first born often had an upset stomach after drinking milk. We tried switching to Lactaid which is milk plus an additional enzyme lactase. The lactase breaks down the lactose, which is naturally in the milk, into sugars. Fortunately this change worked and the upset stomach issue went away. If your little one is having stomach issues after drinking/eating something with lots of lactose (milk, buttermilk, goat milk, fat free dry milk, yogurt and ice cream) it might be due to a lactose intolerance. Try substituting the dairy product with something that reduces the lactose or doesn't have any it to begin with.
Our Final Take
In order to maintain your child's health it's important that they get their exercise, eat the proper amount of food and have a balanced diet that covers the five major food groups. It's important to remember that toddlers mimic what they see and hear. If they see you exercising and eating a balanced diet they're more inclined to do the same not only as a toddler but also later on in life.
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