Food Chart, Meal Ideas & Serving Sizes

Your child walks, climbs, runs and “talks” non-stop now. These developmental milestones mean that their nutritional needs have also changed.

Welcome to toddler territory. Armed with basic know-how, you will discover how best to feed your child up to 3 years old.

Feeding toddlers: how much to serve?

It’s ironic: due to slower growth, toddlers, who are much more active than infants, have lower caloric needs, pound for pound. This does not diminish the importance of good nutrition, but it does present some challenges.

Toddlers need 1,000 to 1,400 calories a day, depending on their age, size, and level of physical activity (most are considered active). The amount of food a toddler needs from each of the food groups is based on their daily caloric needs.

In addition to choices from each of the food groups, toddlers need the equivalent of 3 to 4 teaspoons of healthy oils, such as canola oil and tub margarine.

Toddler Feeding Chart

food group

daily servings,

12-24 months

daily servings,

24-36 months




3, at least half from whole grains

5, at least half from whole grains

1 slice of whole grain bread; 1 mini bagel; 1/2 cup cooked pasta, rice or cereal; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal



1 1/2

1 small apple; 1 cup sliced ​​or cubed fruit; 1 large banana



1 1/2

1 cup pureed or finely chopped cooked vegetables, including legumes (chickpeas, black beans, etc.)




1 boiled egg; 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry, or seafood; 1 tablespoon of nut butter; 1/4 cup cooked legumes




1 cup of milk or yogurt; 2 ounces of processed American cheese; 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese, such as cheddar (low fat for ages 2 and up)

Feeding Toddlers: Signs Your Toddler Is Ready To Feed Themselves

Every day, toddlers improve their motor skills, including at the table. According to pediatrician Tanya Remer Altman, MD, author of mom is calling.

Children begin to develop the pinch grip around 9 months, at the same time they are ready for a lidded sippy cup or straw cup filled with formula or breastmilk.

Many toddlers can feed themselves an entire meal by age one, while other toddlers may need help until around 18 months, Altman tells WebMD.

“After the age of 2, most toddlers can use a regular cup without a lid without spilling it, but if they like a straw cup or a sippy cup, it’s okay to that,” Altman says.

Once a child discovers that they can put food in their own mouth, they may not want you to help them as much.

According to Elisa Zied, MS, RD, author of Feed your family well! and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

“Self-feeding is an important developmental skill that parents need to nurture,” says Zied.

Allow children to feed themselves as much as they can and want, advises Altman, but if they aren’t getting enough food, you can help them too.

Feeding Toddlers: Milk and Other Dairy Products for Toddlers

Dairy products, especially milk, are rich in calcium and vitamin D. However, there is no rush to serve infant milk.

“Wait until his first birthday to give him cow’s milk,” says Zied.

The reason? Unlike fortified infant formulas, cow’s milk is low in iron and can lead to iron deficiency which affects a child’s thinking ability, energy levels and growth. Breast milk is low in iron, but iron is well absorbed by the child’s body.

Most toddlers begin by eating high-fat dairy products for the calories, fat, and cholesterol needed for growth and development. In some cases, your pediatrician or dietitian may recommend 2% fat milk, so ask what is right for your child.

By age 2, most toddlers can begin the transition to lower fat milk products, such as 2% low fat milk or 1% low fat milk. %, says Zied.

Milk is especially beneficial because it provides vitamin D. Children of all ages need 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Toddlers need 16 ounces of milk or another calcium-containing product every daytime. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, however.

Like any drink, filling up on milk leaves less room for foods, including iron-rich choices like lean beef, chicken, and pork.

Feeding toddlers: how much juice?

Strictly speaking, kids don’t need juice. The AAP recommends limiting fruit juice consumption to 6 ounces per day or less until age 6.

“It’s best to get your child used to the taste of water rather than juice at a young age,” Altman says.

It’s not that fruit juices are bad. It is an important source of several vitamins and minerals that fuel growth, including vitamin C. Fortified juices also offer additional nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D.

The problem is that drinking [fruit] the juice, even diluted, can give kids a taste for sweets, Altman says. Drinking fruit juice at a young age may encourage consumption of the “liquid calories” that some experts consider a contributing factor to childhood obesity. And excessive consumption of fruit juice can cause cavities.

Altman suggests sticking to whole fruit for toddlers. “I don’t know many toddlers who don’t like fruit,” she says.

Feeding Toddlers: What About Multivitamins?

A multivitamin/multimineral (multi) supplement designed for toddlers won’t hurt and may even help a child’s diet, Zied tells WebMD. Opt for a liquid formulation until age 2 and then discuss a chewable tablet with your pediatrician.

“Toddlers are erratic eaters, and some can go days or even weeks missing one or more nutrients,” she says.

Food supplements offer some insurance against a toddler’s unpredictable diet, but they are only supplements, not substitutes for a balanced diet. Multis are lacking in many nutrients that toddlers need every day, including calcium.

Multis with vitamin D can be helpful if your toddler is not getting the recommended 400 IU of vitamin D per day.

The body makes vitamin D; its production is initiated in the skin by strong sunlight. Living in a northern climate increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency in both children and adults, a compelling case for vitamin D supplementation.

Few foods other than milk are good sources of vitamin D. Here are a few:

  • Cereals, ready to eat, fortified: 40-60 IU for 3/4 to 1 cup.
  • Fortified orange juice: 50 IU for 4 oz.
  • Whole eggs (yolk): 20 to 40 IU for a large one.

Feeding toddlers: how much salt?

Zied and Altman agree: children should get used to the natural flavors of food, rather than a salty taste, from an early age.

But it may come as a surprise that the salt shaker is a minor source of sodium in the American diet.

Processed foods, including toddler favorites like hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets, provide 75% of the sodium we eat.

Too much dietary sodium has been linked to high blood pressure in adults. Research suggests that lower sodium intake during childhood may reduce the risk of high blood pressure as you age.

While it’s a good idea to skip the salt shaker, it’s even better to cook from scratch whenever possible. “Limit processed foods and season foods with herbs and spices to reduce salt in your family’s diet,” advises Zied.

Feeding toddlers: how much sugar?

It is not possible to completely escape sugar. Natural sugars are found in some of the most nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables and milk.

But a bigger concern is the overall quality of the food. Whole foods have many nutrients to offer. Processed, sugary foods — such as candies, cakes, and cookies — are often high in fat and lacking in other nutrients. Added sugar is also found in healthier choices, such as breakfast cereals, yogurt and snack bars.

Zied says older children get more than 25% of their calories from sugar, far too many to ensure nutritional adequacy.

“In general, sugary foods are okay in small doses,” says Zied.

“She suggests avoiding carbonated drinks and limiting fruit juice intake, as well as serving more fruits and vegetables with each meal you give your toddler.”

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