child_nutritionWhen I was a new mom, especially with my first, I had so many questions.  What was I doing?  Was I doing the right things?  Toddlers develop curiosity about food and master new eating skills as they grow. Certain foods are more appropriate at certain ages, and every child has unique dietary needs (and preferences).  The eating habits you teach your children at a very young age inevitably set the stage as to how they approach meals as they grow up.  This is so important given the scary stats out there regarding childhood obesity and diabetes.  My kids are now kindergarten, elementary and middle school age and meals and snacks are something I take very seriously.  Am I stricter than the mom down the street when it comes to snacks, juices, and desserts?  Probably yes… my kids would say “definitely yes!!”  But they do know that my goal is to create healthy eating habits and educate them on what foods are good for them and to identify ALL the bad stuff out there.  My trick is to ask my kids one question; “Does the color of that food come from nature?”  For example, do those yummy florescent orange cheese snacks come from nature?  My kids know about artificial dyes and colors (for another post) and we do our best to stay as close to ‘nature’ as possible.

To make sure your child gets enough of all the right stuff, see these tips for healthy snacks and meals, and follow the guidelines below.

Nutrition for toddlers

Where should those building-block calories come from? Ideally from a diet rich in grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and lean meat.  Here’s a quick overview of what your child needs every day from each food group. These are estimates, and your child may need more or less depending on how active he/she is or whether you’re still breastfeeding.   Your pediatrician can answer any questions you have about your child’s diet.


Grains come in two types – whole grains and refined grains. Products made from whole grains contain the entire grain kernel and have more fiber, iron, and B vitamins than refined grains. Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour and bread, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta.

Refined grains have been processed to give them a finer texture and a longer shelf life. Refined grain products include white flour and bread, white rice, and most kinds of pasta.  Try to stay away from these.

Some foods are made from both whole grains and refined grains.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends getting at least half of your grains from whole grains.

How much toddlers need daily: At least 1 1/2 ounce equivalents of grain.

How much is in an ounce of grains: An ounce of grains equals one slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked pasta or cooked cereal.

Examples of the daily requirement:

  • 1/2 cup of cereal for breakfast, one slice of bread for lunch.
  • 1/2 cup (one packet instant) oatmeal for breakfast, three whole wheat crackers for snack.
  • One 3-inch pancake for breakfast, one slice of bread for lunch.


Over the course of a week, try to serve your child lots of different-colored vegetables – dark green broccoli, light green beans, orange carrots, red tomatoes, and so on. That way you’ll be sure he/she is getting all the nutrients each vegetable has to offer.

How much toddlers need daily: 2 to 3 tablespoons.

Examples of the daily requirement:

  • 1 tablespoon cooked chopped broccoli trees for lunch, 1 or 2 tablespoons cooked beets mashed or chopped into small pieces for dinner.
  • 1/4 cup carrot juice for lunch or snack, 1 tablespoon mashed potato for dinner.
  • Two or three sweet potato fries for lunch, 1 tablespoon mashed peas for dinner.



Frozen and canned fruit is just as healthy as fresh fruit as long as it’s packed in water or juice with no added sugar or syrup. Choose fruit over fruit juice because it contains fiber that juice doesn’t have. Plus, juice often has added sugar.

How much toddlers need daily: 1/2 to 3/4 cup.

How much is in a cup of fruit: A cup of fruit equals 1 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit; 1/2 cup dried fruit; 1/2 of a large apple; one 8- or 9-inch banana; and one medium (4-inch diameter) grapefruit.

Examples of the daily requirement:

  • 1/4 cup applesauce for snack, half a banana (cut up or mashed) for lunch.
  • 1/4 cup grapes (cut in quarters) for a snack and four large strawberries (cut into 1/2-inch pieces) for dessert
  • 1/4 cup chopped apple for breakfast, one 4-ounce snack container of drained, chopped peaches (in water or juice) for snack or dessert.



If your child is no longer breastfeeding after his/her first birthday, he/she will need cow’s milk or other dairy products to help get enough calcium and protein. Children younger than 2 need to stick to full-fat dairy products. After their second birthday, children can begin switching to low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

How much toddlers need daily: About 1 to 1 1/2 cups.

How much is in a cup of dairy: A cup of dairy can be 1 cup milk, yogurt, or soy/almond milk; 1 1/2 ounces, two slices, or 1/3 cup shredded hard cheese such as cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, or Parmesan; 2 ounces processed (American) cheese; 1/2 cup ricotta cheese; 2 cups cottage cheese; 1 cup pudding made with milk; or 1 1/2 cups ice cream.

Examples of the daily requirement:

  • 1/2 cup whole milk for breakfast, one slice of cheddar cheese for lunch, 1/2 cup whole milk for dinner.
  • 1/2 cup whole milk for breakfast, 1/2 cup yogurt for lunch or snack, 1/2 cup whole milk for dinner.

1/2 cup whole milk for breakfast, 1/2 cup yogurt for lunch, 1/2 cup ice cream for dessert.



Meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, and nuts and seeds are all protein foods. (Beans and peas are also part of the vegetable food group.) Unless you’re raising a vegetarian child, try to serve seafood at least twice a week.

How much toddlers need daily: About two ounce equivalents.

How much is in an ounce of protein: An ounce of meat, fish, or poultry; one egg; 1 tablespoon of nut butter; 1/4 cup of cooked beans; and 1/8 cup of tofu all equal one ounce equivalent of protein.

Examples of the daily requirement:

  • One egg for breakfast, 1/4 cup cooked, mashed black beans for dinner.
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter (spread thinly on bread or crackers) for lunch, 1 ounce tuna for dinner.
  • One slice turkey for lunch, 1/4 cup cooked lentils for dinner.


Good luck.  Its always a process of trial and error.  Don’t beat yourself up if you are truly trying.  My kids are pretty good eaters but we still struggle in many areas… especially the greens!  Just make sure greens are on the plate – every day!!