Toddler & Parents








Characteristics of the Toddler

Feeding The Toddler

Appropriate Foods and Amounts

Guide for Appropriate Serving Sizes



Appropriate Foods and Amounts for Toddlers

All toddlers vary from day to day and from week to week in their energy requirements. This means that they may eat very little food one day and a very large amount of food the next day. This is perfectly normal. Their food likes and dislikes may also change rapidly. The best advice for parents: offer a variety of healthy foods and allow for flexibility in the amount eaten. Observe the "Division of Responsibility in Feeding Children".

Toddlers are continuing to gain skills in chewing, swallowing and using utensils. Get to know your child's skill level and offer foods that are easy for him to chew and swallow. Slowly introduce foods that are more difficult to chew. Let him dictate the speed at which he is ready to advance in difficulty. Remember that gagging is OK - it is learning how not to choke. Parents who withhold difficult foods for fear of choking often have children who never learn how not to choke. Continue to avoid major choking hazards such as nuts, peanut butter, popcorn, whole grapes, and hard candy until after age 3. Plan for a certain amount of messiness; don't scold a toddler for being messy - that is how they are.

Emerging evidence indicates that the incidence of severe peanut allergy is on the rise. In light of this information, it is a good idea to withhold peanut butter and all peanut containing products until after a child's third birthday.

Toddlers like food in small pieces that are easy to pick up. Serve small cut up fruits, cooked vegetables and meats. Use large and interesting shaped noodles. Serve bite size pancakes, waffle or toast sticks, cheese cubes, pear wedges. Help your child learn to use utensils when they are fresh and alert. Expecting a tired two year old to learn to use a fork properly after playing all day is too much. Offer easy to pick up finger foods when they are tired. Plan family meals to include the toddler - with a few minor modifications most adult foods can fit into a toddler's skill level. Leave off fancy sauces, cut foods into small bits, offer something to dip the food into, and offer very small portions of new foods. Offer soft cooked meats, prepared using braising, stewing or sautéing rather than broiling or grilling.

Don't expect a toddler to like a new food the very first time it is offered. Ask her to taste, but don't expect her to swallow. It may take many introductions to the food before it becomes an accepted item. Don't despair - she will eventually eat a wide variety of foods if she sees the important people in her life eating a variety of foods.

Skim or 1% milk should be introduced after the child's second birthday. This is a great time to begin lifelong healthy eating habits. Limit the amount of juice to one 4 ounce serving daily. Juice is not a nutrient dense food, and it will add calories without adding significant nutrition to a toddler's diet. Many children get into feeding difficulties because they fill up on juice and don't have any appetite left for nutritious and fiber rich whole foods.

A very general rule of thumb for the minimum amount of food needed by a toddler at a meal is one measuring tablespoon of each food per year of age. For example, a 2 year old would need 2 tablespoons of meat, 2 tablespoons of rice, 2 tablespoons of broccoli and 2 tablespoons of applesauce to meet her minimum needs. Do not restrict a child to this amount, but use this knowledge to understand that a toddler can get by on very little food. It is perfectly normal for a toddler to be very hungry one day or one week and not at all hungry the next.

Toddlers love exploring their world. Give your toddler freedom to explore food and eating within the framework of clear limits. Make eating social, relaxing and enjoyable and you will set the stage for great eating habits in the years to come.

Here is a guide for appropriate serving sizes for toddlers and preschoolers: