Q&A: Toddler Nutrition

Q: How much is my ~18 month old supposed to eat? She generally likes food and has been gaining weight appropriately, but what amount is normal for a toddler to eat? I feel like some days or at some meals what she eats can’t be enough. I know portion sizes for myself but not for her.


A: Since I’m also feeding a toddler, I can relate to your dilemma. LIttle ones can be such bipolar eaters – eating the house down one day and refusing most food the next. It can be very challenging for parents to predict how meals will go.

The good news is that you are doing the right thing. The best way to feed a child is to set specific meal times and to provide a variety of foods. The child can then determine what and how much to eat. I know this can be difficult, but since your daughter is growing and gaining weight, you don’t need to worry.

Children are much better at following their hunger and satiety signals than adults are. They eat as much as they need and then stop. Their energy needs fluctuate based on how active they are or how much they are growing, so how much they need to eat varies frequently, too. While it might not seem like enough to us or be much less than the day or meal before, it is likely the right amount.

I know that is a very nebulous answer. To help, I can give you some general guidelines of how much toddlers need. These amounts are from choosemyplate.gov and are based on a diet for a two-year old. Your little one will be growing into this meal plan, so she may not get all of this every day.

Grains: 3 ounces (1 ounce is 1 slice of bread, 1 cup cereal, or ½ cup pasta or rice)

Vegetables: 1 cup (2 cups of leafy greens count as 1 cup vegetables)

Fruits: 1 cup (½ cup dried fruit is equivalent to 1 cup fresh fruit)

Dairy: 2 cups (1 cup yogurt, 1½ ounces cheese, or 2 cups cottage cheese also count as 1 cup)

Protein Foods: 2 ounces (1 ounce is 1 ounce of meat, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce nuts)

I hope that helps. Good luck and best wishes for happy meal times!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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