How Much Should a Toddler Eat?

Parents often wonder if their child is eating enough. They may take a bite or two of food before losing interest in the meal and moving on to more exciting pursuits, such as dropping the food on the floor or playing with a favorite toy. So, how can you know whether your child is getting the nutrition they need?

There are some general guidelines for feeding toddlers, although each child is unique, so these are guides, not rules. Children between 1-3 years old need approximately 40 calories for every inch of height. So, a child who measures 30 inches would need about 1200 calories per day. This amount may vary depending on your child’s build, activity level, and whether they are going through a growth spurt.

Rest assured that you do not need to keep tabs on how many calories your child is eating. Babies and toddlers are innately gifted at knowing how much to eat. You can let their appetite be your guide. They generally let you know when they are hungry and stop eating when they are satisfied. If only it were so simple with adults!

There is no need to worry about any one particular meal, or day, of eating. Instead you can look at the overall pattern of how your child eats over the course of the week to see whether they are getting a variety of nutritious foods. If your child is under the weather, they may have little appetite for a day or two. As long as they are staying hydrated, they typically make up for any calories lost once they feel better.

Toddler portions sizes often correspond to about 1 tablespoon for each year of age. So, for example, a 3-year-old would get 3 tablespoons of fruit, vegetables, protein and grains at each meal.

Here are what typical serving size guidelines for 1-3 year olds look like:

Grains — 6+ servings/day

Bread ½ slice

Cereal/Oatmeal/rice/pasta/noodles ¼ cup – ½ cup

Crackers 2-3

Vegetables — 3+ servings/day

Cooked ¼ cup – 1/3 cup

Raw 2-3 pieces

Fruit — 2 servings/day

Fresh or canned ¼ - 1/3 cup or 2-3 pieces fresh

100% juice ½ cup or 4 ounces

Meats, Poultry, Fish, Eggs & Beans — 2 servings/day

Lean meat, fish, poultry or canned tuna 2-3 tablespoons or 1-2 ounces chopped

Eggs 1

Cooked beans and peas 1-3 tablespoons

Dairy — 3 servings/day

Milk 4 ounces

Yogurt, Cottage Cheese ½ cup

Cheese ½ ounce

A typical day for a two year old might look something like this:

7am breakfast -
1/2 slice of whole grain toast, 1 egg, 2 ounces of orange juice mixed with water

9:30am -
morning snack - 1/3 dry cereal and water

12pm lunch -
2-3 tablespoons of macaroni and cheese, 2-3 tablespoons of green beans, 1/4 of a banana, 1/2 cup of milk

3pm afternoon snack -
1/4 cups of soft cooked carrots, 1/2 slice of bread and water

5:30pm dinner -
2-3 tablespoons of chopped chicken, 2 tablespoons of rice, 2-3 tablespoons of broccoli, 1/2 cup of milk

7 pm evening snack -
2 or 3 apple slices and 1/2 cup of milk

Source: American Dietetic Association Manual of Clinical Dietetics, Vermont WIC Program, and The American Academy of Pediatrics