How Much Should My Toddler Be Eating?

Baked white fish (with organic ketchup), whole wheat penne with nut-free spinach pesto, steamed baby carrots, and seedless watermelon

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about portion sizes and appropriate quantities. And while every child is different, here are a few guidelines when preparing your toddler’s dinner plate. Keep in mind that these suggestions are only meant as a loose framework.  It’s always better to look at the whole picture and let your child determine when s/he’s had enough rather than focus on amounts.

  • Unlike adults, toddlers’ appetites change from day to day–your child may eat almost nothing one day and be ravenous the next.
  • Start with small portion sizes (a child’s stomach is the size of a CHILD’s fist).
  • Stick to a meal and snack schedule—kids this age should be eating 3 meals and 1-2 snacks/day, i.e., 8am, 10:30am, 12pm, 3:30pm, 6pm.  Offer meals and snacks consistently throughout the day but try to avoid allowing them to snack all day. Try not to give them snacks within 60-90 minutes of meal time. If they seem starving, offer fruit and move meal time up 30 min that day.
  • An appropriate toddler serving size is about 1/4 to 1/2 an adult serving.
  • A good rule of thumb is 1 Tbsp of each food group/year (2 Tbsp. rice for a 2 year old, etc.). For a 1-2 year old this means ¼ cup fruits or vegetables (8 grapes, 1/4 apple), 1 oz pro (size of thumb); ¼ cup grains (1/2 slice bread).
  • Your child’s plate–and yours–should be 1/2 vegetables and fruit, 1/4 protein and 1/4 starch. (SEE PHOTO)
  • Do not get into the habit of making separate meals for your children and try to eat with them at least a few times/week.
  • When dining out, try not to order off the kids menu, which is always laden with unhealthy or fried options. Instead order a few dishes for the whole family to share.
  • Encourage your child to develop an appreciation for different types of foods–including sweets.
  • Offer your child dessert or treats a couple times a week but do not differentiate between fruit and yogurt and cookies and cake. And never use food as a reward (i.e., no ice cream until you finish your peas, etc.).
  • Everything is OK in moderation, but save sweets for parties and special occasions. (Try to limit to 2-3 servings/week TOPS.)
  • Let your kids call the shots! As a parent your job is to present your child with the food (hopefully a well-rounded and balanced meal) and allow them to determine what and how much they want to eat. Give them an age-appropriate serving of each food group (see above) and let them decide when they’ve had enough.