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Toddler Nutrition: Is Your Child Eating Enough?

Katlyn Joy |10, January 2012


Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. Worse yet, one week they may eat everything on a plate and the next they may turn up their noses at all but crackers with cheese. Or potatoes with gravy. Or strawberry yogurt.

Your child's pediatrician will probably ask you at checkups how your child is eating. The terrible thing is, you probably have no idea what to say. How do you know your child is eating enough and more importantly, eating enough of the right things?

Quick Check

1. Is your child gaining weight as expected?
2. Does your child seem active as other children his age?
3. Is your child healthy in general?
4. Has your child's growth pattern remained stable since infancy?

If you answered yes, then your child is probably eating just fine. However, good health habits can start and should start early.

Building Blocks

The basic nutritional requirements for a toddler include 500 milligrams of calcium, 7 milligrams of iron and around 1300 calories a day. A simple calculation for calories is 40 calories per inch of the child's height.

Calcium doesn't come from just milk, either. Calcium rich foods include fortified cereals or breads, dried beans and dark green vegetables.

Iron rich foods such as meats and iron-fortified cereals are best eaten with foods containing Vitamin C in order to aid the absorption of iron. Foods like strawberries, oranges, tomatoes and broccoli are good examples.

Children can become iron-deficient if they drink too much milk, which may surprise some well-meaning parents. Milk will fill up a toddler tummy and the child will be far less likely to eat iron-rich foods. To make sure your child has a good balance of foods, aim for a colorful and varied menu. Limit your toddler's milk intake to 16 to 24 ounces and only 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent juice each day.

Toddler Food Pyramid

  • 6 servings of grains
  • 3 servings of vegetables
  • 2 servings of fruits
  • 2 servings of milk and dairy
  • 2 servings of meat and protein

Sparingly add fats and sweets to a toddler diet

Common Toddler Diet Issues

- Not finishing what is on the plate. Disband the clean plate club. Forcing a child to eat beyond her hunger will mess up her natural ability to determine her hunger and when she is full. Instead offer your child a little of everything on the evening's menu with extra of the healthy favorites.

- Doesn't eat a balanced diet daily. Toddlers are finicky and fickle. Today they may eat every healthy meal you serve and tomorrow they may reject everything on the plate. You want to keep a big-picture perspective on how your child's eating.

- Eats from a tiny menu. Many toddlers have a small assortment of go-to foods. What you want to do is slowly build that menu up to a normal level during the toddler and preschool years.

5 Tips for Feeding Your Toddler

1. Offer new foods. Over and over. It takes an average of ten or more tens of trying a new food before your child's palate will find the new food edible. It's a common story of "Yuck, broccoli," to a few months later, "Yum, broccoli!"

2. Don't use food as either punishment or reward. Healthy eating is its own reward. Sending a child to bed without dinner, earning snacks or making a child eat a hated item as a consequence are all negative approaches to discipline that can derail good nutritional habits.

3. Let your child help prepare meals and snacks. A toddler enjoys mimicking adult behavior such as cooking and by including them in preparations, a child will be much more likely to try new things.

4. Model proper eating. Your child watches everything that you do, including how you eat. Be a good role model by watching your own diet carefully. Eliminate empty calories and junk food from your regular menu.

5. Have a supply of healthy snacks. Snacks can be a family diet downfall if you don't prepare by having healthy options on hand to grab in a rush. Have sliced fresh fruit, crackers with cheese, yogurt and granola or whole wheat tortillas with lean meat.

Related Articles

Healthy Eating is not a Discipline Issue

Healthy Eating Strategies for Toddlers

Quick and Easy Snacks For Your Toddler

Back Up Your Toddler's Diet With Vitamins

12 Ways to Increase Your Toddler's Fitness


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