What should your toddler eat in a day?

13 Sep 2019

Toddlers are in a stage where they are growing and developing quickly, so it is important to make sure they are eating well in order to to get all the nutrients they need to function optimally. This is also a great time for children to learn more about food and eating. Encouraging and helping your child to eat a balanced, varied diet now will set them up with healthy eating habits for life.

 

Young children need the same variety of nutrient-rich foods as older children and adults, just in smaller quantities. Sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what and how much toddlers should be eating, so below are our recommended guidelines. Remember, children are influenced by the choices their parents’ make – so it is important to eat healthy and varied meals with your children and to be a positive role model.

 


How many serves of each food group?



Each day, toddlers need three main meals plus snacks from the five food groups to ensure they are eating a well-balanced diet.

 

Children aged 1-2 years

  • Fruit: ½ serve/day

  • Vegetables: 2 - 3 serves/day

  • Grain foods: 4 serves/day

  • Meat & alternatives: 1 serve/day

  • Dairy & alternatives: 1 ½ serves/day

Children aged 2-3 years

  • Fruit: 1 serve/day

  • Vegetables: 2 ½ serves/day

  • Grain foods: 4 serves/day

  • Meat & alternatives: 1 serve/day

  • Dairy & alternatives: 1 ½ serves/day

What does a serve look like?

 


Vegetables


Vegetables are a really important part of the diet as they are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Whilst vegetables may seem an obvious component of a healthy diet, the prevalence of vegetable consumption amongst children in Australia is particularly low. It is important to encourage a child to eat a variety of vegetables every day. Some children may initially reject particular vegetables, but it is important to persevere. Remember you can serve vegetables in a variety of ways to encourage your child to eat them. Try serving vegetables raw, baked, steamed, mashed, grated and diced.

 

Each of the following is one serve of vegetables:

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, beans, carrot and pumpkin)

  • 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables

  • ½ medium potato

  • ½ cup corn

  • 1 medium tomato

Fruit


Fruit is rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, and is often enjoyed by toddlers due to its natural sweetness. It might be useful to think about the colours of fruit you offer your child and try to offer a rainbow of options.

 

Each of the following is one serve of fruit:

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear

  • 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums

  • 1 cup diced or canned fruit

  • 1 ½ tablespoons sultanas

  • ½ cup fruit juice (no added sugar)

Grain Foods


Grain foods are essential for optimal energy, brain functioning and to provide fibre to support a healthy gut. Toddlers tend to love grain foods like pasta, rice and bread, so the key is to ensure they are not over consuming them - particularly as this can often mean that they won’t have room for the other parts of their healthy meal! It’s important to eat these foods alongside protein and vegetables to ensure a balanced meal. We also recommend aiming for at least 50% of the grains in your child’s diet to come from wholegrains.

 

Each of the following is one serve of grain foods:

  • 1 slice bread

  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, quinoa or noodles

  • ½ cup cooked porridge

  • ¼ cup muesli

  • 1 English muffin

Meat & Alternatives 


These foods are rich in protein and iron, which is essential for a number of important functions including growth, brain development and healthy bones. In addition, oily fish (e.g. salmon, trout and mackerel) is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and a dietary source of vitamin D.

 

Each of the following is one serve of protein:

  • 65g cooked beef, lamb, pork

  • 80g chicken or turkey

  • 100g fish

  • 1 small can of fish

  • 2 eggs

  • 170g tofu

  • 30g nuts or seeds

Dairy Foods


Dairy foods provide the body with easily absorbed calcium as well as vitamins A and B12, protein and other vitamins and minerals. There are a lot of unsubstantiated ‘warnings’ written about the dangers of cow’s milk and milk products. The truth, from a nutritional point of view, is that milk is a healthy food to include in your child’s diet. Saying that, if for whatever reason you choose not to serve your child milk, you are able to get these nutrients from other non-dairy supplements.

 

Each of the following is one serve of dairy:

  • 1 cup milk

  • 2 slices hard cheese

  • ½ cup ricotta

  • ¾ cup yoghurt

What to drink?


Water is the drink of choice for toddlers to ensure they are well hydrated. It is also a great option because it does not contribute to tooth decay. Active children become dehydrated more easily than adults, so it is important to ensure your toddler is well hydrated by offering them water regularly throughout the day.

Milk is also an important component of your toddler’s diet, particularly due to its rich calcium content to support strong bones. In addition to water, aim to provide your toddler with 500-600mL of cows or toddler milk per day.

Cordial, fruit drinks and smoothies are all high sugar, high calorie drinks and not recommended for small children.