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Growth slows somewhat during the toddler years, but nutrition remains a top priority. It’s also a time for parents to shift gears, leaving bottles behind and moving into a new era where kids will eat and drink more independently.

The toddler years are a time of transition, especially between 12-24 months, when they’re learning to eat table food and accepting new tastes and textures.

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How Much Food Do They Need?

Depending on their age, size, and activity level, toddlers need about 1,000-1,400 calories a day. Refer to the chart below to get an idea of how much your child should be eating and what kinds of foods would satisfy the requirements.

Use the chart as a guide, but trust your own judgment and a toddler’s cues to tell if he or she is satisfied and getting adequate nutrition. Nutrition is all about averages so don’t panic if you don’t hit every mark every day — just strive to provide a wide variety of nutrients in your child’s diet.

The amounts provided are based on the MyPlate food guide for the average 2- and 3-year-old. For kids between 12 and 24 months, the 2-year-old recommendations can serve as a guide, but during this year toddler diets are still in transition.

Talk with your doctor about specifics for your child. And younger toddlers may not be eating this much — at least at first. When a range of amounts is given, the higher amount applies to kids who are older, bigger, or more active and need more calories.

Food Group Daily Amount for 2-Year-Olds Daily Amount for 3-Year-Olds Help With Servings
Grains 3 ounces, half from whole-grain sources 4-5 ounces, half from whole-grain sources 1 ounce equals: 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal.
Vegetables 1 cup 1½ cups Use measuring cups to check amounts. Serve veggies that are soft, cut in small pieces, and well cooked to prevent choking.
Fruits 1 cup 1-1½ cups Use measuring cups to check amounts.
Milk 2 cups 2 cups 1 cup equals: 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
Meat & Beans 2 ounces 3-4 ounces 1 ounce equals: 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked dry beans, or 1 egg.

MILK MATTERS!

An important part of a toddler’s diet, milk provides calcium and vitamin D to help build strong bones. Toddlers should have 700 milligrams of calcium and 600 IU (International Units) of vitamin D (which aids in calcium absorption) a day. This calcium need is met if kids get the recommended two servings of dairy foods every day. But those servings provide less than half of the necessary vitamin D, so doctors often recommend vitamin D supplements. Your doctor will let you know if your toddler needs a supplement.

In general, kids ages 12 to 24 months old should drink whole milk to help provide the dietary fats they need for normal growth and brain development. Your doctor can help you decide which kind of milk to serve your toddler.