Healthy Foods for Toddlers

My youngest child is 2 years old and is a feisty toddler. One thing’s for sure—food is her friend. It wasn’t so easy with my older two, they were pickier eaters. Here are healthy eating guidelines for toddlers and some hints for feeding your finicky toddler.

This time around knowing what to feed my toddler is much easier. I know what foods to wait on, the ones to avoid and appropriate portion sizes. But figuring it all out took time, experience and a whole lot of patience (I've had practice with two kids already). If you're confused on what to feed your little one, keep these basics in mind.

Nutrition Guidelines

Your toddler should eat a variety of foods, just in smaller portions than what you might eat. Young children have smaller stomachs and can’t hold nearly as much food as adults, so feeding them three small meals and two to three snacks daily is key. You don't want to overdo it. Here are some daily serving sizes to keep in mind:

  • Milk and yogurt: 2 cups
  • Meat, fish, poultry, peanut butter, beans: 2 ounces
  • Veggies: 1 cup
  • Fruits: 1 cup
  • Grains: 3 servings (a typical serving of rice and pasta is a half cup)
  • Fats and Oils: 3 teaspoons

Besides sticking to those portion sizes, it’s also important that your toddler go outside and run around for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day. No doubt you're tired after a long day of work and want to collapse in front of the TV, but you need to muster up the energy for some playtime.

You'll find more info about your toddler's needs at the USDA site.

Foods to Avoid

Even though your baby is growing up, you still need to be mindful of possible choking hazards and food allergies. I still halve grapes for my 4-year-old daughter and my 2-year-old daughter gets them quartered. There are several hazardous foods; here are some to be mindful of:

  • Hot dogs: take the skin off and cut it into teeny pieces
  • Peanut butter: it can stick in their throat, so make sure to wash it down with some milk or water.
  • Popcorn
  • Hard candies and lollipops
  • Large chunks of fruits or veggies: make sure to slice into very small pieces
  • Nuts

If your family has a history of a particular food allergy, avoid that food until your child is two or three years old (make sure your toddler tries the questionable food when a doctor is present). Foods that often cause allergic reactions include:

Sometimes allergies will show up during the toddler years. So be mindful of any food reactions (hives, trouble breathing, itching) and see a doctor for proper testing if you suspect your child may be allergic.

A Typical Day

So all that's good to know, but how does that translate to every day? To get a better sense, here is what my youngest daughter might eat throughout a day:

Breakfast (7:30 am):
1 scrambled egg made with non-stick cooking spray
1 slice of raisin bread with 1 pat of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of skim milk
Snack #1 (10:30 am):
A peach
Lunch (12:30 pm):
1/2 cup spaghetti
1/4 cup meat sauce
A few broccoli floret’s chopped
Glass of water
Snack #2 (3:00 pm):
4-ounce kids' yogurt
A small handful of animal crackers
2 tablespoons of raisins
Dinner (5:30 pm):
1 chicken drumstick
1/4 cup Israeli couscous
Sliced cucumbers
A cup of water
Snack #3 (7:30 pm):
3/4 cup skim milk with 2 teaspoons chocolate syrup

1/4 cup unsalted pretzels and 1 tablespoon of cream cheese for dipping

In all my research, I've come across some good books about picking the right foods for kid. One of my favorite authors is Ellyn Satter. I highly recommend these books by her:

Coming Soon: I'm sure some have questions on how much juice you should let your toddler should drink or what to do if they won't eat their veggies. Stay tuned for more posts covering those specifics.

    Read More:
Keep Reading

Next Up

Toddler-Friendly Finger Foods

Cookies, chips and crackers are easy default kids' snacks, but they're not the healthiest. Stock your pantry with these toddler-friendly foods instead.

Celebs' Favorite Healthy Foods

What healthy foods are the stars noshing on these days? Here’s an inside look at what’s hot in celebrity kitchens.

Healthiest Fast Food Breakfasts

Check out these healthy breakfast options from your favorite chains.

Robin's Healthy Take: Healthy Food Pairings

Sometimes your favorite foods taste better together. Robin Miller's salad recipes pair unusual foods together and the result is unforgettable (and delicious!).

On TV

Food Network Apps

In the Kitchen

Get over 70,000 FN recipes on all your mobile devices.

Facebook Messenger

Ask our bot for recipes, meal ideas and daily food trivia.

Amazon Echo

Just say "Alexa, enable Food Network skill" to get started.