While there are many opinions in parenting, but one we can all agree on is feeding a toddler is tough! Between the ages of one and three, our littles start to experience the world in a whole new way. Before the world was coming to them, but now they are able to go get that exciting world! It’s an amazing time! However, with newfound freedom, come some challenging behaviors. During this stage of development there are also significant changes when it comes to eating.
Your Toddler’s Eating Habits
Up until age one, many kids will eat anything placed in front of them. Then around 11-months of age children become more tentative about trying new foods, eating only a few bites at a meal, and other times eating more than you dish out. There are some very good guideposts created by Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter, who is the expert in child feeding practices. To avoid stressful meal times while fostering a healthy feeding relationship, she suggested the following:
- Take the focus off what your child eats and focus on how your child feels and behaves at family meal times
- Have predictable meals and eat with your child (as much as possible) – don’t just feed your child, offer a sit-down snack between meals and enjoy a meal together
- When offering new foods, pair them with familiar foods to ease the transition
- Let them eat their way – fork or fingers, fast or slow, much or little. Don’t create many rules around food (i.e.: they must finish one food before they have a second helping of another food)
- Say no when they beg for food or drinks between meal/snack times (except for water) (1)
How Much Per-Day: Toddler Servings
One thing parents are constantly concerned about is: “Are they eating enough?” When kids start eating real foods off real plates, we can expect them to also eat adult-sized portions. Here’s a quick run-down of the total amount of each food group a toddler should eat in a day:
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups milk, or 1 cup yogurt, or 1 to 1-1/2 ounces cheese
- 3 ounces grains, at least half whole grains (1 ounce = 1 cup cold cereal, ½ cup pasta, ½ cup rice, 1 slice bread)
- 1 cup fruit
- 1 cup vegetables
- 2-ounce protein (1 ounce = 1 slice sandwich meat, approximately 1/3 of a chicken breast, ¼ can tuna)
Easy Toddler Dinner Ideas
Now you know how to feed your child, let’s look at what to make for dinner! Ideally your toddler will eat the same foods you make for the rest of the family. You may have to make a few changes so the foods are more approachable for the child. For example, the taco salad listed below will have all the ingredients separated for the toddler, while the adults would have the meal served more traditionally with everything mixed. There are also quick, assemble-and-serve meals for those hectic evenings.
Snack Attack: When you are short on time, but still want to enjoy a meal together create a plate with whole grain crackers, sliced cheese, raw veggies (cucumbers, snap peas, and carrots tend to go over well), sliced fruit, and sliced meat. Place them on a large plate and allow your toddler to choose the food they want.
Hummus Sandwiches: Use pita bread or smaller pieces of bread and allow your toddler to dip into hummus. If they have never tried hummus before, pair with a familiar fruit or vegetable.
Taco Salad: This one is great for the whole family. Place taco meat, beans, salsa, and cheese over lettuce. Keep the ingredients separate for the child and combine ingredients for the rest of the family.
Grilled Cheese: Take your grilled cheese skills up a notch by adding thinly sliced meat (deli meat or sliced chicken) and tomato slices to your whole grain bread. Serve with a side of raw or cooked veggies.
Pizza: This can be a fun one to create with your toddler, if you can tolerate the mess in the kitchen! Using a whole-grain, thin pizza crust, add a variety of veggies and top with cheese. Or puree spinach and mix it in with the pizza sauce. Slice up strawberries to round out the meal.