Picky Eating: How Much Should My Toddler Be Eating?

My toddler doesn't seem to eat enough compared to the rest of the family and I'm worried that his nutritional needs aren't being met. How can I encourage him to eat more?


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Toddlers eat little relative to parental expectations. You need to remember that a serving size for them is only one-fourth to one-third of an adult serving size. That means one-fourth of a piece of toast is likely to fill them up -- not the whole slice! Be sure that your expectation about how much food your child needs is reasonable. Then focus on serving him foods that are healthy so you can feel secure that he's getting all the nutrients he needs. Everything he eats should count toward his daily nutritional requirement. Once you provide him with healthy foods, leave it to him to get the right amount of calories. Left to their own devices, kids will eat what they need.

To help you get a better sense of your child's nutritional needs, check out these daily requirements. On average, a one-year-old needs the following:

• 6 servings of grains (one serving = 1/4 slice bread, 1/4 muffin, 2 crackers, 1/4 cup dry cereal, 1/4 cup hot cereal)
• 1 serving of a vitamin-C-rich fruit or veggie (one serving = 1/3 cup juice, 1/4 cup chopped fruit or veggie)
• 1 serving green or orange fruit or veggie for vitamin A (one serving = 1/4 to 1/3 cup juice, 1/4 cup chopped fruit/veggie)
• 3 or more servings of other fruits or vegetables, including potatoes (1 serving = 1/4 of a whole fruit/veggie, 1/4 cup chopped, raw or cooked)
• 3 servings of milk, yogurt or cheese (one serving = 1/2 cup milk/yogurt, 1/2 ounce cheese)
• 2 servings of protein (one serving = 1+ tablespoon chopped meat, fish or poultry, 1 egg)

If your child prefers finger foods, try serving him some of these foods in manageable finger-food portions.

1/4 chopped banana
1/4 cup baby cereal or 1/4 cup iron-fortified Cheerios
1/2 cup milk

2 crackers
1/3 cup juice

1 tablespoon chopped cooked ground beef, maybe in "meat loaf sticks" for easy handling
1 to 2 tablespoons cooked chopped carrots
1/4 homemade whole-grain pumpkin muffin
1/2 cup yogurt mixed with applesauce or soft grated cheese (for finger food)

Cheese (1/2 ounce) and soft, ripe fruit such as papaya

Small pasta shapes, cooked al dente
Chopped hard-cooked egg
Soft cooked vegetable such as green beans or broccoli florets
Whole milk
Fresh ripe fruit or canned, chopped fruit

Small piece of bagel, whole milk

In addition to finger foods, you might want to consider offering him some child-sized utensils and dishes that he can get his hands around so that when the mood strikes, he can practice eating like a big boy. Eat your meals with him so he has a model.

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