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Feeding Tips for Toddlers

Portions, Serving Sizes, and More!
-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian

It may be hard to believe, but your baby is now a toddler! Toddlers enjoy feeding themselves and eating meals and snacks at the table with others. Yes, it can get messy, but this is your toddler's chance to explore new foods and tastes.

You may notice that your toddler does not eat as much food as before. During her first year of life, she grew extremely fast. Now that growth has tapered off, she doesn't need to eat as much. However, it's still very important to provide your toddler with a variety of nutritious foods from each of the food groups.

This quick reference chart lists the food groups, recommended daily servings, and appropriate portion sizes throughout the toddler years. Your child may eat a little more or less, which is perfectly normal. The serving sizes below are only a guide.

Daily Servings & Portion Sizes Based on Age

4-6 servings
Ages 2-3
Ages 4-5
Bread 1/4 slice 1/2 slice 3/4-1 slice
Cooked cereal, rice & pasta 1/4 cup 1/3 cup
1/2 cup
Dry cereal 1/4 cup 1/2 cup 3/4-1 cup
Bagels & buns 1/4 bun 1/3 bun 1/2 bun
4 servings
Ages 2-3 Ages 4-5
Milk 1/2 cup 1/2 cup 1/2-3/4 cup
Cheese 1/3-2/3 oz 2/3-1.0 oz 1 oz
Yogurt 1/2 cup 1/2 cup 1/2-3/4 cup
Cottage cheese 2-4 Tbsp 1/4 cup 1/3 cup
2 servings
Ages 2-3 Ages 4-5
Fish, beef, poultry & pork 1 oz 1.5 oz 2 oz
Cooked peas, lentils, tofu & beans
1/4 cup 1/3 cup 1/2 cup
Eggs 1 1 1
3-4 servings
Ages 2-3 Ages 4-5
Cooked vegetables 1/4 cup 1/3 cup 1/2 cup
Fresh vegetables, chopped 2-3 Tbsp 1/4 cup 1/3 cup
Vegetable juice 1/4 cup 1/4 cup 1/4-1/2 cup
2-3 servings
Ages 2-3 Ages 4-5
Canned or frozen fruit 1/4 cup 1/4 cup 1/2 cup
Fresh fruit, chopped 2-3 Tbsp 1/4 cup 1/3 cup
Fruit juice 1/4 cup 1/4 cup 1/2 cup

Mealtime & Feeding Tips for Toddlers
  • Offer small portions, since it is always better to provide seconds if your child is still hungry.
  • Trust your child's appetite if he is growing normally, has energy and is healthy. Never force your child to clean his plate. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits over time.
  • Toddlers can be the world's pickiest eaters. Food jags are normal and common. Do not make a big deal about the foods she requests. Offer the requested food several times during the week, along with a variety of other foods. Never force your child to eat foods that are unwanted.
  • Make mealtime fun and creative. Use a variety of colors, tastes, textures and temperatures.
  • Offer your toddler the same foods you feed your family.
  • Have your child sit at the dinner table with the family. Children learn by watching others.
  • Purchase child-size spoons and forks. Children will gradually change from using their fingers, to using the spoon first and the fork later.
  • Buy child-size plates with separate compartments. Some toddlers do not like when foods mix together.
  • Offer finger foods when possible.
  • Cut foods into bite size pieces.
  • Respect your toddler's likes and dislikes. Gently encourage your toddler to try at least one bite of a new food. If the food is rejected today, offer it again next week. Research shows, that you may have to offer a new food 10-20 times before your child likes it.
  • Offer foods in different forms. For example, a vegetable can be offered raw with a dip, in a salad, sauteed, steamed, roasted, sprinkled with cheese or an herb blend, or mixed into a soup, stew or casserole.
  • Set a good example yourself. Your child will tend to like to eat the same foods you enjoy.
  • Offer three regular meals and two to three planned snacks every day. Snack time should be at least two hours before the next mealtime so your child is hungry for meals. Do not allow continuous snacking throughout the day.
  • Do involve your toddler in mealtime preparation. Young toddlers can wash fruits and vegetables, snap beans, tear lettuce, and peel bananas. Older toddlers can open packages, pour cereal, toss salads, make sandwiches, stir and mix, and set the table.
  • Serve sweets and desserts occasionally as part of the meal. Do not make the sweet treat more desirable than other foods. Do not use foods to bribe, reward, or punish your child. This may lead to power struggles and perhaps lifelong inappropriate use of food. Try to use wholesome desserts, like custard, milk pudding, fruit in gelatin, and oatmeal cookies.

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Member Comments About this Article
"My 17 month daughter enjoys diced fresh fruit, home made chicken soup with veggies, rice noodles with butter, scrambled eggs, lentil soup and steamed broccoli (well done). I also give her toddler formula to complement her diet on the days she doesn't eat well." -- EVELYNQ
"I used to give my toddler a choice of colored wooden toothpicks as a utensil. She would enjoy dipping her chicken piece in ketchup or sticking as many peas as she could on it prior to eating it. She definitely started eating healthier after I came up with this idea." -- DOMINA93
"My oldest DD doesn't like protein either so I try to dress it up a little--roast beef with applesauce for example. I've also made her smoothies with tofu. Give it a sweet taste with fruit, vanilla yogurt and honey. Silken tofu works best for blending." -- MOMMA_MEL
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About The Author
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. She teaches prenatal classes and counsels individuals, helping women eat right and stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies.
Becky Hand


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