How much should my toddler eat?

A baby with pesto over her hands and face

If your toddler’s eating habits seem to be all over the place, you’re not alone. Once you understand how your young child’s appetite works, you’ll be set to guide them towards a lifetime of healthy eating.

About your toddler’s appetite

Most young children have a built-in ability to eat the right amount of food. Sometimes they need a bit of help to regulate their appetites, but most of the time their little bodies seem to know when they need more energy. Toddlers don’t decide to eat because it’s dinner time or because we tell them to – they usually just want to eat when they’re hungry.

And they stop eating when their small tummies are full, if we let them. That’s why it’s not a good idea to force your child to clean their plate.

Your toddler’s eating patterns may change a lot, and this is normal. One day they might eat loads, while the next day they only seem to have a tiny appetite. If you observe your child over a week, you’ll probably notice that their total intake balances out.

Rather than worrying about how much or how little they eat, keep track of your child’s growth. This is a better way to know whether they’re well nourished.

Where milk fits in

Up until the age of six months, breast or formula milk should provide all your baby’s nutritional needs.

As your baby grows into a toddler, they should gradually start getting less of their nutrition from milk (though it’s still very important) and more from their solid food. By the ages of one to two years, they should be drinking about 400ml of milk per day.

Your influence as a parent

While your child can choose the portion sizes, as the adult, you’re still in control of when food and drinks are served and what’s on the menu.

Young children shouldn’t graze on snacks all day. A regular schedule is better. Offer them breakfast, lunch and dinner, with two or three small snack times in between.

Offer the right foods

You can also offer your child all the right foods to make up a balanced diet. The Eatwell Guide, from Public Health England, is great for all the family and can be adapted for toddlers aged two and older. Each day, offer your child the following.

  • Meals based on starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice, cereal or pasta (save whole grains for the over-fives)
  • Five portions of fruit or vegetables.
  • Two servings of protein (three if they are vegetarians). This means meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans or other pulses.
  • Milk as mentioned above – yoghurt and cheese can contribute to this total.

Sweets should be an occasional treat only, served with a meal rather than on their own.

Eating treats all the time, just because they’re available and seem tempting, can become a habit that eventually leads to being overweight. On the other hand, if you’re offering your child healthy foods on a regular schedule, you’ll be helping them set up healthy eating habits for life.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available for your loved ones when you need it.

Dietitian at Bupa UK

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