I’ve worked with a lot of moms of toddlers who have the lucky (and common) fortune of dealing with picky eaters. One of the first things I try and do is make sure that mom understands the difference in serving sizes for adults versus toddlers. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is different for adults than it is for toddlers, and often times toddlers are already reaching (or coming close to reaching) the recommended vitamins and nutrients for children without the parent even knowing it.
As a nutritionist I am not a calorie counter. I feel like if we are feeding ourselves good, healthy, unprocessed foods and listening to our body’s signals, it is impossible to overeat. However, when it comes to their toddlers, mamas like to have a guide as reassurance that their toddler is on track. So here goes: generally the average toddler needs 1000-1300 calories a day. Many of you may notice that your toddler’s eating habits vary day-to-day. One day she will barely eat anything and the next it seems like she’s asking for everything in sight. Growth spurts greatly effect appetite so use the daily caloric range as a guide, and don’t fret if your toddler doesn’t seem very hungry on particular days.
Use the following as a general guideline for toddler serving sizes PER DAY:
Vegetables/Fruits: 4 servings (1 serving is 1 tablespoon of child per year of age)
Whole grains: 4 servings (1 serving is 1/4c)
Milk (or other calcium rich foods): 2 servings (1 serving is 1/2c)
Meat/Beans/Eggs/Nuts & other proteins: 2 servings (1 serving is 1 tablespoon)
If you are a visual person, 1 tablespoon is about the size of your thumb tip, 2 tablespoons is about the size of a ping pong ball, 1/4c is about the size of a large egg, and ½ cup is about the size of a tennis ball.
As much as possible, feed your child unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good sources of proteins. Organic is best, especially when we talk about children and minimizing pesticide exposure to their smaller frames.
The most important factor during the toddler stage is exposure. It takes 10-14 times of being exposed to a food before a child may decide she likes the food. Your job as a parent is to keep offering your child a variety of healthy, nutritious foods. This is as simple as having it on the dinner time at table.