Nutrition for Kids: A Balanced Diet for Toddlers

The period which your baby moves from infant to toddler is a vitally important time, everything they consume mentally and physically impacts their health, growth and development as well as teaching them the habits of consuming a balanced and varied diet which will carry through till later in life.

A balanced diet for toddlers is very different from adults. Although the basic guidelines still apply;  healthy fats, whole grains and protein, minimal amounts of sugar and salt and the portion sizes and caloric needs of a toddler are different. 

What is a balanced diet for toddlers?

Toddlers should include at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, wholegrain cereals, protein and healthy fats either in the forms of oily fish, nuts, seeds and/or avocado. Limiting high fat, fried and sugary foods and ensuring they are well hydrated. 

Regardless of whether your family has certain dietary requirements its important to get their nutrition right from the start; what they eat now will impact their growth, development and emotional relationships with food in the future.

How much should my toddler eat?

As a general guide toddlers need three meals per day plus two snacks and six or more drinks, primarily water. Just like a toddlers mood, accepting food can vary. One day they will eat anything and everything and the next you’ll wonder how they have so much energy from such a small amount consumed. Don’t stress. Look at their diet over a two to three day period as some days will catch up to the more lean ones. 

What does a balanced toddler diet look like?

Like adults, a balanced diet for toddlers combines primarily vegetables, fruit, whole grains, meat, fish, dairy or vegetarian and vegan alternatives. 

Fruit and Vegetables

At least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Offer a range of different coloured fruit and vegetables as they all offer unique nutrients. Fresh is best but frozen and dried fruits are also a good alternative. 

Meal Ideas: Fruit skewers, Frozen blueberries, Fruit platter, Celery & peanut butter boats, Trail mix, Corn & zucchini fritters

Starch

Three to five portions per day of starch including bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Whole grains such as oats, brown rice and quinoa are nutrient-dense options which provide energy, B vitamins and calcium. 

Meal Ideas: Pumpkin Risotto, Brown stir fry rice, Pita pizza, Vegetable egg muffins

Protein

Two portions of protein per day. Whether your family eats meat or your toddler is vegetarian its vital they consume enough protein. Good sources of protein are meat, fish, eggs, nuts, tofu or pulses including lentils, beans and chickpeas. It’s recommended to include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or tuna two to three times per week as omega oils have been linked to better brain and eye development as well as healthy skin.

Meal Ideas: Grilled fish & chips, Salmon patties, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Lentil Shepherd’s Pie, Falafel & Hummus

Healthy Fats

A small amount of foods rich in healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut, avocado and nuts especially brazil and almonds.

Meal Ideas: Avocado toast, Coconut chips, Almond butter rice crackers, Almond oat bars

Dairy Food

Three servings of milk, cheese or yoghurt for toddlers who are not being breastfed. Full-fat varieties are best for children up to two years and semi-skimmed can be introduced onwards. Skimmed milk isn’t suitable for children under five years old. 

Meal Ideas: Sliced cheese, Cheese biscuits, Frozen yoghurt pops, Porridge oats cooked with milk

Are there any foods I should limit?

Foods which have been fried, salty food and food high in sugar can be high in calories and offer little to no nutrients. Some of these foods should be offered as a treat while others avoided completely. 

Salt

Most foods have enough salt naturally for a toddlers requirements. Instead use spices and herbs to flavour meals. 

High fat and sugar foods

French fries, cakes, biscuits and ice cream are not necessary and can be kept as treats or allow your child to enjoy them at a birthday party.

Candy and chocolate

Keep as a treat as these foods offer little to no nutrient benefits and are also damaging to a toddlers teeth.

Pre-packaged meals and takeaways

Limit the number of ready meals as they often contain a lot of salt, unhealthy oils 

Fruit juice and fizzy drinks

These include cordials, sports drinks, flavoured water and milk. Sweet drinks are high in sugar and low in nutrients, they can cause weight gain, obesity and tooth decay. 

Is this a strict diet for toddlers?

This is absolutely just a guideline and should not take the place of any dietary concerns you have that should be addressed by your child’s pediatrician. Keep this guide as a reference for times when you’re worried about your child’s nutrition or need some healthy inspiration for meal ideas. 

Daily Toddler Nutrition Guide

Fruit: 2 -3 ServingsVegetables: 2-3 servingsDairy: 2-3 servings
½ banana

½ cup berries

1 mandarin

1 kiwifruit

1 – 2 wedge watermelon

½ cup cooked, steamed, roasted:

Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green beans

¼ cup green peas

½ sweet corn cob

¼ cup cherry tomato, cucumber

½ cup full-fat milk

1 slice cheese

¼ cup full-fat yoghurt

¼ cup cottage cheese

Wholegrains: 3-5 servingsProtein: 2 servingsFats: 2-3 servings
Whole Wheat crackers

½ small pita bread

¼ cup of rice, pasta, noodles

Toddler fist-size Meat, poultry, fish

¼ cup beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh

1 tsp nut butter

1 tsp coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil

1 Tbsp avocado

1 Tbsp shredded coconut

Aim for 1000-1400 calories per day but expect appetite fluctuations

Sneaky Tips to Add More Vegetables

It’s normal for children to turn their noses up at some vegetables and other foods. Here are a few secrets to hiding those nutrients to their meals without them knowing and eliminating any tears. 

  • Add a small handful of spinach to fruit smoothies.
  • Blend vegetables with egg to make eggy muffins.
  • Add spinach to pasta sauce and blend.
  • Steamed cauliflower can be blended into the cheese sauce for macaroni & cheese.

We’re all about balance at Chipmunks and of course of birthday parties are always a memorable occasion for kids. We love treating kids on their birthdays but we understand the importance of a healthy diet. That is why we’ve included many healthy meal and drink options on the cafe menu including our sandwich and fruit munch meal for kids. Smoothies, salads, wraps and fruit are all available. 

Want to learn more? Our in house qualified nutritionist will be sharing more healthy tips, recipes and kids food ideas. Follow us on Facebook.

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