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How much should a toddler eat? Probably more than you think

When your teeny baby turns into a toddler, a whole new world opens up. You can get more interactive with playtime. Your child finds their voice and starts their cute little jibber-jabber talking. But what’s really exciting is that you can finally introduce them to all kinds of foods. Watching your little one’s face as they try a new food for the first time is adorable. Whether they hate or love it, that experience is a bonding moment for both of you. But switching over to solid foods full-time can be overwhelming. How much should a toddler eat? We can help you with the ins and outs of toddler meals.

A mom feeding her toddlers.

How many times they should eat a day

They should eat

  • At least 5 times a day
  • Every 2 to 3 hours

You might feel you are constantly feeding your toddler. You are. According to the CDC, a toddler should eat about every 2 hours. That’s quite frequently. But since they have adorable little tummies, there isn’t a lot of food that can fit in there. A toddler’s stomach is the size of one of their fists. That’s why they need to eat so often.

Will every toddler follow this pattern? No. If you have more than one child, you’ll find that each toddler is a whole new lesson on eating habits. But if you feel like you just fed your toddler and they are coming back asking for another snack, that’s natural.

Toddlers and food

If this is your first time with a toddler, be mentally prepared. They can go from being picky eaters to eating foods that you would never imagine a toddler wanting to eat. And all within one meal.

Try these things

  • Experiment with colors
  • Introduce different textures
  • Give one comfort food with a new food

You want to make each meal as much of a rainbow as possible. Not only will that ensure you are giving them a good mix of nutrients, but their little eyes love to see the different colors.

Most toddlers don’t like it when their food touches each other. We all know those grownups that need those special plates at Thanksgiving. Most toddlers are like that all of the time.

When you introduce them to a new food you’ll need to have patience. Make sure there are other foods on their plate you know they like and only add one new food at a time. It may take a few meals before they will try it, so don’t get discouraged. It’s scary and new to them.

A toddler with their lunch.

What foods they should eat

Depending on how many teeth your child has at this point, you might need to make sure their diet is mostly soft foods. But that doesn’t mean you have to limit what they can have. As long as they haven’t had any allergic reactions, you are pretty clear to introduce whatever you want. You just might need to cook things a bit longer.

Every day your toddler should eat

  • Variety of dairy – 2 cups
  • Yogurts, soft cheeses
  • Iron-rich grains – 3 ounces
  • Rice, oats, cereals
  • Fruits – 1 cup
  • Vegetables – 1 cup
  • Proteins – 2 ounces

Be mindful of food shapes

Toddlers aren’t the best at chewing. You need to make sure a choking hazard is at a minimum. Even if your toddler has a full mouth of teeth, they may not know how to properly use them.

Make sure to

  • Cut up round foods, like grapes and hotdogs
  • No hard, round food like nuts
  • No hard candy
  • Watch out with sticky, thick foods like marshmallows

Toddlers can choke on anything. Never judge a parent who cuts their toddler’s grapes up into fourths. Those little throats are smaller than you think.

A mother feeding her toddler.

Toddlers are wild, just go with it

When it comes to feeding your toddler, there are going to be growing pains. You’ll have to figure out what they will eat, what they won’t eat, and how to sneak veggies into every meal. Remember, it’s important that your child is eating. Fed is always best.

Toddlers can be picky eaters. Toddlers can and often will get under your skin. With patience, you can get your little one to love mealtime.

Some pointers

  • You set the example
  • Let your child help make meals
  • Get them calm before mealtimes

Make the time to sit down and eat with them. When they see you eating different foods they will be more likely to eat them as well. If you can have them help make the meals (even if it’s putting stuff on the plates) they will feel more excited to eat. Everyone loves to be included. But you don’t want to get them too excited. Do you know how you can’t eat before or after anything big happens? Your toddler can’t either. Give them a 5-minute warning so they can mentally get ready that it’s time to eat. Their stomach needs to calm down as well.

Make mealtimes fun. Give them their own plates and silverware. Put on some of their favorite music on in the background. Don’t rush the meal. Kids love to take forever to eat, so plan for it.

But toddler meals don’t need to be a huge dilemma. Take whatever you’d eat and make the portions a fourth of the size, and see how your little one does. You’re going to navigate this one together, but it can be a happy experience that you and your toddler can enjoy.

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