Skip to main content

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. Your child finds their voice and starts using their cute little jibber-jabber language. 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.

But switching over to solid foods full-time can be overwhelming since you have to learn a whole new eating schedule. How much should a toddler eat? Can your toddler eat anything now? Is there anything in their diet you have to pay attention to? We can help you with the ins and outs of toddler meals to make sure your tot gets enough to eat.

A mom feeding her toddlers. / Shutterstock

How many times a toddler should eat in a day

  • At least 5 times a day
  • Every 2 to 3 hours
  • Don’t forget the snacks

You might feel you are constantly feeding your toddler. You are, and you should be. According to the CDC, a toddler should eat about every 2 hours. 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, so they need to eat often to fill it back up.

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, know that that’s natural. And give them the snack so everyone remains happy.

A young toddler holding up a bow for more food.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Toddlers and food preferences

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 to keep it fun

  • 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. We all know those grownups that need the special separating plates at Thanksgiving. Most toddlers are like that all of the time.

When you introduce 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 actually eat it, so don’t get discouraged.

A toddler with their lunch.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What foods a toddler 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
A young toddler eating food and holding a sippy cup.
Maples Images / Shutterstock

Be mindful of food shapes

Toddlers aren’t the best at chewing, so choking hazards need to be kept to a minimum. Even if your toddler has a full mouth of teeth, they may not know how to properly use them. Toddlers can choke on anything and those little throats are smaller than you think.

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
A mother feeding her toddler.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Toddlers eating habits can be crazy — just have fun

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

Some extra 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. Have them help make the meals (even if it’s putting stuff on the plates) so they will feel more excited to eat. But you don’t want them too excited so their stomach gets upset. Give them a 5-minute warning so they can mentally prepare to eat.

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.

You’re going to navigate this one together, but it can be a happy experience that you and your toddler can enjoy. And think of all of the exercise you’ll get in when you have to grab your kiddo a snack every other hour.

Editors' Recommendations

Dannielle Beardsley
Dannielle has written for various websites, online magazines, and blogs. She loves everything celebrity and her favorite…
The feeling words all parents should teach their little ones
Help kids learn how to verbally express their emotions
Building with words asking about feelings

Emotions can run the gamut with kids. A child can be happy and content one minute and then be a puddle of tears the next. Managing emotions becomes increasingly difficult as kids get older. Feelings of frustration often erupt seemingly out of nowhere. Many times, a teen doesn't understand why feelings of anger take hold much like a toddler having a tantrum in public.

As adults, we recognize that feelings are complicated, but understanding them is vital. Feelings are an abstract concept for children. Take the answer to some common parent questions like, "How are you feeling?" or "How was your day?" Kids will typically respond with fine or OK, even if their body language and demeanor are saying something else. Teaching your child how to verbally express their emotions through the use of feeling words forms a firm foundation for emotional well-being.

Read more
Why do toddlers hit themselves? The reasons may surprise you
Toddlers hitting themselves is on the list of strange behaviors a parent needs to know about
A little upset boy pulling at his hair

Kids often exhibit behavior that many parents can't understand. Toddlers especially know how to bring a bit of pizazz to the day. Their behavior can often be silly and spontaneous, but it can also be worrying. It's a jarring experience for any parent the first time their sweet baby reaches up and hits them. It's even more confusing for parents to see their toddler turn their anger inward and hit themself in the head or on their body. Why toddlers hit themselves can be something every parent struggles with.

Children who have never been physically disciplined may still hit themselves, scratch themselves, or pound their heads against walls or the floor when they're frustrated. Why do toddlers do this? Do they grow out of it? What do parents do to stop it? And when do you know whether you might need to seek professional guidance for your child? Let's dig into this part of toddlerdom most parents will have to deal with.
Why do toddlers hit themselves?

Read more
Is it safe to have a cocktail while breastfeeding or should you pump and dump?
How to know when it's safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding
Woman having a glass of wine while breastfeeding

Pregnancy is full of rules about what you can eat or drink to ensure you have a healthy baby, which is why many people who have gone nine long months without consuming alcohol often look forward to having a celebratory glass of wine or a cold beer after their baby has arrived. However, once that baby arrives, women are met with mixed messages about whether it is safe to have a cocktail while breastfeeding or if they should pump and dump.
Understandably, a new parent may want to imbibe in a cocktail or two after having their baby, but what are the effects on their breastmilk if they are breastfeeding? Here's the truth about alcohol and breastfeeding and whether it's safe or if you should be pumping and dumping.

Is it safe?

Read more