Recommended Daily Intake for Toddlers Aged 1-2 Years
A toddler’s requirements
Toddlers rarely follow a traditional meal pattern. As they are generally active all day, their small tummy sizes require frequent grazing and snacking to fuel their energy, meaning that at main meal times little is eaten. This can be frustrating for a parent or caregiver, but as long as healthy and nutritious snacks are offered, a toddler will naturally balance out their dietary needs accordingly. Grazing and snacks are necessary for your toddler’s development. When it comes to feeding toddlers, there’s a lot of conflicting information. Food suggestions change regularly as more studies are performed and “superfoods” are discovered, but one thing that remains consistent is a toddler’s recommended daily intake. If all other information confuses you, this should be where your toddler’s food-roots lie. The Daily Intake Guide or %DI is a set of reference values for an acceptable intake of nutrients including:
- Saturated Fatty Acids
- Sodium (Salt)
- Dietary Fibre
Everyone has individual nutrient requirements depending on factors like gender, weight, age, pregnancy or lactation status, physical activity level and more. For toddlers, who are growing and developing quickly, the food that enters the body is especially important. Not only does it help fuel their development, it also helps to set up dietary habits that will stay with them for a very long time. Toddlers need a diet made up of foods from the four main food groups, served in the correct portion sizes and in the correct balance:
1. Aim for starchy foods 5 times a day.
2. Aim for fruits and vegetables 5 times a day.
3. Aim for dairy foods 3 times a day.
4. Aim for protein foods 2 times a day.
On top of this, you should aim for at least 1.3L of fluids.
Starchy foods are a good source of energy, which is particular important in active toddlers. They also contain fibre and essential B vitamins, needed for growth and development. Starchy foods include:
- ½ - 1 slice of bread
- 1-2 rice cakes
- ½ cup breakfast cereal (look for whole grains and low sodium)
- 1-3 tbsp mashed sweet potato
- ½ cup cooked pasta or rice
- ¼ cup spaghetti hoops.
Easy ways to eat more starchy foods include:
- Cutting shapes into a wholemeal tortilla.
- Offering Shredded Wheat as a snack instead of chips.
- Serving shaped spaghetti/pasta, such as Bellamy’s Organic brown rice pasta stars.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, and many phytonutrients that keep the body healthy. Different fruits and vegetables protect the body in different ways, so it’s important to choose a variety of colours everyday. Good fruit and vegetable snacks include:
- 1 tbsp raisins
- ½ banana
- 6 grapes
- 1 tbsp peas
- ¼ cup broccoli
- ½ apple
- 2 cherry tomatoes
- 4 zucchini sticks
- 2 small apricots.
Easy ways to introduce more fruits and vegetables include:
- Adding a touch of honey to sweeten smoothies instead of sugar or flavoured syrups.
- Using avocado instead of butter.
- Grating apple or mashing banana into pikelets.
- Making a vegetable dip for crackers.
- Serving baked pumpkin and sweet potato as “French fries”.
Dairy foods are an excellent source of calcium, needed for strong and healthy bones. Many dairy foods also provide important nutrients like protein, iodine, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Dairy foods include:
- 100ml milk (full fat until the age of 2)
- 125ml yoghurt
- 1 cheese triangle
- ½ cup rice pudding
- 1 cheese stick
- ¼ cup custard
- 100ml almond milk fortified with calcium
- ½ cup ricotta cheese.
Easy ways to introduce more dairy include:
- Grating cheese on top of dinner meals.
- Placing a dollop of yoghurt on top of fruit.
- Blending a smoothie with milk.
Protein builds, maintains, and repairs the tissues in the body and triggers the chemical productions, such as haemoglobin and adrenalin. Muscles and organs are made of protein. High protein foods include:
- ¼ cup chickpeas
- ¼ cup lentils
- ¼ cup peanuts
- ¼ cup minced meat
- 2 fish fingers
- ¼ cup baked beans
- 1 boiled egg
- 70g BBQ chicken
- 150g tofu
- 90g cooked fish.
Easy ways to introduce more protein include:
- Use cookie cutters to cut egg sandwiches into fun shapes.
- Spread some peanut butter on toast.
- Add ham to grilled cheese soldiers.
- Try this Beef Stew Recipe.
Toddlers need about 1.3 litres of fluid a day. This includes about 350ml of milk, as well as water, coconut water, soups and fresh juices (fresh juices should be limited to no more than 150ml). The best way to tell if your toddler is getting enough fluids is to check their urine. With the right amount of fluids, urine should be light-coloured or colourless. Very active toddlers need a lot of water to replace the fluids they lose, and intake should be altered to account for hot days, fever and illness. Easy ways to introduce more water include:
- Diluting juice with equal parts water and juice.
- Mixing chilled water with room temperature water so that it’s easier for them to drink.
- Keeping water within easy reach .
- Offering water every hour, and leading by example.
A toddler’s habits
Keeping on top of dietary needs isn’t the only confusing part when it comes to feeding a toddler. As a toddler, they possess a limited attention span and they’re suddenly learning that they’re independent. Inconsistency is a common feature, so don’t get cross if your toddler suddenly decides they don’t like something they used to love. Nor should you get frustrated if they decide they need you to feed them. Just because they fed themselves yesterday, doesn’t mean they will today. If you’re faced with inconsistency, keep food interesting. Exposure to new foods encourages adventurous eating habits and more confident food choices. If your toddler is one who thrives in ritual, however, don’t deprive them of this. Keep meal and snack times the same, and keep one piece of food the same - even if they don’t always eat it. When introducing new foods, keep an eye out for any allergic reactions. If a family member is known to have allergies, eczema or asthma, this is especially important - as alway when in doubt consult your child’s health care professional. Also avoid foods that could be choking hazards, such as popcorn, whole raw vegetables, whole grapes and nuts. It’s also recommended that you limit foods high in saturated fat, such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, pizza and potato chips.
Meal and snack times
It has been recommended to offer your toddler three meals a day, plus two or three healthy snacks. Your toddler may not eat at these times, but they’ll soon come to expect that food is available to them at certain times of the day. While allowing kids to skip a meal is a difficult concept for many parents, kids should be allowed to respond to their internal cues for hunger and fullness. Toddlers have great awareness of others and will often imitate people close to them. Watching adults enjoy food can be a great influence on a toddler’s acceptance of certain foods, while watching other children is even more powerful. Creating enjoyable mealtimes and snacks helps young children learn healthy eating habits and develop positive attitudes towards food. Show enthusiasm for healthy foods and plan fun food activities, and your toddler is much more likely to accept the foods you wish them to eat.
This information has been provided as general advice only. If you are considered about your child’s dietary intake, please always speak with your paediatrician, GP, or a registered medical health professional about your concerns.