How many calories does a toddler need?

Raising a child is a lot of work, in more ways than we sometimes realize. Not only do you have to keep them alive, but you also have to keep them happy, healthy, and fed. Those last three don’t always live in perfect harmony. It might make Baby happy to eat cotton candy the size of his head, but it won’t keep him healthy or fed. And though broccoli is packed with vitamins, that won’t get you very far if Baby won’t eat it. So how many calories should Baby be getting every day?

At two years old, according to U.S. Choose MyPlate guidelines, children should be eating about 1,000 calories of food per day. After that, guidelines start to vary a little based on how active your child is. A 3-year-old who isn’t very active might eat 1,000-1,200 calories of food. One who is more active might eat 1,200-1,400. These ranges increase with age, topping off at around 1,600 calories for an active 5-year-old.

We’re talking in calories right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to calorie count for Baby. Here’s a sample food plan from Choose My Plate:

Breakfast

  • 1 ounce grains
  • ½ cup fruit
  • ½ cup dairy

Snack

  • ½ ounce grains
  • ½ cup fruit

Lunch

  • ½ ounce grains
  • ¼ cup vegetables
  • ½ cup dairy
  • 1 ounce protein

Snack

  • ¼ cup vegetables
  • ½ cup dairy

Dinner

  • ½ ounce grains
  • ½ cup vegetables
  • ½ cup dairy
  • 1 ounce protein

Fruits and vegetables are pretty self-explanatory, but grains, dairy, and protein are a little vague. Wheat bread and crackers will fulfill the grain portions. Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are perfect for dairy, and chicken, meatballs, and rice and beans are great proteins. Peanut butter and apple slices are a classic protein/fruit combo.

Once you have a good idea of what an ounce or grain or half a cup of fruit looks like, making meals and snacks should start to come pretty naturally. As Baby gets older and starts to be a little more adventurous with his food choices (a.k.a. doesn’t cry when dinner isn’t mac & cheese), you can start adding new things into the meal routine and increasing portion sizes.

And don’t forget, parents need to eat too! Remember to grab something for yourself at dinner so you have all the energy you need to put Baby to bed.


Sources

  • “MyPlate Daily Checklist for Preschoolers.” Choose My Plate. United States Department of Agriculture. July 22, 2016. Web.

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