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At the 12-month mark, it’s time to say goodbye to your baby and hello to your new toddler! 

This is the start of many milestones, of which food will play a major role.

From around six months your baby will have been transitioning to solids, but by the time they turn one, their meals need to be providing a lot more of their nutrition.

Your toddler should still be getting between 350 and 500mls of milk a day to meet their calcium needs, although more than this and they may start lacking vital micronutrients such as iron.

As parents, this is the time for us to learn how to provide balanced meals for their growing bodies.

Read more about supplementing your child’s diet. 

What Does My Toddler Need?

Toddlers grow at a slower rate than infants and their stomachs are still small, so they can’t eat a lot in one sitting.

Each small portion of food should be packed with a variety of healthy foods that add up to between 1,000 and 1,400 calories a day. 

Ideally you should be aiming for three meals a day, plus two or three snacks.

There’s no real reason to make additional meals for your toddler, as they can eat the same things as you if you go easy on the salt and sugar. 

There are four main food groups that we should be aiming to serve each day:

  • Protein: poultry, boneless fish, small pieces of meat, eggs, beans, peanut butter, tofu
  • Fruits and veg: soft broccoli and cauliflower; apricot, melon, papaya, grapefruit
  • Dairy: cottage cheese, yogurt, milk
  • Carbohydrates: oats, mixed cereals, wheat, pasta, rice
Toddler eating snacks outdoors

Your toddler should aim to have two or three snacks a day

Carbohydrates

Starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta are the body’s greatest source of energy. 

The body breaks carbs down into simple sugars which get circulated around in the blood stream and used by cells for energy. 

The brain is one important function which relies on these simple sugars—which is why kids need them to stay active and alert all day long.

Toddlers should be eating about three ounces—or a third of a cup of carbs each day.

Fruits and Vegetables 

These power-packed elements need to be included with every meal as they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber to promote growth and development, as well as protect against illnesses. 

They’re also low in calories, sodium and fat, so are great snack items to be introduced between meals.

Toddlers should be eating about one cup of fruit and another of veggies each day. 

Protein

Little bodies need more protein than older kids and adults as they’re growing so rapidly. 

The stomach and intestines break down the protein in foods into amino acids, which are then used to maintain muscles, bones, blood and organs. 

Protein-rich foods don’t just have to include meat: You can include dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds too.

Toddlers should be eating about two ounces—or a quarter of a cup each day.

Dairy

Dairy foods are rich sources of calcium, which is important for strong teeth, bone development and building muscle.

Although toddlers can get most of their calcium intake from milk, if they’re falling shy of two cups (500mls) a day then yoghurt and cheese are also great sources. 

Lactose intolerant children can find calcium in oranges, dark green vegetables and beans, as well as calcium-fortified foods like cereals, breads and juice.

Toddlers should be getting about 500mls or two cups a day.

 

Vitamins + Minerals = Healthy Children

As well as ensuring each plate of food has a healthy mix of the four main food groups, it’s important that all the correct vitamins and minerals are in there too so that the body grows and functions as it should.

Balanced meals should contain everything you need—so there’s no need to worry too much—but to help with weekly meal planning, June has compiled a chart for you detailing the micronutrients a toddler needs each day and where you can find these.

View your handy toddler micronutrient guide below this article.

Blue eyes toddler girl eating sweets with dirty hands

Your child should get no more than 25g of added sugar a day—except on birthdays!

Are Any Foods Off Limits?

Toddlers only need a very small amount of salt in their diet as it influences a child’s blood pressure and can predispose them to a number of diseases in adulthood such as osteoporosis, asthma, obesity and even stomach cancer.

Cutting down salt now will also help prevent them developing a lasting taste for salt.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends less than 2 grams of salt a day (0.8g sodium) for toddlers aged one through three years

It’s easy to exceed this figure given the amount of salt that’s found in food such as cereal, bread and cheese.

To help you can swap out salty snacks such as potato chips for yoghurt; or ham and cheese sandwiches for chicken or tuna (just avoid the stuff that’s packed in salt water). 

Home-cooked meals are also lower in salt than store-bought or fast foods.

Although toddlers’ growing bodies need a high caloric diet, sugar should be kept to a minimum as, given throughout childhood, it’s linked to heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association (AAH).

It’s not natural sugars in milk or fruit we should worry about; rather the hidden added sugars in items like cereals, fruit pouches, flavored yoghurts or sauces.

The WHO advises reducing these so-called ‘free sugars’ like monosaccharides and disaccharides that you find added to some food and drink, as well as cutting down on sugar from honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

The guidance is to get your child’s intake of free sugars to below 5% of their total energy intake—so no more than 25g (about six teaspoons) of added sugar a day.

So be sure to read nutrition labels carefully and always offer healthier snacks such as sliced fruit, cut up veggies or trail mix.

Learning by Example

One of the big learning experiences for us moms and dads is teaching healthy eating and taking the time to prepare nutritious meals each day.

For our new toddlers, this is the crucial age where they begin to learn healthy habits that will benefit them for life.

If you don’t start introducing a varied, balanced diet when they’re still young, you may find it harder to get your child to eat these types of meals later on.

This process requires our thought and care, and ultimately comes down to your preferences as parents.

Here's a handy guide to which nutrients your toddler needs and where to find them: