Mealtime may seem like a battle between you and your 2-year-old, but you need to make nutrition a top priority to ensure healthy growth and development in your child. Toddlers don’t need as many calories as an adult, so make the most of those calories by serving nutrient-dense meals and snacks. Give your 2-year-old healthy choices and let him decide how much he wants to eat.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1,000 calories a day for the average 2-year-old who's relatively inactive. But if your 2-year-old is constantly on the move, he’ll need additional calories. A moderately active toddler needs up to 200 extra calories a day, and a very active child requires an extra 200 to 400 calories a day. You don't have to count every single calorie every day. Use your judgment and follow your 2-year-old's cues as to when he’s hungry and when he's full.
Serve your little one a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups each day. He needs 2 cups of milk or dairy products, 2 ounces of lean meats or beans, 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of vegetables and 3 ounces of grains. Once your toddler reaches 2 years of age, he can have low-fat or fat-free dairy products, so dump the whole milk for skim or 1 percent. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, offer him a rainbow of colors so he's getting a variety of vitamins and minerals. Serve those fruits and vegetables with whole-grain crackers or bread. Whole grains contain fiber, which keeps your little one feeling full longer.
Your 2-year-old’s diet should contain 30 to 35 percent of its calories from fat to ensure adequate growth and development. According to the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, most American children eat too much fat, which can lead to obesity and future health problems. Serve your child unsaturated fats, found in fish, nuts, seeds and oils, as opposed to saturated fats, found in animal products like beef and pork, butter, cream and cheese. Avoid foods and drinks with added sugar, such as soda, cookies and some breakfast cereals. These foods tend to contain lots of calories but not many of the important nutrients your growing child needs.
Your 2-year-old has a much smaller stomach than you, so most days he’s going to need snacks in between his meals. Snacking can help him get the vitamins, minerals and calories he needs, so offer healthy snacks. Examples of healthy snacks include whole-grain crackers and bread, low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt, fruits and vegetables. Snacks also boost your child’s energy between meals and prevent him from overeating. KidsHealth recommends structuring your child’s meal and snack times and offering smaller portions for snacks at a time that won’t interfere with his next meal
- KidsHealth: Nutrition Through Variety
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents: A Guide for Practitioners
- Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension: Healthy Eating for Children 2 Through 5 Years Old: A Guide for Parents and Childcare Providers
- American Heart Associations: Know Your Fats
- KidsHealth: Smart Snacking