Is My Toddler Eating Enough? (Food chart for kids!)

Older babies and toddlers tend to have different eating patterns than adults. Because of this, parents aren’t sure if their toddlers are eating enough and at the right times. I certainly can relate to parents who feel puzzled by their kids’ eating habits!

Some days my 4 year old son will eat like he’s starving in the mornings, asking for more food every half hour. Other mornings he skips breakfast completely saying he’s just not hungry. The most concerning is when he goes to bed after not wanting to eat much dinner and then I’m rethinking everything he ate that day. Was it enough? Will he be able to sleep? Am I even feeding my toddlers the right food?

A friend of mine happens to be a nutritional therapy practitioner and with her advice, plus some of my own research I am able to A, make sure my children are eating the right foods and B, make sure they are eating enough. I’ll share with you some of those nutrition basics here.

Remember the old food charts they taught us to live by in school, better known as the “Food Pyramid”? This is what it looked like:

Most of us remember, too, that many years ago, nutrition experts finally called out the flaws of the guidelines associated with the food pyramid. You can read about the research that points out those flaws here. Bottom line, parents in this day in age shouldn’t be adhering to that old pyramid, which consisted of the bulk of our diets being loaded with breads and starches.

Don’t worry, I’m not really tackling the Food Pyramid flaws in this post. Here I want to give you the latest research in what kids, specifically toddlers and young children, should be eating and how to implement healthy eating habits while making sure they’re eating enough.

What Should Children Eat?

Toddlers and young children should be eating foods that promote their growth. They require good quality sources of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. So which foods have these vital nutrients?

I’ve created a table that shows the quantity of foods toddlers and young children need to eat each day in order to meet their nutritional needs. Don’t take my word for it, I’m not the nutritionist. I’ve cited several sources throughout the rest of this post to back what you’ll read here.

Food Group% of daily diet
Fruits & Veggies*around 40%
Healthy fatsaround 25%
Proteinaround 25%
Carbohydrates*around 10%

*Note that fruits and vegetables are also a source of carbohydrates, specifically complex carbs. The 10% of carbs I’m showing here refer to other types of carbs, like sweet potatoes, oats and whole grains.

How to Feed Enough Fruits and Vegetables to kids

Fruits and vegetables rank the highest in terms of priority for a child’s diet because they are nutrient dense, easily digested and promote optimal health and development for growing kids. Natural sugars found in fruit give wholesome energy and tiny fruits are packed with Vitamin C, required to fight off disease and infections!

Here’s how to incorporate fruits in your child’s diet each day and an example of what to feed them:

  • 1 cup of seasonal or frozen organic fruit (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries). Kids love sweet, bite size fruit bowls.
  • Date bars! My toddlers love organic date bars, which are gluten free, have no added sugars or fillers and normally just consist of dates, raisins and/or cashews.
  • 1 other fruit snack each day (apple, banana, orange).

Here’s how to incorporate vegetables in your child’s diet each day and an example of what to feed them:

  • 1 snack that consists of a dairy free ranch dip and green peppers, carrots or broccoli.
  • My kids love to eat cooked organic corn, sweet peas or carrots with nearly every lunch.
  • Dinners always include a vegetable, sometimes have to hide spinach, kale or cauliflower in the meal. It’s easy and done right, they never notice!
  • Salads! Include a side of salad with dairy free ranch or a vinegar-based dressing. Let them use fingers and make it colorful with raisins or strawberries added.

How to Feed Enough Fats to Kids

This is actually easier than you think! One easy way to add healthy fat to your kids’ diet is to cook with it! Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil are easy-peasy to cook with and contain healthy fats kids need for their developing brains (the brain needs fat to grow properly!)

Here’s how to incorporate fats in your child’s diet each day and an example of what to feed them:

  • All meals cooked on the skillet are cooked in a tablespoon of olive or coconut oil.
  • Recipes that require butter can be subbed with coconut oil instead. (or olive oil if appropriate)
  • Peanut butter (non-gmo and without a ton of sugar) contains healthy oils and fats and both of my kids will take a tablespoon of it gladly!
  • If your child will eat an avocado plain, or anything with avocado in it, that would be an excellent go-to for daily fats. My kids don’t like them.
  • Mix nuts and/or seeds with raisins for homemade trail mix snack.

How to Feed Enough Protein to Kids

Obviously meats are the best source of protein, which promote growth and repair of the cells in the body as well as hormone development. Protein is also required for maintaining a good blood oxygen level (prevents anemia) and foods in the protein group also supply children with excellent sources of magnesium, zinc and B12, to name a few.

Here’s how to incorporate protein in your child’s diet each day and an example of what to feed them:

  • Boiled eggs are a simple snack that my kids love. By age 2 I let them peel the shells themselves and noticed this made it more likely that they’d willingly eat them!
  • Bacon (humanely raised of course) contains 3g of protein per strip and my kids eat it cut up in tiny pieces and mixed in scrambled egg for breakfast.
  • Peanut butter packed cookies by Meli’s are loaded with protein. But a homemade version of this is simple!
  • Lunch should include a source of protein and my kids like (surprise, surprise) chicken nuggets or turkey hot dogs without the bun.
  • Dinner should also include a healthy portion of protein. We have beef spaghetti (gluten free noodles) once a week, but here is another favorite and I hide spinach in it too!

How to Feed Enough (and the right) Carbs to Kids

Carbs are broken down into subcategories, but overall it’s a tricky “food group” because there are carbs that give you “good energy” (like fruit) and carbs that produce energy but are bad for your health (like breads). More than that, scientists say foods with added sugar (simple carbs) are not needed for survival in any way, but are leading to obesity and a very unhealthy population.

Overall, the research points to the need to limit simple carbs in anyone’s diet, adult or child.

Simple carbs include anything with sugar, high fructose corn syrup or fructose, dextrose or maltose in the ingredients list. For example:

  • Soda
  • Cereal
  • Packaged cookies and snacks
  • Fruit juice concentrate

Complex carbs are the “healthier” carbohydrate and fiber source with naturally occurring sugars that don’t have the same effects as refined sugar. They are almost always non-gmo and minimally processed. Here’s the take on healthy, whole grains, from a real dietician.

Here’s how to incorporate carbohydrates in your child’s diet each day and an example of what to feed them:

  • Stick to whole food, unprocessed carbs like organic potatoes, non-gmo rice, and whole grain or gluten free oats as small meals or sides to meals.
  • Instead of cereal from processed grains, go for buckwheat, chickpeas or nut and oat-based flours. Usually these are used in foods with Gluten Free labels and these are our go-to for packaged food sources (like pancake mix).
  • Organic sweet potatoes are a loved side item with lunches and dinners in our house.
  • Offer snacks that aren’t packaged and don’t contain sugar, but are sources of complex carbs. Those are listed in the fruit, vegetable and fats sections above.

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What About Dairy?

The other food group that you’ve probably noticed I left out is dairy. Dairy is another one of those controversial groups, because most dairy products, as it turns out, are counter-productive to one’s health (especially for children).

Wait, what? Before you run away, let me give you a quick explanation. The thought is that cow’s milk contains lots of nutrients including vitamin D, calcium, protein, etc. But research has been proving that the quality of the pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized milk on the shelves in grocery stores is not good. In fact, the negative health issues pasteurized milk brings, like leaky gut, outweigh any goodness that could come from drinking milk and consuming most dairy products. Take a look here and here for the evidence.

I know it’s hard to stay away from dairy, though. And I’m here to tell you I love cheese! That being said, I choose to keep our dairy consumption as low as I can. I recommend parents doing more research on this topic and deciding how they feel about dairy on their own.

Get Children Involved in Healthy Eating

I’ve witnessed the power of allowing my kids to be involved in choosing and preparing their meals! For example, my son isn’t a big egg eater and my daughter used to only like scrambled eggs. Then, just as an experiment and for fun, I let them peel a boiled egg. They enjoyed it so much and gobbled down their eggs once they finished peeling them! (Yes, I made sure the shells were peeled completely and washed off.)

It’s not just eggs this worked for. My son, who is pretty picky about new foods, saw me eating a green bell pepper and gave me a “gross” expression. So I said, “This is actually delicious! Why don’t you cut a piece and try it.” He cut a half of the bell pepper for himself and did try it. He loved it and to this day says bell peppers are one of his favorites!

So if you have a picky eater, or want to avoid picky eating, I encourage you to involve your kids in the prep process and see if it makes a difference.

How To Make Sure Kids Are Eating Enough

Although children have an instinctual, self-regulation system that tells them what to eat and how much, as parents it’s our job to make sure they have access to the good stuff. That means minimally processed foods, which contain little to no nutritional value, and plenty of whole foods, which retain the vital nutrients kids need.

Refer back to the examples of meals and snacks I listed above for the food groups that provide the most health benefits to growing children. Make it up as you go! And get kids involved in choosing, preparing and serving the foods they eat.

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