What and how much should my toddler eat?

Explore the recommended components and serving sizes of a nutritious diet for toddlers.

By their first birthdays, children should be eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. These foods can be eaten within three meals and two snacks each day.

The amount of food each toddler needs depends upon age, size, gender, weight and activity level. The chart below gives general guidelines for a 2-year-old.

Food Group Amount Equivalent Measurements
Fruits 1 cup 1 cup of cut-up fruit or 100% fruit juice
Vegetables 1 cup

1 cup cooked vegetables
2 cups of leafy greens

Protein foods 2 ounces 1 ounce =
  • 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup cooked beans or peas
  • ¼ cup tofu


*Half should be whole grains

3 ounces 1 ounce =
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal
Dairy 2 cups 1 cup =
  • 1 cup of milk, yogurt or soymilk
  • 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese
  • 2 cups of cottage cheese
  • 1 ½ cups of ice cream

A couple of common questions that are heard from parents with toddlers:

Should I be concerned if my toddler will not eat a balanced diet every day?
Look at your toddler’s diet over the course of a week or two. If your toddler is eating a variety of foods from all major food groups over one to two weeks, chances are his or her diet is balanced enough. If not, talk to your pediatrician.

Toddlers who are gaining enough weight and are active and energetic are usually getting enough food and calories. Keep in mind that a toddler’s stomach and appetite is smaller than yours.

It is common for toddlers to experience “food jags” in which the same foods are consumed on a daily basis. Most children do not try a new food until it has been offered 10-15 times! Start by serving as very small amount (a tablespoonful or less). Don’t force your child to eat it. If it is refused, try again at another time and prepare it a different way. As a parent, continue to encourage variety.

Does how I eat affect how my toddler eats?
Yes! That is why it is very important to be a good role model. Studies show that when parents have healthy eating habits their children are more likely to develop them.

Start influencing your child’s eating habits early on. Eat a balanced and nutritious diet with a variety of foods from all food groups. Make half of each plate fruits and vegetables. Serve fruit for family desserts instead of sugary sweets. Drink water instead of sugary or sweetened drinks.

The Health and Nutrition Institute programs of Michigan State University (MSU) Extension may be a helpful resource that can also provide you with weekly nutrition classes and the support you need! For more information please visit the MSU Extension website.

Did you find this article useful?