How Much Should My 3 Year Old Eat?
You’d think once we get past the baby stage we’d stop worrying about how much milk our baby is drinking, if they’re drinking enough, if 6 feeds an hour is too many…. But then you move to solid foods and so much either ends up on the floor or on their face you worry not enough is going in.
And then you enter the fussy toddler phase and you might feel like you’re back at square one again, is your child getting what they need?
How many calories does my toddler need?
A 3-year-old needs around 1000-1400 calories a day, depending on how active they are, their weight and height. To give you a bit of perspective the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for blokes.
But knowing what that looks like can be confusing.
What they need... here’s the short version
If your child is active, growing well, gaining weight at the right rate, isn’t poorly all the time and eats a good selection from the 4 main food groups (fruit and veg, carbs, dairy and protein) you’re getting it right.
You don’t need to focus on every single mealtime being perfect or them cleaning their plate. Just like adults, their appetite varies. So instead focus on what they eat over the course of a week.
We all need to eat a variety of foods to feel good and function well and it’s exactly the same for your toddler. The occasional biscuit won’t hurt but a diet made up of them isn’t good.
What they need... here's the long version
Fruit and veg
Get them eating different fruits and veg from a young age. Frozen and canned are just as good as fresh. If you can squeeze them into every meal, plus keep offering them even if they don’t get eaten every time.
Think starchy foods like cereal, rice, pasta, potatoes. Leave the wholegrain kind until they turn 2.
Milk and dairy
You can carry on breastfeeding once you introduce solid foods and cows milk after they turn 1. Fill up their tummies with either 12oz (350ml) of milk or 2 servings of something made from milk (cheese - stick to pasteurised, fromage frais etc). It’s best to stick with full-fat versions until they turn 2 and then you can go semi-skimmed if you prefer. Want to do a milk alternative? Soya, almond and oat drinks are ok after they turn one.
Aim for 1-2 portions of protein a day - it can come from meat, pulses, eggs, beans and fish. You can also give nuts but don’t offer whole ones to your toddler as they’re a choking hazard. And keep oily fish like salmon under 4 portions a week for boys and 2 for girls.
If your toddler doesn’t eat meat or fish then they need a source of iron to stop them from becoming anemic. You’ll find it in some breakfast cereals, dark green veggies and lentils.
This visual created by Mommy Ammo is excellent - it really helps us to see how much the average toddler really needs to eat. You can see her website here.
What to avoid
We all know sugar is the work of the devil. And you know regular tooth brushing and visits to the dentist are important. But tooth care starts with giving the sugar a swerve.
If you can avoid sweets, sugary drinks, biscuits and juice. Or save them for special occasions. Stick to water for drinks and move from a bottle to a cup or beaker after 18 months. Dried fruit is one of those things that catches us mums out, seems like a nice healthy snack but they actually contain a ton of sugar so it’s best to offer them at mealtimes only.
This one is simple. Don’t add salt, kids don’t need it and it can set them up for health problems later in life. It’s a good reason to avoid processed and fast food too as they usually have lots of salt in them.
You can’t cut fat out of under 5s meals. They need it for energy and some vitamins. So stick with full-fat milk and yoghurt until they turn two. Then you can swap to semi-skimmed if they’re hitting all their milestones. Once they’re 5 they can eat a healthy balanced diet like you. It’s good for everyone if you cut down on saturated fats by buying lower fat mince, taking the skin of chicken or replacing some meat with beans and pulses.
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