How much should a toddler eat per day and tips to avoid to avoid fussy eaters

Adella Miesner

If your baby was brilliant through the weaning stage, eating every piece of fruit or vegetable you gave them, it might have come as a shock when suddenly they hit the toddler stage and refuse pretty much everything! But fear not, this is completely normal and although incredibly frustrating for […]

If your baby was brilliant through the weaning stage, eating every piece of fruit or vegetable you gave them, it might have come as a shock when suddenly they hit the toddler stage and refuse pretty much everything!

But fear not, this is completely normal and although incredibly frustrating for parents, there are things you can do to help and encourage your child to eat a wider variety of foods.

We spoke to Ballymoney based Paediatric Dietitian, Dr Kirsty Porter who also runs Nutrition4kids and she had this advice for parents worried about how much their toddlers should be eating.

She told Be: ” Parents can often worry about their children’s eating when they are toddlers. They could have previously eaten a wide variety of foods when they were infants and are now starting to refuse previously accepted foods or eating less at times.

“Toddlers appetites decrease as their nutritional requirements are lower compared to infancy which means they don’t as need as much food as before so they will often need less than you think.

“Toddlers don’t need to have separate foods at mealtimes instead offer family foods. Variety is key to help ensure your child meets all their nutritional needs for growth and development. Exposing your toddler to lot of different foods and encouraging them to trail new foods from the beginning can help prevent fussy eating and prevent nutritional deficiencies such as anaemia.

“Toddlers portions are smaller, fruit and vegetables are 40g per portion, half of adults (80g). Kids thrive on routine so sticking to 3 set mealtimes with 1 snack mid-morning and 1 mid-afternoon will help prevent grazing throughout the day and ensure they don’t fill up either.

“Milk is still an important part of a toddler’s diet as it contains several key nutrients such as protein, calcium, B-vitamins and iodine. Aim for a maximum of 300-400mls daily so it doesn’t negatively impact on their appetite and limit the nutrients obtained from food sources. Keeping hydrated is really important to help avoid constipation, 6-8 glasses a day is recommended. Stick to milk and water and avoid fizzy drinks and juice as they can contribute to tooth decay and obesity.”

Dr Porter also advises parents to continue to offer their toddler a variety of foods even if they refuse it and to eat as a family.

She said: “Balanced meals helps get the most of foods. Each meal should be based around a carbohydrate source such as breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. These foods fuel toddlers to be active throughout the day. Protein is need for growth and should be provided 2-3 times a day. This includes foods such as meat, fish, dairy, beans, lentils and pulses.

“Provide dairy foods or unsweetened plant-based milks, yogurts and puddings (if have a cow’s milk allergy) three times a day. Toddlers are also encouraged to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, aim for the rainbow effect to maximise vitamins and minerals. Sugary foods are high in calories and low in other nutrients. Only offer sweet foods as part of meal, rather than within snacks.

“Make mealtimes sociable and try to eat together as a family as much as you can. Be adventurous and get your kids involved in assisting with meal preparation and helping pick new foods to try. Rather than plating up new foods individually serve them alongside other familiar food items. Serve foods in the middle of the table so that everyone is eating the same foods and seeing others eating these foods help them trust them as safe. Get the portion size correct.

“Offer small portions as children can be put off by large portions. Don’t make a big fuss if your child refused to eat, this is a normal part of growing up. Never offer rescue meals as they will often play up to then get foods that they want!”

Dr Porter also has given these top tips to avoid fussy eaters:

Top tips to avoid fussy eaters

1. Feeding environment

Aim for a regular eating routine. This includes 3 main meals and offering 2-3 snacks such as 1 mid-morning, 1 mid-afternoon and 1 before bedtime.  Offer two courses at lunch and evening meal.

Timing of meals is important. Allow enough time for them eat but not too long, aim for 20-30 minutes. Staring at the same foods for any longer than this (20-30 minutes) is going to put children off food and mealtimes all together. After this time, it is unlikely that children are going to eat any more of the food.

Establish a good mealtime routine. This helps children know when to expect meals and snacks during the day sand helps them build up appropriate levels of hunger. Avoid irregular eating patterns as this can cause children not to recognise signals for hunger and result in them filling up in between mealtimes.

Never offer alternatives. When children refuse foods and get offered alternatives in their place this gives the child the impression that the choice at mealtimes is their own. As long as they continue to refuse the foods they will think they can get what they want. 

2. Presentation

Make meals and snacks colourful so they are fun and interesting. Children make their food decisions based on what it looks like. Those aged under 7 are magical thinkers. Let your imaginations run wild. Use moulds or cutters to make foods attractive.

Use brightly coloured plates and cups.

There is lots of ideas on Instagram and Pinterest from parents such as creating animals on pancakes/cereal using fruit!

3. Get children involved



a little girl sitting at a table with a plate of food: Get the little ones involved


© Getty Images
Get the little ones involved

Involve children in all aspects of mealtime preparation.

The more children are involved the more likely they are to eat the food that they helped pick out, prepare and serve themselves.

They can help by picking food items in the supermarket from the shopping list. They can help lay the table for mealtimes. They can help prepare the food items such as washing fruit and vegetables. 

This can be a great way of bonding by helping make up foods such a pizzas, breadcrumb mixtures for meat or fish, batter for pancakes or French toast.

4. Behaviour

Ignore unwanted behaviours! Playing up at mealtimes can often be no more than a cry for attention.

Be careful with praising your child as this can equal pressure for children to eat to please them and pressure can switch of appetite.

Never force feed children and try not to make a big deal of them not eating the meal as again, this will draw more attention to your child and the unwanted behaviour. Keep calm and carry on, as parents you need to try and stay calm and not react. Do not use food as reward, rewarding a child for eating teaches them that you are pleased with their eating performance and can lead to disliking foods.

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