How to meet nutritional needs for toddlers in 2019

How to meet Nutritional needs for Toddlers

Alt="Cooking toddler"

I always felt confident that when I had children I would raise them to be healthy eaters. However, what I thought would be straightforward and easy, turned out to be much more challenging than I expected.

So, you baby is 1 year old? Congratulations! Feeding toddlers can be a tricky business.

There is a lot of information and advice on what essential vitamins and minerals your toddler should have but how much per day and where to source it from? Read on.

 Nutritional requirements for toddlers

Calories: 1,000-1,200 Kcal/day (increasing with age and activity level)

Protein: 13 grams/day

Carbohydrate: 130 grams/day

Fibre: 19 grams/day

Sodium: 1 gram/day (This equates to a ½ teaspoon of salt per day.)

Iron: 7 mg/day

Water: 45 UK fluid ounces 

Starting at age 1, toddlers need around 1,000 calories, increasing with age and activity level to around 1,200 calories/day. Reaching 4 years old, they will need about 1,500 calories/day. There really is no reason to count calories to ensure adequate intake if she is adequately gaining weight and staying steady on her growth curve. Provide your babe with a balanced, healthy, whole-food approached diet and she will thrive. 

PROTEIN - include about two portions of protein per day of meat, fish, eggs, nuts or pulses (e.g. beans and lentils, or foods made from pulses like tofu, dhal and soya chunks/mince). These foods provide protein and minerals including zinc and iron. It’s useful to include oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel and fresh tuna) once or twice a week

Adults typically eat more carbohydrates than they need, so aiming for a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet is usually recommended. However, with toddlers, the story is different. Young children need diets higher in carbohydrate and lower in protein. It may seem logical to think a growing child needs high protein, but in all actuality it’s very easy to meet a child’s protein needs. Children age 1-3 only need 13 grams of protein/day. 

Just two 8 oz. cups of cow’s milk will exceed a child’s protein needs for the day. What parents should be most concerned with is carbohydrate intake. 

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The brain uses glucose from carbohydrates to feed itself. Low carbohydrate diets are not appropriate for children, EVER. Their brain is growing at an astronomical rate and needs a high amount of carbohydrate to function. Children from the age of 1 need 130 grams of carbohydrates a day. If 130 grams sounds like a lot, it is (for a little one). It’s the same amount required for an adult brain to function optimally. That is why it’s so important to provide your child a balanced diet with whole foods like vegetables, grains and fruit incorporated into every meal and snack. Examples of healthy carbohydrates include quinoa, wild rice, barley and oats, fresh and dried fruits such as apples, stone fruits, cantaloupe, and banana, and starchy vegetables like squash, sweet potato and peas. Just a note, milk and yogurt are a good source of carbohydrate, but cheese is not.


Children age 1-3 need a minimum of 19 grams of fibre a day. If you incorporate healthy carbohydrates like listed above, there should be no problem in reaching this goal. Remember, whole foods, not processed, have the most fibre.


We all need sodium to live! Toddlers age 1-3 NEED at least 1 g/day to keep their body functioning as it should. Sodium is an electrolyte and works to maintain blood pressure, muscle contractions and nerve function. Sodium is not evil! So many moms are concerned with how much salt is too much, so they end up going overboard on cutting it way back.

Don’t eliminate all the salt from your babies diet.  

Too little sodium actually causes more problems than too much. Your little one needs 1,000 mg of sodium per day, this equates to a ½ t salt/day. The tolerable Upper Level is set at 1,500 mg/day which means: avoid going over 1,500 mg on a daily basis. Food made from scratch may be lightly seasoned, not unseasoned.

Remember, salt brings out the natural flavours in food, make your little one’s meals palatable. Rule of thumb, cut the recipe’s salt in half and season your portion at the table. After all, they will be eating your food for years to come, there’s no need for such a drastic change when baby starts to eat.

Sodium lurks in processed food items, not your home cooking.

Do watch for sodium in breads, crackers, chips, popcorn, nuts, and pretty much all processed snack foods. And of course, most all meals that come from restaurants, especially fast food, are loaded with sodium. This is what you should try to avoid, not the salt in your homemade pasta sauce.


Meals provided to children age 1-3 should provide 7mg of iron per day. Many moms are concerned about iron intake, and rightly so. As children progress from the highly absorbable iron in breastmilk and iron fortified formula to cow’s milk, a poor source of iron, a picky eater may end up with a sub-par iron intake.

What you can do is serve your little one foods high in iron (see chart below) paired with foods high in Vitamin C and cook with cast iron cookware when you can. Supplements are usually unneeded, unless your babe is a chronically poor eater or drinks most of their calories from cow’s milk.


High Iron Foods

Iron (mg)


1. Canned Clams

Alt="Tinned clams"

Clams are one of the highest ranked food sources for iron.

A three-ounce serving of canned clams contains a whopping 23.8mg of iron.

Try adding them to your favourite pasta sauces and rice dishes.

You can even combine them with shrimp and other seafood favourites.


2. Fortified Breakfast Cereals

Alt="Fortified breakfast cereal"


Breakfast cereals are often a main source of iron, but you have to choose the right types.

Sugar-laden cereals you might have eaten as a kid aren't the best choice.

The key is to look for a fortified cereal that contains 100 percent of your daily value of iron.

A one-cup serving of cereal contains 18mg of Iron.

3. White Beans

Alt="White beans"

While all beans offer iron, white beans pack the most. In fact, a one-cup serving contains 8mg of Iron.

If you don't have time to sort and soak dry beans, try canned versions - just watch the sodium content.

You can enjoy white beans by themselves, in a salad, or add them to stews, soups, and pasta dishes.

4. Fortified Hot Cereals

Alt="Fortified hot cereal"

For days when you crave a hot breakfast over cold cereal, fortified hot cereals can contain 4.9-8.1mg of Iron per instant packet, depending on the brand.

While this is a fraction of the amount of iron found in fortified dry cereals, you can still meet your daily iron requirements by eating other sources of the mineral along with your hot cereal.

5. Dark Chocolate

Alt="Hot chocolate"

If you're a dark chocolate lover, now you have another reason to eat your favorite dessert.

Three ounces of dark chocolate - approximately one small bar - contains about 7mg of Iron.

Make sure you opt for real dark chocolate, which should contain 45 to 69 percent cacao solids.


6. Organ Meats

Alt="Organ meats"

While organ meats are often overlooked, they're a great source of vital nutrients, including iron.

The exact amount depends on the type of organ, as well as its source.

Beef liver, for example, has 5mg of Iron per a regular 3oz serving.

7. Soybeans


Soybeans are an ideal protein source in vegetarian diets, but these nutrient-dense legumes are good for everyone.

A half-cup serving contains 4.4mg of Iron.

Try substituting soybeans for meat in main dishes or add dried versions to salads for an alternative crunch to croutons.


8. Lentils


These pulses are relatives of beans, and are another valuable source of iron.

A half-cup serving contains just over 3mg of Iron

The advantage of using lentils over beans is that they have a faster cooking time.

9. Spinach

Alt="Fresh Spinach"

Spinach is famous for its vitamin A content, but it is also a valuable source of iron: a half-cup of it contains about 3mg.

If eating raw spinach isn't your forte, try one of these delicious recipes.





FOOD source of Iron

Alt="food source for iron"

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There are so many milk choices these days. Each has their benefits and drawbacks, there’s no perfect choice. Dairy milk has certainly gotten a bad rap lately, with studies showing that a lifelong intake of dairy milk shows an associated risk between high milk intake and higher mortality and fracture in older adults. Cow’s milk definitely isn’t what it used to be due to the way dairy cows are raised and treated in today’s world. Because of this fact, parents are put in a rough spot, now needing to research what is best to give their children.


Alt="Milk alternatives table"


Looking at the milk comparison chart above, you can see, soy, cashew, coconut and almond milk are poor choices looking from a carbohydrate standpoint, as they provide next to no carbs (great for you, not so great for kids). But soy milk is the best option when looking at iron, as soybeans are a great source. Almond milk is next in line.


You don’t want to feed your baby reduced-fat or fat-free milk because your baby NEEDS the fat for proper growth and development until the age of two. You also don’t want to feed your baby soy milk, rice milk, almond milk or any other milk alternative until the age of two. These milks often do not contain enough calories, protein or fat for a growing toddler.


 As your baby is weaning off formula or breast milk, they need a replacement that is somewhat nutritionally comparable. Looking at the options, each have their benefits and drawbacks. I have personally decided to give organic, full fat cow’s milk to cover macro-nutrient needs, in conjunction with organic soy milk to assist in meeting iron needs for the first couple years



Children age 1-3 need 1.3 liters/day (45 fluid ounces) of water coming from water itself, the water in milk, and the water contained in food. (7) Many parents are unsure about how much water to give. From the age 6-12 months, babies can be offered water in small cup, from a straw or sippie cup during meals and throughout the day. By the time baby reaches 1 year, they will drink a good amount of water.



  • Use some butter, margarine and oils in cooking. Or, add a bit of butter to your toddler's plate of food if you are cooking with less oils for the whole family
  • Give a mixture of white and some wholemeal/wholegrain breads and cereals because just wholegrain foods are too filling for toddlers.
  • Limit cake, puddings and biscuits to one small serving per day and serve alongside fruit.


  • Encourage, but don't pressure or force your child to eat at a particular time. Hard as it may be to believe, your child's diet will balance out over several days if you make a range of wholesome foods available.
  • One year olds need foods from the same basic nutrition groups that you do. If you provide your child with selections from each of the basic food groups and let him or her experiment with a wide variety of tastes, colours, and textures, he or she should be eating a balanced diet with plenty of vitamins. 

Give your toddler between six and eight drinks per day to ensure adequate hydration that is, a drink with each meal and snack

  • More may be needed in very hot weather or if they are particularly active.
  • Use beakers and cups instead of bottles.
  • The best drinks to give between meals and snacks are water or milk.
  • Dilute drinks containing sweeteners with a lot of water.
  • Do not give sugary drinks including fruit juices and smoothies to toddlers.
  • Tea, coffee or fizzy drinks are also unsuitable for toddlers.

Foods that may cause harm

  • Keep very salty foods to a minimum. This includes crisps and other salty snacks.
  • Limit any sugary food and drinks to a maximum of four times per day to avoid the risk of dental decay i.e. limit them to three meals and no more than one snack per day.
  • Do not give raw eggs or raw shellfish to toddlers as they may cause food poisoning. Make sure eggs are well cooked right through.
  • Do not give shark, swordfish and marlin to toddlers, as they may contain high levels of mercury. Limit smaller oily fish to twice a week for girls and four times a week for boys. e.g. sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout, eel.


Do not give whole nuts to toddlers because of the risk of choking

  • Ground or chopped nuts or nut butters are suitable. Soft round foods such as grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut in half.

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Give toddlers a vitamin A & D supplement each day

  • This is for normal growth and development and to prevent rickets.
  • It is especially important for fussy eaters, toddlers of African, African-Caribbean and South Asian origin and those living in the northern areas of the UK.
  • Vitamin drops usually include vitamin C which helps with iron absorption.


    • Never offer peanuts, whole grapes, cherry tomatoes (unless they're cut in quarters), whole carrots, seeds (i.e., processed pumpkin or sunflower seeds), whole or large sections of hot dogs, meat sticks, or hard candies (including jelly beans or gummy bears), or chunks of peanut butter (it's fine to thinly spread peanut butter on a cracker or bread).
    • Hot dogs and carrots— in particular—should be quartered lengthwise and then sliced into small pieces.
  • Make sure your child eats only while seated and while supervised by an adult. Although your one-year-old may want to do everything at once, "eating on the run" or while talking increases the risk of choking. Teach your child as early as possible to finish a mouthful prior to speaking.



THE INFORMATION PROVIDED DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. All content information is intended to be for general informational purposes only. Please see your doctor with regard to information attained from the above article if you are concerned with the health of your child. The content above is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. NEVER NEGLECT YOUR DOCTOR’S PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE BECAUSE OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE READ. 






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