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Child Nutrition – Toddler Nutrient Needs

Posted Mar 01 2010 9:47pm

By Colleen Hurley, RD Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist

Another addition to the toddler feeding series , this post highlights more specific nutrient needs.  We have already discussed toddler feeding tips, which can be used to instill this framework.  Again, these are guidelines to help guide you, not create panic or stress.  Toddlers are notoriously fickle eaters so it is understood that micromanaging everything your toddler eats is next to impossible.  Just do your best to provide balanced meals and snacks; and let the rest be up to them.

 Toddler Nutrient Needs

The daily requirements for a 1-3 year old are as follows:

1.     Protein: A minimum of 16 grams a day. 16 ounces of milk plus one ounce of meat or meat equivalent is ample protein for a toddler.

2.     Fat: At least 30 percent of a toddler’s calories should come from fat. Too little can result in “failure to thrive,” where children do not get enough food to supply their energy and growth needs.

3.     Calories: 40 calories/day/inch of height = 1000 to 1300 calories/day. Calorie distribution is apt to look like this:

        16 g protein = 64 calories

        44 g fat = 396 calories

        210 g carbohydrate = 840 calories

       Total = 1300 caloriesboys

4.     Sodium: 325-1000 mg.

5.     Vitamin C: 40 mg.

6.     Vitamin A: 400 ug (micrograms) retinol equivalent (RE)

7.     Calcium: 800 mg. Even if a child drinks the recommended two cups of milk a day, he still needs 200 more milligrams of calcium. Offer yogurt, cheese, tofu, and dark leafy greens.

8.     Iron: 10 mg.

9.     Zinc: 10 mg. A mild zinc deficiency in toddlers is more common than realized. Symptoms are poor appetite, sub-optimal growth and reduced sense of taste and smell. The best sources of zinc are meat, eggs and seafood.

10. Folate: 50 ug.

The last four are the ones most often deficient in toddlers and are often added (enriched) in toddler foods.

What about fat?

It is important not to restrict fat intake in a child under 2. Until 2 years of age, toddlers should consume full fat foods. Fat is essential for brain development and cognitive function. After 2 years of age, you may give your child reduced or low-fat dairy, however, fat-restricted diets are not recommended for children of any age. It is important, however, to choose healthy fats such as nuts, nut butter, avocados, or full-fat dairy and not foods like French fries, chips, .or cookies. 

Toddler Nutrient Guidelines

When planning meals and snacks for your toddler, Wholesome Toddler Foods recommends the following:

  • 2 to 3 cups of calcium (milk, yogurt, cheese, dark leafy greens, or other calcium rich foods).
  • 4 servings of fruits and vegetables. (Serving size: one tablespoon per year of age.) One serving should be high in vitamin C and another in vitamin A.
  • 4 servings of grains – bread and cereal. One should be an iron-fortified baby cereal. A serving is about 1/4 to 1/3 an adult portion (1/4 slice toast, 1/4 cup pasta).
  • 2 servings of proteins – meat, beans, eggs, tofu, or peanut butter. A good serving of protein should be served at every meal. One serving equals 1/2 ounce. 

Just like adults, children like a variety of food and enjoy making their own decisions. Your child may, however, stick to a few foods she likes and not want to eat much else. That is ok, as long as those foods are healthy. This is a great time to initiate healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. 


USDA’s Searchable Nutrient Database – Enter in any food and find the nutrient content

Nutrient Information from the American Society for Nutritional Sciences for kids allows for interactive games for kids plus feeding guidelines for parents of kids

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