Menus for toddlers (1-3 years)

Toddler eating on a high chair.
Toddler eating on a high chair.
“What and how much should I feed my toddler?”, is a question that is often asked. Dietician Dr Ingrid van Heerden gives useful advice to parents.

Rule of thumb
The basic rule of thumb which can be applied to the dietary intake of toddlers from the age of one to three years, is as follows:

1 Tablespoon of each food for every year of life
Thus a one-year-old child would be given one tablespoon at a time of cereal, pureed fruit, cooked meat, cooked vegetable, and one egg, and milk and dairy products in portions of ½ a cup at a time.

A two-year-old child would be given two tablespoons at a time of the different foods.

A three-year-old child would be given three tablespoons at a time of the various foods.

So little food!
No, it is not too little if you keep in mind that toddlers have a very small stomach capacity and that they cannot handle more food at a meal. This is also the reason why you need to give toddlers a number of small meals every day and not expect them to eat large quantities at three main meals like adults.

Many of the eating problems experienced during the first three years of life are due to the unrealistic expectations of caring adults who cannot grasp the fact that their tiny child just cannot eat large amounts of food and cannot thrive on only three meals a day. So do try and keep this fact in mind when planning and preparing food for toddlers. Both the child and the parents will experience less stress and meals will be pleasant, happy times if you offer the child portions that are suitable for the child’s age and let the child eat six or more small meals a day.

Portion sizes and foods for toddlers aged two to three years

FoodPortions sizeNumber of servings per day
Milk & dairy products½ cup of milk or yoghurt or 15g cheese4-5
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, peanut butter or cooked legumes30-60g meat, fish or poultry, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons peanut butter or 4 tablespoons cooked legumes like baked beans2
Fruit & vegetables 4-5
Vegetables, cooked2-3 tablespoons 
Vegetables, rawA few pieces - only if child can chew well 
Fruit, raw½-1 small fruit 
Fruit, canned2-4 tablespoons 
Fruit juice90-120ml (less than ½ cup) 
Bread and cereals 3
Wholewheat or vitamin & mineral fortified bread½-1 slice 
Cooked porridge1/4-½ cup 
Dry breakfast cereal½-1 cup 

Typical menu for toddlers aged two to three years

40 ml fruit juice
1/4 cup oats porridge with 1 T honey
½ cup full cream milk

Mid-morning snack:
½ cup yoghurt
½ mashed, ripe banana

1 boiled egg
½ - 1 slice wholewheat bread with 1 t polyunsaturated margarine
½ grated apple
½ cup full cream milk

Mid-afternoon snack:
15 g sweetmilk or Gouda cheese
½ slice wholewheat bread with 1 t polyunsaturated margarine
40 ml fruit juice

30 g cooked, mince meat
Mashed potato 2 T
Cooked butternut 1 T
1/4 cup custard

Bed-time snack:
1/4 cup full cream milk with Ovaltine

 Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4
BreakfastApricot juice 40 ml

Oats porridge 1/4 cup

Honey 1 T

Milk ½ cup

Orange juice 40 ml

Cornflakes, ½ cup

Brown sugar 1 T

Millk ½ cup

Banana ½ mashed

Egg 1 poached

Toast ½-1 slice

Margarine 1 t

Milk ½ cup

Apple ½ grated

Creamy meal 1/4 cup

Honey 1 T

Yoghurt, ½ cup

Mid-morning snackYoghurt ½ cup

Banana ½ mashed, ripe

Yoghurt ½ cup

Oats cookie 1

Cheese 15g

Apple juice 40 ml

Milk ½ cup

Dried fruit 1 T

LunchEgg, 1 boiled

Bread ½-1 slice

Margarine 1 t

Apple ½ grated

Milk ½ cup

Peanut butter 2 T

Bread ½-1 slice

Margarine 1 t

Canned peach 1

Milk ½ cup

Baked beans 3 T

Bread ½-1 slice

Margarine 1 t

Carrot sticks

Yoghurt 1/4 cup

Fish finger 1

Mashed potato 2 T

Canned pear 1

Custard 1/4 cup

Milk 1/4 cup

Mid-afternoon snackCheese 15g sweetmilk/Gouda

Bread ½ slice

Margarine 1 t

Pear juice 40 ml

Yoghurt ½ cup

Provitas 1-2

Margarine 1 t

Honey 1 T

Canned apricot 2

Cottage cheese 15g

Bread ½ slice

Margarine 1 t

Apricot juice 40ml

Peanut butter 2 T

Crackers 2

Cranberry juice 40ml

Supper Meat 30g cooked mince

Potato, mashed 2 T

Butternut, cooked 1 T

Custard 1/4 cup

Fish cake, 30g

Pumpkin, 2 T

Tomato, 2 slices

Milk pudding 1/4 cup

Meat 30g cooked

Carrots, cooked 2 T

Naartjie ½-1


Milk ½ cup

Egg, scrambled 1

Bread ½-1 slice

Margarine, 1 t

Banana 1

Custard ½ cup

Bedtime snackMilk 1/4 cup with OvaltineMilk 1/4 cup with honeyMilk 1/4 cup with HorlicksMilk 1/4 cup with Milo

The abovementioned menus are examples and can of course be varied according to season. Young children do not need as much variety as older children, so that the menus for four days can be repeated.
Bread - use wholewheat, brown or vitamin and mineral fortified bread.
Margarine - use polyunsaturated, soft or tub margarine.
Milk - use full cream milk (in contrast to adults, toddlers still need the energy supplied by the fat content of full cream milk).
Fruit - use canned, cooked or pureed fruit for younger children.
Vegetables - use cooked or pureed vegetables with bland flavours for younger children, e.g. potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, butternut, squash, carrots.

- (Dr I. van Heerden, registered dietician)

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