Children's Nutrition: Guidelines for 2-3 Year OldsMany parents worry that they are providing the right food to their children.  Knowing what nutrients your toddler needs and how much of them is important to their growth, health and mental well-being.  Two main systems exist for assisting you in providing healthy, balanced meals for your toddler.


Dietary Guidelines for Your Two or Three Year Old

If you prefer to work with the USDA's Food Pyramid model, your toddler will fall under the kid's version for 2 to 6 year-olds.  This pyramid advises:

  • Grain Group = 6 Servings
  • Vegetable Group = 3 Servings
  • Fruit Group = 2 Servings
  • Milk Group = 2 Servings
  • Meat Group = 2 Servings
  • Fats & Sweets = Eat Less![1657]

This model provides a certain amount of flexibility in determining how much and what you will feed your toddler.  However, take a moment to look at the values under the calorie counting system.  You will see that toddlers within this age group actually require a lot of fat in their diet, which provides essential vitamins as well as the medium to long-term energy which children need for growth.

According to the Daily Calorie Intake model, as provided here by the Mayo Clinic, your two or three year old needs the following nutrients every day[1661]:

  • Calories: 1000 to 1400, depending on growth and activity level.
  • Protein: 5-20% of daily calories (13 to 50 grams for 1,000 daily calories).  
  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of daily calories (33 to 44 grams for 1,000 daily calories).
  • Total fat: 30-40% of daily calories (33 to 44 grams for 1,000 daily calories). 
  • Sodium: 1000 milligrams a day. 
  • Fiber: 14 to 20 grams a day, depending on daily calories and activity level. 
  • Calcium: 700 milligrams a day.  
  • Vitamin D: 600 international units a day.  

One of the difficulties of using the Daily Calorie Intake system is that not all nutrition analyzing software accounts for calcium and vitamin D.  As long as your child's diet includes milk and dairy products, this is generally not something to worry about.  Also, as long as your child is getting a balanced food intake and are not following any special diets, such as a vegan diet, you can be assured your child is also receiving adequate amounts of iron, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and the vitamin B group.

Whether you are looking to use the Food Pyramid System or the Calorie Counting System, you can find more information on portion sizes and the key foods that contain each nutrient on this article, Children's Nutrition: An Overview.

Below are a couple of quick recipes with their nutritional breakdown according to the calorie counting method.  Nutritional analysis for these recipes was done using BigOven software.  

    Recipes for toddlers

    Scrambled Bacon and Eggs 

    Ingredients for 1 serving:

    • 1 teaspoon Butter
    • 1 ½ slice Bacon, chopped into small pieces
    • 1 large Egg
    • 1 tablespoon Milk

    Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the bacon and stir until crisped to your child’s preference.  Meanwhile, whisk the egg and milk in a separate bowl with a fork.  Pour the egg mixture over the bacon.  Stir lightly as egg begins to set.  When cooked through, sprinkle with a bit of parsley, if your child likes it, and not with salt.

    • Calories: 439
    • Protein: 13 grams
    • Carbohydrates: 2
    • Total fat: 42 grams
    • Sodium: 524
    • Fiber: 0

    Cheesy Toast

    Ingredients for 1 serving:

    • 1 slice Whole wheat bread, toasted
    • 1 tablespoon Cheddar cheese, grated

    Sprinkle the cheese on the toast and place in microwave until cheese is just melted.  While it is still warm, fold bread over.  When cool enough for your child, cut into pieces and serve.

    • Calories: 101
    • Protein: 5
    • Carbohydrates: 13
    • Total fat: 4
    • Sodium: 197
    • Fiber: 2

    Tuna Couscous

    Ingredients for 4 servings:

    • 1 cup Couscous 
    • 1 1/2 cup Chicken stock (make sure to use low or no-salt), boiling
    • 8 each Baby tomato, chopped
    • 2 tablespoon Parsley, chopped
    • 1 tin Tuna (in brine, not oil), drained

    Pour the stock over the couscous in a bowl.  Cover and set aside.  Once couscous has absorbed all the liquid (about 10 minutes), fluff with a fork and add the chopped vegetables and tuna.  Stir through and serve at room temperature or slightly warmer.

    • Calories: 277
    • Protein: 22
    • Carbohydrates: 34
    • Total fat: 5
    • Sodium: 706
    • Fiber: 2

    Creamy tomato soupTomatoes are important for children's nutrition

    Ingredients for 6 servings:

    • 3 tablespoon Butter 
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
    • 1 large Onion, peeled & chopped
    • 3 medium Tomatoes peeled & chopped
    • 2 tablespoon Tomato paste 
    • 2 tablespoon Flour 
    • 2 1/2 cup Chicken Stock 
    • 1/2 teaspoon Sugar 
    • 1/4 teaspoon Salt 
    • 1 pinch Black pepper 
    • 1 cup Cream

    Heat butter and oil in a large saucepan over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste, and cook for about 2 -3 minutes. Blend in the flour, then add the chicken stock, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor, then return the purée to the saucepan and add the cream. Reheat and simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes.

    • Calories: 366
    • Protein: 8 grams
    • Carbohydrates: 21 grams
    • Total fat: 28.6 grams
    • Sodium: 607 grams
    • Fiber: 2 grams

    Hummus and Carrots

    Ingredients for 1 serving, although hummus makes a couple servings:

    • 1 can (12 oz) Chickpeas, drained
    • 2 tablespoon Yoghurt 
    • 1 teaspoon Lemon juice 
    • 2 each Carrot, peeled and cut into sticks

    In a food processor (or with a hand mixer), add the can of chickpeas, yogurt and lemon juice.  Blend until smooth.  Serve as a dip with carrot sticks.

    • Calories: 64
    • Protein: 3
    • Carbohydrates: 13
    • Total fat: 1
    • Sodium: 135
    • Fiber: 3           

      Homemade Chicken Nuggets

      Ingredients for 6 servings:

      • 1 pound Chicken breast, boneless, skinless and cut into 1” pieces
      • 1/4 cup Flour 
      • 1/4 teaspoon Paprika 
      • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper freshly ground
      • 1 large Egg white 
      • 1/4 cup Yoghurt 
      • 1 1/3 cup Cornflakes, crushed

      Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.

      Prepare three bowls: one with flour and seasonings, one with egg and buttermilk stirred together, and one with crushed cornflakes.

      Roll the chicken pieces in the flour mixture. Then, one at a time, dip the chicken into the milk mixture, then coat the pieces with cornflakes. Place chicken on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes until golden, turning them halfway through.

      • Calories: 202
      • Protein: 23
      • Carbohydrates: 9
      • Total fat: 8
      • Sodium: 122
      • Fiber: 0

      A Dessert Fruit SaladChildren's Nutrition; Fruit Salad

      Ingredients for 2 servings:

      • 1 each Apple, chopped
      • 1 cup Fruits (grapes, pineapple, etc), chopped
      • 1 tablespoon Honey 
      • 2 tablespoon Apple juice

      Mix all fruit in a bowl.  Mix together the honey and apple juice in a small cup.  Pour over the fruit and toss to coat.

      • Calories: 57
      • Protein: 0
      • Carbohydrates: 14
      • Total fat: 0
      • Sodium: 0
      • Fiber: 2

      For specific guidelines relevant to another age group and an overview of both nutrition models discussed here, have a look at these articles:

      And for more information on adapting your favorite recipes for your kids, have a look at:

        Information provided in this article has come from different sources, including web resources such as the Mayo Clinic and books focusing on children's recipes and nutrition.  While much of the data has been researched by nutritionists, some of it is contradictory.  The author of this article is not a pediatrician or a nutritionist and recommends that you contact a registered practitioner should you have concerns with your child's health.