Pediatric Nutrition

Feeding your toddler

UW Health's Pediatric Nutrition program in Madison, Wisconsin, features registered dietitians to educate and counsel children and parents and equip them with the tools they need for a healthier lifestyle.

Once children are 1 year old, they grow more slowly and need less food. They may eat well at one meal, then very little at the next. They may decide to eat only three foods one week then other foods the next.

Don’t worry, they listen to their bodies and will by and large eat enough to grow and stay healthy.

Recommended servings per day for 1 year olds

  • Grains: 2 ounces

  • Fruit: 1 cup

  • Vegetables: 1 cup

  • Meat & Beans: 1 ½ ounces

  • Dairy: 3 Servings

Recommended servings per day for 2 to 3 year olds

  • Grains: 3 ounces

  • Fruit: 1 cup

  • Vegetables: 1 cup

  • Meat & Beans: 2 ounces

  • Dairy: 3 Servings

Be sure to also support good hydration habits and make water their number one beverage between meals and at snacks. Limit juice, including 100% juice, to ½ cup per day.


Toddlers need to eat between meals in order to keep going and growing. Healthful snacks include milk, small pieces of fruit, cut-up raw vegetables, cheese or meat cubes, yogurt, crackers spread with cottage cheese or peanut butter, hard cooked eggs, and non-sugared cereals.

Snacks should be scheduled so they are not too frequent or too close to mealtimes. Keep snacks small and schedule them about two hours before or after a meal.

Encourage Fruits and Vegetables

  • Add grated carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, banana, applesauce, raisins, squash, berries, etc., to muffins, quick breads and pancakes.

  • Dip fresh fruit slices and vegetables in yogurt or cottage cheese dip or spread with cream cheese, peanut butter, or yogurt. Top with raisins, grated carrots, crushed pineapple or banana.

  • Make fruit, vegetable, cubed cheese and meat kabobs.

  • Sprinkle potatoes with cheese, low-fat sour cream, and chopped broccoli.

  • Add grated carrots, zucchini, and/or finely chopped mushrooms to burgers and meatloaf.

  • Make smoothies with fruits, spinach, carrots or pumpkin. Just add a little milk and yogurt.


  • Desserts are not needed at all meals, but when desserts are offered, they should be served casually as part of the meal so they do not seem more pleasing than the rest of the food served.

  • Choose nutritious desserts such as fruit, custard, pudding or oatmeal raisin cookies that can be part of a well-balanced diet.

  • Less nutritious desserts such as pie, cake and other rich foods should be served only occasionally.

Tips for Feeding the Toddler and Preschooler

  • Make meal time pleasant and enjoyable. Reduce distractions such as TV, computer or pets. Eat together!

  • Children like routine. Have three meals and two or three snacks at about the same time every day.

  • Present healthy foods for meals and snacks. Children can choose what and how much to eat from the meal you offer.

  • If your child doesn’t eat, or eats the same thing for a few days, it is OK. They will eat at the next meal or snack. Never force your child to eat.

  • Offer the same foods to the whole family. Don’t make special foods for your child. Serve a food such as bread or fruit with meals in case your child likes nothing else on the menu.

  • Set a good example. Try new foods and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

  • To help your child’s appetite, don’t allow grazing. Offer water between meals and snacks.

  • Praise good eating habits. Don’t label your child as “picky.”

  • Serve just one new food at a time and do not mix foods. Children may need to be offered new foods many, many times before they try them.

  • Small children will be messy. They still enjoy finger foods and learning to use utensils. Be ready with a cloth under the highchair and a cloth to clean up spills.

  • Allow your toddler to help prepare food. They can stir, sprinkle, roll up, spread and plop food items or help set the table. This may increase their interest in food.


Exercise along with a healthy diet helps promote proper growth and prevents obesity.

  • Children should be encouraged to take part in physical activity each day. Promote their interest be playing games along with them.

  • Provide a safe, supervised area for running, jumping, chasing balls, swimming or any activity your child is able to do.

  • Inside games of dancing, tumbling or skipping are great for those “rainy days” when children can’t play outdoors and tire of quiet activities.

  • Limit TV watching or computer and video time to less than two hours per day.