Feed Your Toddler Right

Toddler with Spoon

How Much Is Enough?

You can lead a young child to the table, but you can't make her eat — nor should you. Let your child's appetite guide how much food is enough.

Although they're no longer babies, young children aren't ready for adult-size portions. Judge how much your toddler or preschooler needs to eat using these tips.

  • Serve small helpings and wait until your child asks for more. Offer one tablespoon of food for every year in age.
  • Watch for cues that your child is full. When she starts to play with food, becomes restless or sends other signals of "no more," stop. Knowing what it feels like to be full — and when to stop eating — helps children learn to eat enough but not to overeat.
  • Disband the "clean plate" club. Making your child finish everything can encourage overeating or turn your child off to foods they should be eating. In either case, you could be setting up your child for weight or other nutritional problems later in life.
  • If your child always leaves food on his or her plate, you may be offering too much food. Give smaller portions to smaller people.

If your child is growing normally, seems healthy and has energy to play, she probably is eating enough. If you're unsure, talk to your child's doctor or visit a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Finger Foods for Toddlers

Children love feeding themselves. It gives them a sense of independence and helps them learn when they are full. Young children should eat a variety of foods to get the nutrients they need. Some healthful finger foods toddlers can feed themselves include:

  • A baked potato cut in strips and dipped in low-fat ranch dressing.
  • Grilled chicken cut into strips with honey mustard sauce.
  • A bagel topped with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese, toasted and sliced into strips.
  • Graham crackers dipped in applesauce.
  • Wedges of peeled apple, peach or pear with a yogurt dip.

Children also need plenty of time to eat. Don't force them to eat as fast as you might. Let them eat slowly, savor what they eat and learn when they are full.

Learning to make healthful eating choices and how to judge proper portions occurs very early in life.

Find An Expert

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN) deliver the highest level of nutrition counseling. Search our database of nutrition experts to find someone in your area!

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