A Toddler's Required Caloric Intake
Getting enough calories each day is crucial for proper growth and development in toddlers. The type of calories your toddler consumes is also important. Unfortunately, about 15 percent of families in the U.S. are unable to acquire food to meet their nutritional needs, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Offering your child a variety of healthy, toddler-friendly foods every few hours and letting him eat until he’s full will give him the best start in life.
In general, a toddler needs 1,000 to 1,400 calories each day to grow and develop at a healthy pace. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, 2-year-olds usually need about 1,000 calories, while 3-year-olds require 1,000 to 1,400 calories a day, depending on activity levels. Generally, toddler girls need slightly fewer calories than toddler boys.
To help determine your toddler’s specific calorie needs, use her body weight. Hasbro Children’s Hospital recommends toddlers ages 1 to 3 consume 75 to 90 calories per kilogram, equivalent to about 34 to 41 calories per pound of body weight. For example, a 27-pound 2-year-old needs 918 to 1,107 calories, while a 34-pound 3-year-old requires about 1,156 to 1,394 calories a day.
Recommendations for Sugar
Although sugars provide calories, they contain few nutrients. Limit your child’s intake of sugars from juices, sugary drinks and sweets. A review published in a 2012 edition of the “European Journal of Clinical Nutrition” recommended that toddlers get less than 10 percent of their calories from sugars. For example, a toddler who consumes 1,000 calories a day should eat fewer than 25 grams of sugar, a toddler who takes in 1,200 calories should eat fewer than 30 grams and a toddler who ingests 1,400 calories should eat fewer than 35 grams of sugar a day.
Carbohydrates, protein and fat make up your toddler’s total caloric intake. Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 calories a gram and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Carbohydrates are your toddler’s main source of calories. The Institute of Medicine recommends children ages 1 to 3 get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates and at least 130 grams of carbohydrates each day. Thirty to 40 percent of your toddler’s calories should come from fat; 5 to 20 percent of his calories should be from protein; at least 13 grams of protein a day is the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for children ages 1 to 3. Healthy, toddler-friendly foods include whole-grain breads, pasta, cereals and crackers; avocados; full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk and cheese; soft fruits and vegetables; soft lean meats or poultry as well as vegetable oils. Some toddlers are ready for peanut butter, but ask your child's pediatrician to be sure.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- KidsHealth: Nutrition Through Variety
- Hasbro Children’s Hospital: Nutritional Requirements
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The Role and Requirements of Digestible Dietary Carbohydrates in Infants and Toddlers
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes -- Macronutrients