Nutritional Needs of a One-Year-Old Toddler

baby-led weaning solid foods toddler Apr 30, 2024
A one year old sits in front of presents and a balloon with a pink overlay that says nutrition for 1 to 2 year olds

Navigating the transition from baby feeding to toddler feeding can be both exciting and daunting for parents. 

So much happens at one time!

Just when you think you had it all figured out…your baby turns one and ventures into the world of toddlerhood with evolving nutritional needs. 

This is exciting, but can also be slightly frustrating because new challenges may arise.

In this blog post, I’ll dive into the essentials of feeding your one-year-old, covering everything from caloric requirements to building balanced meals and snacks so you can get a good handle on nutrient needs for a toddler from 12 to 24 months. 

Listen to the Baby Food for Busy Moms Podcast below or click here!


What are the Nutritional Needs of a 12 to 24 month old toddler?

At the age of one, toddlers require approximately 700 to 1000 calories per day, with half of these calories ideally coming from healthy fats. While their rapid physical growth may slow down, their brains continue developing rapidly. Healthy fats and nutrient-dense foods can help support brain development.

This comes as a surprise to no one, but toddlers are balls of energy. Carbs are incredibly important with the amount of activity they have - especially when they start running around (remember to eat your long-acting carbs, too, as you chase them). Prioritize foods with high fiber like beans, whole fruits and veggies, and whole grains.

The AAP recommends no added sugar under the age of 2.  This means that sugar that naturally occurs in food is okay, but the goal is not to add any extra sugar to food. Remember, sugar is sometimes disguised as honey, syrup, or coconut sugar.

Finally, choose food that is lower in salt.

What Should a One-Year-Old Eat in a Day?

>>> Looking for more specific information on what a toddler should eat in a day or a week? Download this free guide and sample schedule. <<<


Why does my one-year-old need healthy fats?

The generalized term of brain development is often used when discussing infant and toddler nutrition. This timeframe is crucial for brain myelination. Brain myelination is the process by which fatty insulation, also known as myelin, forms around nerve fibers in the brain, facilitating efficient neural communication. It begins before birth and happens the most rapidly in the first two years. It is crucial for motor skills, sensory perception, and cognitive development and is one of the big reasons why our children learn so many new skills between birth to age two. Healthy fats support this process, which is why they are emphasized so heavily.

From birth to age one, babies get healthy fats from breast milk or formula. After the age of one, it is up to the parents to ensure their baby is getting enough healthy fat if they are no longer offering breastmilk

Consider the following sources of healthy fats for your one-year-old

  • Avocados

  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines)

  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds)

  • Olive oil

  • Coconut oil

  • Nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter)

  • Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds)

  • Cocoa powder

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How many calories does my one-year-old need?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one-year-olds need between 700 to 1000 calories per day. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends three meals and two snacks per day.

Finally, AAP recommends around 16 ounces of whole milk per day.

Let’s do a little math:

8 ounces of whole milk is around 150 calories. A one-year old drinking 16 ounces of whole milk is getting around 300 calories from milk alone.

That leaves between 400 to 700 calories for 3 meals and 2 snacks. That is not a lot. 

700 calories divided by 5 eating sessions is around 140 calories per meal. 

Let’s go over the amount of calories in toddler favorites.

  • One baby food pouch is usually between 50-100 calories.

  • ½ cup of greek yogurt with fat is around 100 calories.

  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter is 180 calories.

  • A slice of bread has about 75 calories.

  • One egg is around 75 calories.

  • ½ medium banana is around 50 calories.

  • ½ of a small avocado is around 100 calories.

The purpose of me telling you about the calories in certain foods is to show that 1000 calories split throughout the day is not a ton of food. It is not typical when we see kids on social media eating behemoth meals. Some toddlers eat only berries and crackers. Most of the time that is okay, but talk to your pediatric provider if you are concerned or if there is weight loss.


Does a one-year-old need to drink whole milk?

Cow’s milk is recommended for one year olds because it packs a lot of important nutrients into a familiar package. It is readily available, easy to give, and ensures your baby is getting a lot of healthy fat and calories for brain myelination.

That being said, it is not 100% necessary. 

You can choose a milk alternative with a similar nutritional profile (high in fat and protein) or offer water for hydration and foods that are high in healthy fats. Ensure your baby is getting enough vitamin D since whole milk is often fortified with Vitamin D, which helps with the immune system and with calcium absorption.

It is truly a personal preference from one family to the next. Talk to your pediatric provider about your toddler’s nutritional needs.

A Balanced Diet for a One-Year-Old

In a perfect world, our toddlers would be served three meals and two snacks per day of home cooked meals with a variety of foods and colors. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you see it), this is not the reality for many parents of one-year-olds. We are often working, going to playdates, trying to get our toddler’s infinite energy out by taking them to playgrounds or classes. That meals that some of our meals and snacks will be on-the-go and that is okay.

Rather than obsessing over perfect meal compositions, focus on providing a variety of nutrients throughout the day. Ideal meals would encompass proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber, with an emphasis on whole, minimally processed foods and colorful fruits and vegetables.

There is room for convenience foods. Avoid foods that are high choking risks and learn how to read a food label to find food you feel comfortable serving your toddler.

I also want to set realistic expectations that each child will be different. Some will refuse most foods while others will eat everything. If your toddler is on the more particular side, offer small portion sizes - somewhere around 1 tablespoon worth of food - and then serve more if they are showing interest. This will help decrease the amount of food waste.

Practical Tips for Feeding Toddlers:

We can’t talk about toddler eating without talking about toddler eating habits…

>>> learn more about toddler eating patterns here <<<

  • Yes, nutrition is important, but fostering positive eating habits is also important. Encourage exploration by allowing toddlers to participate in meal preparation. Here are some of my favorite products to get kids involved:

  • I love our toddler tower kitchen helper.

  • These wooden knives can cut soft foods but won’t hurt little fingers.

  • This modern toddler kitchen is everything.

Practice responsive feeding that respects a child's hunger cues, fullness cues, and preferences. In other words, if your toddler isn’t interested, don’t force or bribe them to eat. I know…it is easier said than done and I need to practice what I preach.

  • Large portion sizes can be overwhelming for some toddlers. Provide a small amount of food, which may seem more manageable to a little one.

  • Have family meals as much as you can. It is also easier said than done. Toddlers learn so much from watching their family members eat - especially when it comes to learning new skills like drinking out of cups and holding utensils. Watching you eat vegetables normalizes vegetables for your toddler.

  • Which brings me to my next point…offer foods even if you don’t like them. It is so hard to offer foods if you don’t typically eat them. I often buy prepared fish or shellfish since I don’t eat it very much at home.

  • Continue offering allergens. Initial exposure is important, but continued exposure is also crucial.

  • Remember that not every meal or snack needs to be perfect and balanced. Some will look picture-perfect and some will be whatever you can find.

  • Use a meal delivery service for the whole family if meal prepping is not your jam. We LOVE Marley Spoon in our house because I can offer a wide variety of foods and flavors that I wouldn’t even think of making. Some of our favorites are the asparagus and gruyere ravioli, the chicken bulgogi sandwiches, and the turkey burgers with caramelized onions.

Feeding a one-year-old involves navigating a myriad of nutritional needs, preferences, and practical considerations. By understanding the fundamentals of toddler nutrition and adopting a flexible, balanced approach to meal planning, parents can support their child's growth and development while fostering a lifelong appreciation for healthy eating. Remember, it's not about perfection but nourishing your sweet little one-year-old.

>>>Ā Tired of worrying about feeding your baby? Get personalized supportĀ so you can enjoy feeding your baby. <<<

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