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Pregnancy & Parenting
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How much should a two and a half year old be eating?

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Hi all,

My daughter is 2.5 years and we have never had a problem with getting her to eat. She eats a variety of foods, both nutritious and non-nutritious.  She loves chocolates and treats, but she also loves apple slices with peanut butter or baby carrots and dip for snacks. 

The other day, my childcare provider said that she is eating an awful lot and often has 3 breakfasts! (this is usually cereal with milk or pancakes or whatever.  Before we drop her off at 7:00 am, she also has a small bowl of multigrain cheerios with milk or a piece of toast with butter.  The dayhome provider also says that she will also have 2-3 helpings of lunch, too.  She eats more than any of the other kids there.  At supper, she will eat whatever we are eating; about a third of the size of our portions - usually fish, rice or potato, and steamed brocolli/ carrots/ cauliflower - or something to that extent - sometimes a bowl of KD if we are super busy, but never more than once a week.

So, my question(s) is/ are this: How much is too much for a two year old to eat? is it possible for a two year old to want to eat out of boredom? (the other kids don't arrive until an hour later, and then she wants to eat again with them).  Am I giving her too much to eat? When the dayhome provider says that she has had enough, she cries inconsolably for more.  She's very healthy and at the high end of a healthy weight for her height/ size, fairly active (although she DID go through a period of about 2-3 weeks where she refused to walk anywhere and wanted to be carried...)  What is an average portion size for a two year old? How can I get her to drink more water? (she hardly drinks anything during the day - only warm milk at night before bed, in a bottle, still)

Any helpful advice would be greatly appreciated as both myself and her dad are overweight and I don't want her to have to go through life with weight issues. I try to set a good example and provide healthy snacks instead of sweets and try to drink a lot of water instead of pop.  I am on my own weight loss journey and I want her to see me eating healthy and being active.  *sigh* Am I doing something wrong here?

Edited Jul 06 2010 13:35 by bierorama
Reason: Removed Sticky 07-06-2010
7 Replies (last)

First of all, you're doing nothing wrong! I had worries about my daughter eating enough around that age and here are some things that I found out:

A child's stomach is about the size of their fist.

Children between 1 and 3 need about 1,000-1,300 calories per day. I've also seen 40 calories per inch of height every day (so, my daughter at 42 inches needs 1680 calories/day. She's 5, though).

The average portion size for a child 2-6 years old is 2 tablespoons when it comes to fruits/veggies. Basically, it's 1/4 of an adult portion size. If your DCP is giving her appropriate portions, she may not be eating as much as you think she is or as they make her out to be eating.

Try looking at what she eats over the period of a week instead of on a daily basis. My kids eat a very balanced diet on weekly basis but if you look at the individual days, some are carb-heavy with very little protein while others are full of dairy with very little veggies. It all evens out at the end of the week.

I wonder if she's eating the multiple helpings all at once or if she's kind of grazing over a couple hour long period. My daughter is a grazer. She much prefers to eat 6, 7, 8 small meals/snacks per day instead of three large meals with three small snacks. We used to leave a plate with cheese, crackers, grapes, etc. on it so she could make "pit-stops" during play.

As for increasing the water intake--do you put ice in it? My son (20 months) will ONLY drink water if it has ice in it. You could also try mixing the water with a little bit of 100% juice to give it some flavor. Just remember that they're not supposed to have more than 4-6 ounces of juice a day (and that's only about 1/2-3/4 cup).

My daughter eats more at preschool when she's around other kids that are doing the same. She also eats things at school that she doesn't even want to try at home. Welcome to peer pressure! Haha! Anyway, if she eats one breakfast at home, can they try to put off her second breakfast until the other kids get there? Also, she doesn't seem to be getting much protein out of the breakfasts you list as her home breakfast (cereal and milk, pancakes, toast and butter). What about cooking her some eggs or putting peanut butter on the toast or pancake? Eggs cook quickly in the micrwave!

Hope that helps!

Edit: Here are the websites that I used when trying to figure out whether or not my daughter was eating the appropriate amounts of food: g_your_toddler.html children/parents/behavior/224.html

Edit 2: Perhaps she's going through a series of growth spurts that requires her to eat more? They grow so fast at this age that I'm not surprised she's eating a lot!

Thank you so much for your (very articulate) advice and for those links! I really appreciate it!

After reading your response, I will definitely try the ice cube in the water to see if that gets her to drink more.  It turns out that I HAVE been giving her rather large portion sizes, and I'll try to make those a little smaller as well.  I like the idea of eggs in the morning for her, as I usually have 2 eggs almost every morning (sometimes with the yolk, sometimes just the whites).  She often asks for carb heavy items, actually.  She's a bit of a carb addict, in fact - like her mother. haha. I am often challenged to get enough protein during the day and get most of it at supper, as well - it would be good for both of us.

Those sites give a really good idea about how much she should be eating, but most sites talk about tips and tricks for toddlers who are picky eaters.  My problem seems to be that my toddler doesn't want to stop eating! yesterday, I gave her a snack of apple slices with peanut butter, then she ate supper (probably the portion size of two of her fists) which was rice, steamed veggies, and salmon) and her dad also gave her a sweettart lollipop - one of those small, striped powder-like candies).  She ate all this from 5:30pm-7pm - a full hour and a half of non-stop eating! Then, about 45 mins to an hour later (after playing tag, dancing, jumping and doing a puzzle), she drank her 7 oz of warm milk before bed.  wow. 

My daughter's favourite activity is sitting in front of the tv watching elmo, doing puzzles, reading or watching kids' nursery rhyme youtube videos - We try to at least go for a walk everyday but she usually only wants to walk for half and be carried or pulled in the wagon going back.  She's definitely not as active as many other 2-3 year olds...



I know those articles are geared toward picky eaters but I like that they give you an idea how much an average toddler should be eating and the likes. I'm sure yours is not a common problem (my toddler seems like he never eats!) and it must be frustrating trying to find information.

Toddlers need more carbs than other macronutrients so it's not surprising that she asks for more of them. Is she getting some whole grains in her diet, too? They break down at a slower pace and would help her feel full longer. What about oatmeal in the morning? My toddler will devour oatmeal all day long and I can usually sneak things into it that he wouldn't usually eat (like pumpkin or pureed cauliflower).

I doubt that she's eating out of boredom at this age. Does she eat in front of the TV? That can lead to children as young as toddlers eating more than they need to.

Also, it sounds like she does many activities that don't require much physical activity. My kids always have periods of down-time during the day/evening but they are almost always on their feet otherwise (sometimes to my chagrin). Maybe she's not getting enough physical activity after all? There's no way I could tell you this since I can't spend a day in your life. I can tell you that the AAP doesn't recommend more than 1-2 hours of quality programming each day for children over 2. It's also recommended that toddlers get 1.5 hours of physical activity (30 minutes of structured activity and 60 minutes of free play) daily. For preschoolers, it's 2 hours/day. Again, I'm not saying she's too inactive. I just don't know so I'm throwing it out there.

All in all, I think she just sounds like a normal toddler who may be having a growth spurt. Or she may just need more calories than the average 2.5 year old, especially if mom and dad are both tall (genetics has more of a role in growth than anything else).

I wanted to add to the wonderful info above (just wow!) - my daughter is 3 and she DOES eat out of boredom.  I'm not sure when this has started, but after fixing snack after snack, I realized she not only associated a snack with tv, she would eat when she didn't have an engaging activity.  Both my 3 & 6 year old ask for snacks before bed, regardless of whether we finished dinner 3 hours or 1 hour before-hand - it is habitual.  I try to give a good mix of food groups with every meal, so maybe eggs and a bit of fruit with the cereal - doesn't always go over well.  I know it keeps MY tummy full longer.

For her, at 3.5 years, I simply started asking her after a couple of snacks if her tummy was hungry or if her mouth wanted to chew, and she has been telling me sometimes that her mouth just wants to chew - so I give her a piece of sugar-free gum, and try to find an engaging activity for her.

My kids also have a bottle of water available 24/7.  Don't know how much they actually drink from it, but it is there.  Maybe let her pick out her own (spill-proof) water bottle? 

A large appetite might be a sign of something like diabetes, so you might mention it to her doctor and see if a test is recommended.

wow! (exactly!)

...a virtual plethora of ideas here! Thanks so much! I definitely love the idea of pumpkin in the oatmeal and maybe cauliflower, too (maybe not together , though).  I also love the idea of letting her choose her own water bottle - I could see her responding very well to that idea and drinking more water as a result.  She also likes boiled eggs sliced up (sometimes).  I should really be offering her a nibble tray with a variety of fruits as well.  She may even like to watch me (and help) blend some frozen fruit in a blender for smoothies.  I am inspired with new ideas...

definitely, though, I think I need to be more active with her and try to sort of distract her from always wanting to snack.  I think she also associates food with the TV (unfortunately).  I (stoopidly) got into the habit of letting her watch youtube videos of nursury rhymes while eating supper, as she ate more of her supper that way (I could sneak in a few spoonfuls while she was watching).  This was ofcourse before the CCP advised me of her excessive eating. (big oops!)  I will have to get her out of this habit somehow....

I can't thank you bier and rux enough for your responses and again, for the links...It really helps!

thank you all for this! i am having concerns about my 10 mo old in the new daycare.  i think she is feeding him too much because he is so cute when he eats.  he is a really good eater, and will eat as much as he is given.  yesterday she fed him what i had allotted for 2 days of food... i am going to talk with her about it again.  the idea of a portion being the size of his fist makes sense to me.  my idea is to encourage her to give him a portion of veggies and let him play for a bit before giving him more... i know he eats more than the size of his fist even for me... probably 2 fists of veggies, 1 fist of fruit, 1 fist of grain, and 1 fist of protien at any given meal.  plus breastmilk and formula and water.  (i like the idea of his fist size as a measure :))

darwinsfrog, smoothies are a great idea! Both of my kids love them. I start ours off with some oats pureed in the blender and then start adding fruit, milk or almond milk and ice. If I'm brave, I'll sneak in some spinach, too.

jessiemccrory, their fist is the size of their empty stomach. The serving sizes for toddlers is 1/4 of an adult portion which, for fruits and veggies, is 1/8 cup or about 2 tablespoons. Here's a good guide from

Examples of toddler size portions include:

  • 1/4 to 1/2 slice of bread
  • 1/4 cup of dry cereal
  • one to two tablespoons of cooked vegetables
  • 1/2 piece of fresh fruit
  • 1/3 cup of yogurt
  • 1/2 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of smooth peanut butter (if no risk of food allergies) spread thinly on bread or a cracker
  • 1 ounce of meat

This is also a great source of portion sizes AND sample menus: g_your_toddler.html

When my son was still nursing, I'd give him 1 "tub" of veggis, 1 "tub" of fruits, 1/8 cup shredded cheese (or yogurt) and either those fruit/veggie puffs or some other sort of grain (bread torn into small pieces, well-done pasta, etc.) for a meal. He didn't usually eat all of it especially because I always nursed him first. When we started the weaning process, we started giving him the solids first and then nursing him afterwards, eventually dropping the nursing session after mealtimes (bedtime and morning stuck around a bit longer). Hope that helps!

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