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Inside: What do two year olds eat? Here’s an easy guide that explains what two-year-olds need to eat and how to feed them. You’ll leave with a good understanding of what and how to feed your toddler!
When my son turned two, his feeding took a turn for the “I don’t want to eat it.” As a dietitian, you can imagine, I had some feelings about that. Feeding toddlers can be so tricky and I want to help walk you through what two-year-olds eat so that you can feel confident!
It may feel overwhelming to be feeding a two-year-old (at least pat yourself on the back, you made it through feeding a one-year-old!), so I’ve put together this easy feeding guide to walk you through the process.
How Two Year Olds Eat
Two-year-olds are so great! Playing, learning, and so curious about the world, they want to learn to do everything by themselves. I know it has it’s inconveniences, but it’s great for us in the feeding department. We can help them use their desire to do things by themselves to help two-year-olds eat better!
Two-year-olds can pick up small things and big things with their hands, and they may be extremely interested in using utensils. They may want to use big person utensils so they can be just like you! That’s great! We want them to eat, they want to use the utensils, perfect!
By now, toddlers need to be eating primarily table food – solid food that the family is eating (with choking hazards removed). Foods like pouches, purees, puffs, “baby foods”, etc. aren’t around very much, if at all.
If your toddler isn’t eating much, that’s okay. It’s normal for the amount of food they eat to vary from day-to-day. Often two-year-old picky eaters start to emerge because of a new fear of foods and a greater ability to discern bitter flavors.
What balanced meals do two year olds eat
Toddlers are notorious for eating like birds one day and packing food down the next day. Toddlers may start eating much less food than they did when they were babies, and they still have small stomachs. Plus, they may start displaying more picky eating that you saw in the past. All of these things make it really important to come up with meals that are balanced and have a lot of nutrients.
I’m sure you know all the “problems” though, with feeding toddlers. I’ll share a basic meal formula with you that will make it easier to feed your toddler through all the toddler things:
Protein food + fat source + fruit and/or veggie + energy food = balanced meal
Let’s get into each of these.
Protein foods that your two-year-old can eat (when cooked soft)
Protein comes in more than just meat. There are lots of protein foods that your two-year-old may be able to eat. Make sure they are cooked soft and diced, or served in safe ways.
- Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt
- Peanut butter or nut/seed butters (spread on a cracker or bread, or mixed into something)
- Ground up nuts or seeds mixed into other foods like yogurt or applesauce
Serve a protein food at every meal and snack. This trick and having a toddler feeding schedule, can help toddlers not ask for snacks every 10 minutes!
Fat sources for your two-year-old
Toddlers need fat for their brain development and for energy. We can serve foods that already have fat in them like meat or dairy, or we can add fat to our cooking and serving. Here are some great sources of fat for two-year-olds.
- Avocado oil
- Full-fat dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt
- Nut and seed butters (spread on crackers or bread, or mixed into other foods)
- Fatty fish (salmon, sardines)
- Coconut oil
Fruits and veggies for two-year-olds
Your two-year-old can eat any fruits and veggies that you serve with your own meals and snacks, as long as they are prepped in a safe way. The more the merrier! The more often your toddler sees fruits and veggies, the higher the chance they will try it and start eating it. Serving a green and an orange veggie daily helps them get enough vitamin A and other important vitamins and minerals. Here’s a short list of green and orange veggies to focus on:
- Carrots (served cooked soft, or shredded)
- Sweet potatoes
- Cooked greens
Other fruits and veggies like bell peppers, oranges, strawberries, and kiwi fruit help your child get the vitamin C they need to absorb iron into their body.
If you can, add a fruit and/or veggie at every meal and snack. Adding color helps them get the nutrients they need and helps keep them familiar with veggies and fruits.
Energy foods for two-year-olds
Two-year-olds need lots of energy! That’s why we need to provide plenty of energy foods like whole grains, starchy veggies, and fruit. It’s easy to find yourself in a constant cracker cycle with toddlers (goldfish tantrums, anyone?). Crackers are fun, for sure, but variety is the best. So, see how many different foods you can serve for energy each week.
Here are some nutrient-dense foods that may be good to add in to what you serve:
- Oats (cooked)
- Sweet potatoes
- White potatoes
- Dried fruit that has been cut into small pieces, cooked and softened, or cooked into things
- Homemade muffins
Free Child Feeding Guide: From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better Without Losing Your Mind
Prevent choking when deciding what to serve your two-year-old
When deciding what your two-year-old will eat, make sure that you are not serving any choking hazards.
Here are some common choking hazards:
- Tough meat
- Chunks of nut butters
- Hot dogs and sausages
- Chunks of cheese
- Hard candy, chewy candy
- Raw veggies
- Whole grapes and cherry tomatoes
- Whole nuts and seeds
To prevent choking:
- Modify – soften or dice
- Sit – make sure your child is sitting in a chair while eating
- Avoid some foods that cannot be modified
- Be prepared if something does happen
What do two year olds eat?
Here is a sample menu for the foods that could be served to your two-year-old. I have NOT included portion sizes! What? Am I crazy? Because, yes, that is the most common question I get about feeding toddlers. The thing is, the most important thing about feeding toddlers is learning that it’s their job to decide how much to eat!
Start with small portions, about 1-2 Tablespoons of each type of food on their tray or plate. They will let you know if they want more of a specific type of food. They won’t eat what they don’t want to eat.
Sample menu for a two-year-old
Breakfast: Fruit smoothie with a piece of toast and peanut butter
Morning Snack: thinly sliced cheese and apples
Lunch: Leftovers: spaghetti and meatballs with broccoli
Afternoon Snack: homemade muffin, milk, and strawberries
Dinner: deconstructed tacos with beans, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, ground meat, shredded cabbage, and other toppings
Feeding My Two-Year-Old is Really Hard for Me
Actually figuring out what to feed your two-year-old is only the half of it. Feeding toddlers can be really tricky, frustrating, and even defeating.
If you’re struggling with your child because they won’t eat any of these foods, you may have a two-year-old picky eater on your hands. Here are a few places where you can find help for your specific issue:
- Getting your toddler to eat: the 1 most important thing you can do
- Everything you need to do if your toddler is not eating
- Create your toddler’s feeding schedule in 5 easy steps
If you need more help, here’s help for a few common themes in child feeding:
- My toddler is throwing food!
- My toddler is not eating dinner
- My toddler is refusing to eat anything but milk
If you’re looking for a guide that lays it all out in one place, you may enjoy my free child feeding guide: From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better Without Losing Your Mind.