The Food Needs for Growth & Development in Toddlers

By Eliza Martinez
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Many factors contribute to normal growth and development in toddlers. One of the most important is nutrition, making it vital for you to provide your child with a well-balanced meal plan. Toddlers need a wide range of nutrients to stay healthy, so a variety of foods from each food group is key. If you're ever concerned about your toddler's diet or pattern of growth, talk to his pediatrician.

Meats and Beans

Meat and beans are ideal sources of protein, which aids in growth and development. Protein foods also contain B vitamins, which help your toddler turn his food into fuel, giving him the energy it takes to grow. Toddlers need about 2 ounces of protein foods each day. Half of a small chicken breast, one slice of deli ham, one egg, a 1/4 cup of cooked beans and one can of tuna counts as an ounce.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins that protect your toddler's immune system, keeping her from getting many diseases and illnesses. A sick toddler doesn't always grow and develop properly, especially if he's not eating enough food. Boosting his fruit and vegetable intake helps by increasing vitamin A and C consumption. Toddlers need 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables each day. Frozen, canned, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables count, as does 100-percent juice.


Grains, particularly whole grains, provide carbohydrates, iron and B vitamins, which give your toddler energy to learn new things, play and grow. They also contain fiber, which fills his tummy without overloading him on calories that lead to weight gain. Being overweight compromises health and could have an impact on his growth and development. Toddlers should get 1 1/2 ounces of grain foods each day. A slice of bread, five crackers, a 1/2 cup of oatmeal, 1 cup of cereal and a 1/2 cup of rice count as 1 ounce.


Dairy foods contain protein for growth and development, but are also prime sources of calcium, which is important for bone growth. Toddlers should get 2 cups of dairy foods each day. Yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, cheese, pudding, ice cream and calcium-fortified milk alternatives all count towards your toddler's dairy needs. Offer dairy foods at meals and snacks to make sure your little one is getting enough.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats, such as omega-3s, fuel brain growth and development and are an important part of your toddler's diet. Keep portions in moderation, though, or he could be getting more calories than is healthy. Salmon, olive and canola oil, nuts, seeds and avocados are ideal sources of healthy fats.

About the Author

Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.