Last updated on Jan 31st, 2021 at 07:51 pm

Food is close to the heart of every mother. What your child eats, how they eat and how much they eat are all issues you probably consider on a daily basis. However, with all the nutritional information we have at our fingertips, South Africa continues to have the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa. We are also among the countries with the highest childhood obesity rates – one in four girls and one in five boys is diagnosed as obese.

ALSO SEE: 5 food myths that could be making your child obese

This means that many of us are overfeeding our children, or not feeding them correctly. While too much screen time combined with a lack of physical activity can play a role, the amount and type of food on a plate are often too much for a small tummy.

The amount of food that your toddler eats varies from meal to meal, and while it’s never healthy to become fixated on portion sizes and daily servings, it is important to ensure that your toddler is eating a healthy, balanced diet most of the time.

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ALSO SEE: The 7 worst things you can feed your children

The Infant and Toddler Forum in the UK recommends toddlers should be eating several portions of food from the following food groups each day:

  • Starchy foods (breads, cereals, potatoes, pasta, etc): Offer a serving of these at each meal and some snacks.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Offer at least one to two servings at each meal and with snacks. These are low-energy, high-nutrient foods, so allow toddlers to eat large portions if they wish to.
  • Dairy foods: Offer a serving about three times per day. An excess of these foods can reduce your child’s appetite for iron-rich foods from the other food groups, so limit serving sizes to those indicated.
  • Protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, pulses): Offer a serving two to three times per day. However, for toddlers who prefer protein foods over starchy foods, servings will differ.

Recommended portion sizes for toddlers

Starchy foods

  • Bread (always opt for wholegrain) – ½-1 medium slice
  • Bread roll – ¼-¾ roll
  • Cornflakes – 3 heaped tbsp
  • Couscous – 2-4 heaped tbsp
  • Muesli – 1-4 tbsp
  • Naan bread – 1/8  –1/3 naan
  • Oatcakes- 1-2
  • Pasta – 2-5 tbsp
  • Potato chips – 4-8 thick-cut chips
  • Rice (always opt for brown) – 2-5 tbsp
  • Rice cakes – 1-3 medium cakes
  • Weet-Bix – ½-1½ biscuits

Foods high in sugars and fat

Toddlers under two don’t have huge energy requirements and shouldn’t be offered these foods. Toddlers older than two shouldn’t be offered these foods more than once a day, with chips, chocolate and ice cream only offered once a week.

  • Chocolate – 2-4 small squares
  • Chocolate buttons – 6-8 small buttons
  • Chocolate-covered biscuit – ½-1 biscuit
  • Cupcake – ½-1 small
  • Ice cream – 2-3 heaped tbsp
  • Muffin – 1/8  –¼ large
  • Digestive biscuit – ½-1 biscuit
  • Popcorn – ½-1 small cup
  • Sorbet – 2-3 heaped tbsp
  • Chips (tortilla or crisps) – 4-6

ALSO SEE: 3 healthy snacks for your toddler

Fruits and vegetables

  • Apple – ¼-½ medium apple
  • Avocado – ½-2 tbsp
  • Banana – ¼-1 medium
  • Broccoli – 1-4 small florets
  • Carrots –  2-6 carrot sticks
  • Clementine – ½-1 fruit
  • Cucumber – 2-8 small sticks
  • Grapes and berries – 3-10
  • Orange – ¼-½ orange
  • Peas – ½-2 tbsp
  • Raisins – ½-2 tbsp
  • Spinach – ½-2 tbsp
  • Sweetcorn – ½-2 tbsp
  • Tomato – ¼-1 small

ALSO SEE: 10 yummy fruit recipes to try this weekend

Meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses

  • Bacon – ¼-1 rasher
  • Chicken drumstick – ½-1 drumstick
  • Chickpeas or hummus – 1-2 tbsp
  • Egg – ½-1
  • Fresh fish – ¼-1 small fillet
  • Ham – 1½-4 wafer-thin slices
  • Lamb – ½-1 slice
  • Lentils – 2-4 tbsp
  • Mince – 2-5 tbsp
  • Nut butter (opt for sugar-free) – ½-1 tbsp
  • Nuts (ground, chopped, crushed) – 1-2 tbsp
  • Sausage – ¼-1 medium

Foods containing more than one food group

  • Stews or casseroles – 2-5 tbsp
  • Lasagne – 2-5 tbsp
  • Macaroni cheese – 2-5 tbsp
  • Pizza – 1-2 small slices


Dairy foods

Milk should be given in a cup, mug or glass.

  • Cheese – 1 slice or triangle
  • Cow’s milk – 100-120ml
  • Grated cheese – 2-4 tbsp
  • Yoghurt (opt for plain) – 125ml

If you are concerned about your toddler’s weight, start by adjusting the plate to the portion sizes suggested here.  A small reduction can make a big difference.

More about the expert:

Hannah runs Inspire Health, an Integrative Wellbeing consultancy. She has an Honours degree in Nutrition as well as a degree in Journalism. She specialises in Functional Nutrition in gastrointestinal and neurological health and has a special interest in Nutritional Psychiatry and Molecular Medicine. Dietary manipulation or restriction, as well as therapeutic supplementation, are critical elements of her intervention programs. Click here to read more about Hannah Kaye.