What Toddlers Eat In A Day: 12-18 Months Old

Looking for ideas of what to feed your 12-18 month old little one? Here are some ideas for what your toddler can eat in a day – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines For 12-18 Month Olds

12-18 month olds are continuing to explore new, healthy flavors and textures  – especially as they gain more confidence munching, chewing, and handling different types of solids.

Once your child celebrates their first birthday, they’re ready to try a lot more of your family’s favorite foods. Your 12-18 month old can start enjoying many of the same food preparations as their relatives are eating. (Still, one-year-olds aren’t quite ready for hard foods like whole nuts and uncut raw carrots, and they can’t have other choking hazard foods. So, they can’t eat every single food that you and other older family members eat.)

Although they aren’t growing as much as in their first year, 12-18 month old toddlers’ bodies and brains are still going through a significant development stage. They need lots of nutrients to support their growth. But they’re still eating relatively small portions at each meal, because of their small stomachs.

Feeding your 12-18 month old a variety of healthy flavors and textures is key to encouraging adventurous, nutritious eating later in life. The foods your toddler eats now will shape their lifelong dietary preferences. So, it’s vital that you feed your toddler nutrient-packed meals and snacks – make every bite count!

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for young children from birth to 2 years of age, your 12-18 month old’s diet should contain a variety of foods from all healthy food groups, including:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables – these should be prioritized
  • Many colors and varieties of vegetables daily, including:
    • Dark green vegetables, 
    • Red and orange vegetables
    • Beans, peas, and lentils
    • Starch vegetables (such as potatoes)
    • Other vegetables
  • Good sources of protein, like meat, fish, seafood, eggs, soy products, nut products, and seed products
  • Whole grains – pick these instead of refined grains
  • Dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Foods without any added sugar
  • Foods that are low in sodium 

How Much Will Your Toddler Eat In A Day?

12-18 month olds are reaching a big milestone – they’re starting to eat a diet of all solids (or almost all solids). 

  • If your child is formula-fed, they will gradually be weaning off formula during this time (and children at the upper end of this age range may be done with formula completely). After all, infant formula is not designed for children over 12 months old. 
  • If your child is breastfed, you can still keep breastfeeding your 12-18 month old if you choose. But regardless of your choice, they’ll still drink a lot less breastmilk than in their first year. Solids should make up the majority of their diet. 

Plan to give your 12-18 month old three meals and two to three healthy snacks per day. Each meal portion should be a quarter to a half of an adult sized portion. And don’t be surprised if the amount your little one eats varies at each day and each meal, because their hunger may vary. 

How much should you plan to give your child in a day? A 12-18 month old will usually need between 700 and 900 calories per day, based on the average weight range for this age. 

Here is a guide to what this looks like by food group, based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines:

  • Fruit: ¾ cup to 1 cup per day
  • Vegetables: ¾ cup to 1 cup per day
  • Foods high in protein: 2 ounces per day (1 ounce of protein = 1 average sized egg, ⅓ chicken breast, or ¼ cup of cooked beans)
  • Whole grains: 1 ¾ to 2 ½ ounces per day (1 ounce of grains = ½ cup pasta, 1 slice bread, 1 cup dry cereal, or ½ cup cooked oatmeal)

The USDA guidelines also have suggested amounts for specific types of vegetables and specific types of proteins. These amounts are by week. They’re a good reminder to vary the different types of veggies and proteins your little one enjoys. 

Vegetables

  • ⅓ cup - 1 cup of dark leafy greens per week
  • 1 cup - 2 ½ cups of red and orange vegetables per week
  • ¾ cup - ½ cup beans/peas/lentils per week (these also serve as a protein)
  • 1 cup - 2 cups starch vegetables per week (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beets, and squash)
  • ¾ cup - 1 ½ cups other vegetables per week (pick a variety of other veggies with different colors, textures, and flavors)

Proteins

  • 7 ounces - 8 ¾ ounces of meats per week (beef, chicken, turkey)
  • 2 ounces - 3 ounces of low-mercury cooked seafood per week
  • 2 ounces - 2 ¾ ounces of eggs per week
  • 1 ounce -1 ¼ ounces of nut and seed products per week

What About Drinks For Toddlers?

The best drinks for your toddler are water and whole unflavored cow’s milk. These are the only drinks your 12-18 month old should have (besides breastmilk if you’re continuing to breastfeed). 

Your child should have around 4 cups of these healthy drinks per day. 

Cow’s milk supplies calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein. Choose plain whole milk for your little one – avoid flavored milks that contain added sugars. Around 2 cups of plain whole milk is recommended per day. Don’t give your child more than 2 ½ cups per day, as this may lessen your little one’s appetite for those all-important solids.

Then, depending on how much milk you give your little one, give them the remaining cups in water (for example, this means 2 cups water if you’re giving them 2 cups milk).

Early on in your child’s second year, you should introduce your little one to a cup (an open cup and/or straw cup) if you haven’t already. This is especially important if your child drank from a bottle in their first year. Between 12-18 months of age, it’s time to wean off the bottle so your little one doesn’t fill up on milk, and so you lessen the possible negative impact of the milk on their teeth. 

What Your Toddler Eats In A Day: Choosing Meals

Your toddler will continue to eat finger foods, but at 12-18 months, they should also have lots of opportunities to practice feeding themself thick, soft foods with a spoon. If they master the spoon around 15-18 months, you can introduce a fork so they can learn to self-feed with that as well. 

There are lots of options to provide a nutritious diet that follows USDA Dietary Guidelines. You’ll also need to make sure that meals are safe and appropriate for your toddler, to reduce the risk of choking.

Follow these tips to choose age-appropriate and safe meals:

  • Hard foods are still a choking hazard for the 12-18 month age group. You’ll still need to cook these foods to make them softer.
  • Never feed your toddler round foods. Cut round fruits and veggies into halves or quarters, and crumble up meatballs.
  • Stay away from hot dogs completely. There’s no way to remove the choking hazard they pose. 
  • Do not feed your toddler whole nuts. They are unsafe for children under the age of 4.
  • Do not feed your toddler any chunky peanut butter, and do not feed them smooth peanut butter that isn’t watered down.
  • Since they’ve had their first birthday, your toddler is now old enough for honey, so feel free to add it to foods.  
  • Continue to feed a variety of common allergen foods to your toddler, to sustain the introduction you started in baby’s first year. Your toddler will eat many of these foods naturally when eating the USDA recommended diet. Ready. Set. Food! Stage 3 and Organic Baby Oatmeal make it even easier to sustain exposure to 9 top allergens. 

Below, we’ll share ideas for what to feed your 12-18 month old at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Note: If you’re using Ready. Set. Food!, choose one Ready. Set. Food! option (Stage 3 Mix-Ins or oatmeal) per day to give your toddler to maintain exposure to common allergens!

Breakfast Ideas

  • Ready. Set. Food! Organic Baby Oatmeal with soft fruit pieces
  • Overnight oats with soft fruit of your choice (add Ready. Set. Food! Mix-Ins if desired right before feeding)
  • Chia pudding with fruit pieces (add Ready. Set. Food! Mix-Ins if desired before serving)
  • Cheesy broccoli egg cups with chopped red bell pepper, spinach, and/or mushrooms
  • Quiche with rainbow peppers
  • Crepes or pancakes made with Ready. Set. Food! Organic Baby Oatmeal, served with fruit
  • Whole-wheat pancakes with fruit
  • Whole-wheat waffles with fruit
  • Plain Greek yogurt with fruit pieces mixed in, to practice using a spoon (mix in Ready. Set. Food! if desired)
  • Fresh fruit smoothie, made with whole milk (mix in Ready. Set. Food! if desired)

Lunch and Dinner Ideas

  • Green bean casserole with mushrooms, sour cream, and cheddar (mix in Ready. Set. Food! right before serving if desired)
  • Chicken, sweet potato, and zucchini bowl with avocado and feta
  • Chicken quesadillas with chopped kale and basil, on whole wheat tortillas
  • Fiesta bowls with ground turkey crumbles, beans, red pepper, avocado, corn, shredded cheddar and quinoa
  • Beef, turkey, or chicken meatball crumbles with shredded carrots and zucchini inside, served with the fruit of your choice
  • Spinach and falafel patty pieces, served with Greek yogurt or beet hummus for dipping, plus a fruit of choice
  • Grilled cheese with kale or beet hummus, on whole wheat bread
  • Butter chicken with tomato sauce and spices, served with a fruit and a veggie
  • Rotini with small veggie pieces, plus tomato or butternut squash puree (add Ready. Set. Food! to the puree and pour over the rotini)
  • Beef crumbles with cooked red and orange peppers, served with quinoa
  • Roasted carrot “fries” with grape halves, paired with egg and veggie muffins
  • Roasted butternut squash with avocado and fruit
  • Steamed broccoli and carrots with chicken or turkey pieces
  • Veggie waffles, served with a cooked veggie and fruit of your choice
  • Veggie burgers made with carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms
  • Whole wheat mac and cheese, with spinach and broccoli mixed in
  • Oven baked veggie “tots” with hummus dip and a side of fruit
  • Homemade guacamole on whole wheat bread, alongside another veggie and a fruit
  • Pieces of baked salmon cake with a veggie and a fruit of choice

Snack Ideas

  • Hummus with thin veggie strips for dipping (mix Ready. Set. Food! into the hummus if desired)
  • Guacamole with thin veggie strips for dipping, or on whole-wheat bread
  • Homemade fruit or veggie muffins with no added sugar
  • Small slices of soft fruit, such as banana, peaches, or mango
  • Halved or quartered grapes and halved or quartered strawberries
  • Plain Greek yogurt with fruit pieces mixed in, to practice using a spoon (mix in Ready. Set. Food! if desired)
  • Applesauce, to practice using a spoon (mix in Ready. Set. Food! if desired)
  • Fresh fruit smoothie, made with whole milk (mix in Ready. Set. Food! if desired)
  • Healthy homemade cookies with no added sugar (such as sweet potato cookies or banana cookies)
  • Chia pudding with fruit pieces (add Ready. Set. Food! Mix-Ins if desired before serving)
  • Cheesy broccoli egg cups with chopped red bell pepper, spinach, and/or mushrooms
  • Roasted carrot “fries” 
  • Roasted butternut squash

Introduce Allergens Safely and Easily with Ready, Set, Food!

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