Toddlers need to eat enough calories from all the food groups to stay energetic, be happy, and yet stay within their weight guidelines. As your child begins to walk and become more physically active, she will need more calories, but she won't gain much weight. Instead, her body will thin out and grow longer. Nevertheless, she will need to have a steady stream of food to keep moving so much.
Processed foods, which often have added chemicals and sugars, are often high in calories and fat but low in nutrients. They aren't filling because they aren't nutritious, and yet they can easily make anyone, including children, gain weight. Try to reduce the amount of processed foods your children eat, which will help them stay healthy and at the proper weight.
Your child's biggest food sources should be cereals, fruit, and vegetables. The next group should be protein, with dairy foods close behind. Fats should be the smallest type of food she eats, and added sugar should not be in her daily diet at all. The natural sugars found in fruits, some vegetables, and dairy foods are healthy and should not be cut out of her diet.
Like adults, toddlers need to eat balanced meals. Balanced meals are those that contain correct proportions of major food groups. These include carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains), proteins (meats, fish, poultry, and legumes), and fats (oils, animal products). Your child does not need added salt or sugary foods in her diet. She can eat whole-fat foods, such as milk, cottage cheese, or yogurt, but she does not need a lot of added butter or oil in her meals. She should drink water, milk, or real fruit juice with her meals.
Many parents mistakenly believe their children will only eat what are now considered to be childhood staples — hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and macaroni and cheese. But the truth is that, to some extent, parents control what their children eat. While you can't control how much your child eats, you do control what types of food she eats. If you offer fish rather than hot dogs, baked chicken rather than fried, or whole-wheat noodles rather than macaroni and cheese, your child will eat those foods. And even if she refuses them at first, once she gets hungry, she'll eat what's in front of her.