The appropriate diet for children from 1 to 3 years old – healthy snacks and meals

When you’re a parent for the first time you are dealing with a very delicate issue and you may wonder if a certain type of food is appropriate or not for your child.

Introducing solid food in the form of healthy snacks is an important step in the harmonious development of your baby. It is extremely important to diversify the meals of your little one as much as you can, because in this way you can encourage him to eat healthy and have a balanced, nutritious diet.

child eating

Three small meals a day at properly spaced intervals, and adding 3 light healthy snacks are more than enough for the proper growth of your child. If we talk about calories then the daily required intake for children up to three years may look like this:

For boys: 1230 kcal; 14,5g proteins; 350mg calcium; 6.9mg iron.

For girls: 1165 kcal; 14,5 proteins; 350mg calcium; 6.9mg iron.


Because the child is very young, the required energy intake provided by the calories from the food consumed is higher, because the little ones start to move more and become increasingly active.

The snacks and meals rich in complex carbohydrates shouldn’t miss from your baby’s diet: bread, whole grains, rice, pasta, potatoes, bananas, etc.  These ensure the essential energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

At the same time fats shouldn’t be absent either from the diet of a child of up to 3 years old. These contain up to twice as many calories than carbs and are necessary for the normal development of the nervous system.

But how do we determine which fats are healthy for our child and which aren’t? It is very important that the fats come from whole milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, rather than cakes, biscuits and pastries.  It is good to know that low fat foods are not recommended for little children of 2-3 years old.

Proteins are as important as fats for our baby’s growth. Dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, soybeans are all rich sources of protein, as well as vitamins and minerals.

Fish should also be present in infant feeding at least once a week, and should often contain oily fish (mackerel, sardines or salmon) rich in essential fatty acids.

If we opt for a vegetarian diet it is good to know that this will only provide enough protein if dairy products, beans, bread, lentils and eggs are included regularly in the diet.

Calcium is very important as well, being essential for a healthy bone structure and our child’s teeth. The best calcium sources are milk, cheese and yogurt. For example, a healthy calcium snack could be: a glass of milk, a slice of cheese or a small yogurt.

Milk is an essential ingredient in the diet of the baby, because it provides the required calcium, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals intake. Whole milk is recommended for infants under 2 years, due to the high content of fat and calories needed for the baby’s development. Semi-skimmed milk has a similar amount of calcium and fat and we can introduce it in the child’s diet after the age of 2 years.

If you do not want to include animal products in the meals and snacks of your child (diet, etc.) or if they suffer from allergies to these products, other good sources of calcium are: soy milk, sesame seeds, white bread, dried fruits, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin D aids in the absorption and assimilation of calcium, so it is very important for bone health. Exposure to sunlight remains the most important source of vitamin D so take your child out for a walk as much as possible, but there are also a few food sources: oily fish (sardines, salmon), egg yolk, butter and even liver. Such ingredients may be used in the preparation of breakfast snacks for your children.

Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, which gives blood its red color and carries oxygen to all cells. Red meat is the richest in iron and can be included in your child’s nutrition after the first 6 months after birth. If mothers want to offer vegetarian food to children, other sources of iron are found in: green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, chickpeas, dried fruits (apricots, raisins, figs), fortified breads and whole grain cereals. For the proper absorption of iron, some vitamin C sources should be included in the child’s snacks.

Fruits and vegetables should never be absent from the snacks as well as all children’s meals as I have written here. If you do not know how much you should offer to your child take into consideration how much can fit into his little hand; that is a more than enough serving for him. Fruits and vegetables provide the necessary fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Salt shouldn’t be included yet in the diet of young children, and after the age of 2 we can use a minimum amount of 2 to 3 grams.

A few words about sugar.

Natural sugar sources are fruits, vegetables and even milk. The sugars in sweets provides extra energy, but leaves less room for truly nutritious food for the body so the quantities should be drastically limited. Dentition suffers greatly from excess sugars and also require special attention.

These would be the basic tips for a child’s nutrition from 1 to 3 years old. Of course there is much more to mention and each child requires a special diet plan, but try to use these tips when you begin preparing healthy snacks and meals for your little one.


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