Nutrition for Toddlers & Children in Pre-School

Making sure your toddler/preschooler with diabetes is getting proper nutrition can be a challenge but it is not impossible!! The number one goal of feeding your child at this age is to provide a balanced/nutritious diet while keeping carbohydrate counts in mind.

Good to know

  • The rate of growth slows after one year of age.  The caloric needs are less than those during infancy
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 1-3 years old get about 40 calories per inch of height
  • Smaller bodies mean smaller serving sizes! One general rule is to offer one tablespoon of a serving per year of age
  • Small frequent meals and snacks are needed at this age. Children should be eating every 2-3 hours
  • The best way for a child to learn healthy eating habits is by watching other family members eat healthy! Remember you are your child’s best teacher

Try to have your child consume these foods on a daily basis:

  • 16 ounces of milk yogurt or cheese.  Whole milk is recommended until the age of 2 , then decrease to 2%, 1% or skim
  • 4 servings of fruits and vegetables. One serving should be high in Vitamin C (citrus fruit, broccoli) and another Vitamin A ( sweet potatoes, carrots)
  • 4 servings of grains, whole grains are preferable. A serving is ¼ an adult portion
  • 2 servings of protein: meat, beans, eggs, peanut butter (check with your pediatrician before starting nuts due to  risk of allergies)


  • Carbohydrates have the biggest affect on your child’s blood glucose. In general if a protein source is consumed with a carbohydrate the blood sugar will be more stable.
  • It is always better to choose whole grain, unprocessed forms of starchy foods for good general health. Examples include whole grain bread and pasta as well as brown rice. Whole grain products contain fiber which slows the absorption of carbohydrates and provide added vitamins and minerals which are important to growing bodies.
  • “Sugar-free” does not always mean healthy! It is much more important to provide food and drinks that provide good nutrition. For example it is much better for a child to get the milk as beverage as opposed to artificially sweetened juice.
  • It is always better to consume the whole fruit or vegetable instead of the juice!!

Discuss carbohydrate ranges for meals and snacks with your provider. In general goals are:

  • Total Carbohydrates are 125-180 grams per day
  • Total Carbohydrates per meal: 30-40
  • Total Carbohydrates per snack: 10-20

Sample Menu

Breakfast Total Carbs: 36 grams

  • 4 ounces 2% milk (6 grams Carbs)
  • 1 slice whole grain toast with 1 tsp margarine and 1 tsp jelly ( grams carb)
  • 4 ounces Low-fat greek yogurt (  grams carb)

Mid-Morning Snack Total Carbs: 15 grams

  • ½ Banana with 1 tablespoon Peanut Butter
  • Water

Lunch Total Carbs: 36 grams

  • ½ turkey and cheese sandwich
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread (15 grams carb)
  • 1 ounce turkey
  • 1 ounce American cheese
  • Cut up Grape tomatoes (3 tomatoes)
  • 4 ounces 2% milk (6 grams carb)
  • 8 animal crackers (15 grams carb

Snack Total Carbs: 15 grams

  • ½ cup applesauce (15 grams carb)
  • Water

Dinner Total Carbs: 35 grams                                                              

  • 2 ounces baked breaded chicken (4 grams carbs)
  • ¼ cup cooked green beans (2 grams carb)
  • ½ cup cubed melon (8 grams carb)
  • 1 small dinner roll with 1 tsp margarine (15 grams)
  • 4 ounces 2% milk (6 grams carb)

Before Bed Snack Total Carbs: 15 grams

  • 3 Graham Cracker Squares with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • Water

Healthy Snacks

Carb Fre e/Low Carb                                   
Cheese Sticks
Hard Boiled Eggs
Scrambled eggs made with 1 Tablespoon Cheddar Cheese
Deli meat (turkey/ham/roast beef) rolled with American Cheese Slices
Carrots/peppers/cucumbers sliced served with salad dressing as a dip

10-20 Grams Carb
½ Whole Wheat Bagel topped with 1 tablespoon peanut butter : 11 grams
Simply Gogurt yogurt: 13 grams
½ cup Cherrios with 1/3 cup lowfat milk: 14 grams
½ cup Lowfat Cottage Cheese with ½ large pear: 17 grams
7 Baked Tortilla Chips with 2 Tablespoons salsa: 14 grams
1 rice cake with 1 tablespoon peanut butter and ½ banana: 15 grams
“Chobani Champions” Greek Style Yogurt, one 4 ounce cup: 14 grams
Kashi “TLC” Crackers, Honey Sesame, 10 crackers with 1 oz cheddar cheese 17 grams
Nutri-grain waffle (1) with 2 tsp low fat cream cheese and 1 tsp jelly: 20 grams

20-30 Grams Carb      
Whole wheat pocket pita (1) with 2 tablespoons hummus: 29 grams
Kashi “TLC” Baked Snack Bar: 21 grams
Whole wheat flour tortilla (8 inch) with 1 ounce Monterey Jack Cheese and Salsa: 28 grams

Tips for Picky Eaters

  • Allow kids to be part of the meal selection as well as preparation as much as possible
  • Offer kids choices when you can. “Would you like cherries or grapes with your lunch”
  • Make meals/snacks fun. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes.
  • Allow kids to play with their food! Kids love to dip so provide some ketchup, salad dressing or hummus and let kids dip their veggies.
  • Try not to let little ones get too filled up on fluids in between meals. Eight ounces of milk in between meals can fill little bellies and make it harder for them to eat their meals.
  • Make meal times a pleasant experience. The more emphasis you put on “cleaning your plate” the more kids will resist!
Toddler and Pre-K Nutrition & Sample Menu

Click here to download dietery recommendations.

If you're looking for a sample menu for your toddler/pre-K child, try these.

Tips for Picky Eaters
If you have trouble feeding a picky eater, try these tips.