Infant and Toddler Carbohydrate Needs

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Infant and Toddler Carbohydrate Needs

Understand the role of carbs in fueling your child's active body.

a woman in a black dress is smiling
By Lauren Panoff
Dorian Rhode
Edited by Dorian Rhode

Updated May 31, 2024.

A bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and granola which is a food high in carbohydrates.

With so much hype around carbohydrates, many parents wonder how this nutrient should be viewed for children. Is it healthy, or should it be avoided? Here’s what you need to know about the role of carbohydrates in your child’s diet, including how many your infant or toddler requires and the healthiest places to find them.

» Support your child's healthy growth with this rich-in-essential carbs toddler formula

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient, especially for kids. They play a significant part in the growth and development of babies and toddlers. They can be found in a wide variety of foods, some healthy and others not as healthy. Therefore, it’s important to understand which carbohydrates are best and choose the most nutritious sources and amounts for your children.

Ideal carbohydrate choices will also offer other vital nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, whereas unhealthy carbohydrates will have little nutrition but lots of sugar.

» Read more about pediatrician's review on nutritional and carb-rich diet for kids

Why Carbohydrates Matter

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the body’s main energy source. They’re found in the highest amounts of foods like grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. They’re also found in less healthy foods, such as packaged snacks made with refined grains, baked goods, and junk foods. Needless to say, most people eat more carbs than they probably need to, given the wide availability of high-carb foods today.

When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose or sugar molecules. This sugar is then used to fuel important everyday physiological functions. The same is true for babies and toddlers with growing muscles, busy bodies, and very active brains that need lots and lots of energy. When burning as much energy as an active toddler, you definitely need to refuel.

» Explore carb-rich foods that promote healthy weight gain in toddlers

Infant Carbohydrate Needs

Carbohydrates should make up around 40% of an infant’s calories. For an infant who needs approximately 800 calories daily, that’s 320 calories from carbohydrates. There are four calories per gram of carbohydrate, meaning this infant would need 80 grams of carbs each day.

For infants, the primary source of healthy carbs will come from infant formula or breast milk, especially during the first 12 months of life.

When solid foods are introduced around 4-6 months, infants can get healthy carbs from applesauce, mashed bananas, avocado, and pureed veggies like corn, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and beans. As their digestive tract develops, babies can be introduced to grains like quinoa, oats, rice, and even whole-grain toast cut into strips.

» Take a look at this buckwheat baby cereal with high level of healthy carbs

Toddler Carbohydrate Needs

Carbohydrate needs for toddlers increase to around 55% of calories at two years old. Primarily to support the increase in activity during this time. Have you ever been around a toddler? It can be exhausting to watch them move around!

For a toddler requiring 1,100 calories daily, that’s 605 calories from carbohydrates. At four calories per gram, this comes out to approximately 150 grams of carbs per day.

Toddlers can get healthy carbs in foods like whole-grain bread and grains, beans, lentils, peas, cooked veggies, canned fruit, berries, and mashed potatoes. Parents may also supplement their child with the toddler formula, which will supply extra carbs and very important nutrients for growth and development.

» Learn more about nutritious foods for toddlers

A plant-based toddler formula from Else Nutrition offers 19 grams of carbohydrates in a 240-ml serving made with formula powder.

To give you an idea of how many carbs may be in plant-based foods for babies and toddlers, here are some examples:

  • ÂĽ cup cooked lentils = 19 grams
  • ÂĽ cup cooked quinoa = 29 grams
  • ÂĽ cup cooked sweet potato = 11 grams
  • ÂĽ cup pinto beans = 28 grams
  • 1 slice whole-grain toast = 19 grams
  • 1 tbsp. peanut butter = 4 grams

Your toddler should be offered a variety of these foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables to meet their carbohydrate needs.

Toddlers also start to develop food preferences during this stage. They may naturally gravitate towards sweet foods, which may not be as nutritious. This is a critical time to encourage your toddler to eat plenty of healthy carbs. Offering these types of foods regularly will help them develop a healthier palate.

Powering Up Your Child's Growth

Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient whether you have an infant or toddler, and healthy carbs can be found in a wide variety of plant-based foods once your child starts to wean from breast milk. Else Nutrition also offers a high-quality line of plant-based formulas appropriate for toddlers, which can be a great way to incorporate healthy carbs into your child’s diet easily.

The content and advice provided in this article are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.