The Toddler Diet for Weight Loss

When you think of a toddler’s diet you probably conjure up images of gummy bears, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets.  What you don’t think of is eating like a toddler to lose weight as an adult.

For those of you who know me, I have a 4-year-old daughter and 1 year old son.  There have been numerous times over the past few years that I have thought about posting the foods my daughter eats on social media and saying, “if you want to eat healthy, this is what you should eat!”

I can’t speak to other little kids, and I am by no means saying that my daughter’s diet is perfect, but it did get me to thinking, what if an adult ate what she ate?  Would that make for a good weight loss diet?

One of the many reasons why I do not provide clients with meal plans is because the possibilities are just endless!  There are just too many options (literally millions) to choose from in addition to matching someone’s tastes, preferences, cooking skills, and schedule.

Unlike most people (adults) my daughter’s diet is fairly limited.  She likes what she likes and repeatedly eats many of the same things.  So much so that I thought if I took a little time, I could list out every single food she regularly eats. 


To start off, I created a table (Table 1) showing all of the snacks she typically eats.

Table 1. Snacks Make Up a Huge Element of The Toddler Diet.  Fruit and cheese seem to be the main snacks.

Fruit, cheese, peanut butter, and bars (organic, all natural) seem to make up the bulk of her snack calories.  I’m not an “organic, all-natural” kind of guy but I wanted to note that the bars she is eating aren’t your typical sugary granola bars.  They taste kind of gross to me, but she loves them. 

One thing that I have had to get over in shopping for her is the prohibitive cost of berries.  God, they are expensive!  But something sticks in mind when it comes to the cost of berries, and it isn’t health.  A few years ago, I was having a beer with my Uncle Clarence, and I was complaining about the cost of avocados.  He basically looked at me and said, “the craft beer you’re drinking is 4-5x the cost of an avocado”. 

Wow was that comparison eye opening.  I have since purchased way more avocados.  It’s amazing the things we are and are not willing to spend money on.  I’m still not buying $3 medium avocados (this text probably won’t age well) or $5 for a small container of berries but sometimes you just need to suck it up when it comes to cost.

Meals, One-Off Indulgences, and Condiments

In addition to snacks, my daughter also eats breakfast and lunch.  I’d say she eats dinner but that’s extremely hit or miss (mostly miss).  Below I have listed out her breakfast and lunch “go to” options, one-off indulgences, and common condiments.

Table 2. Meals, One-Off Indulgences, and Condiments. 

My wife has been really good about finding/creating recipes that don’t add a lot of extra sugar and calories to our daughter’s meals.  For example, she doctor’s up our oatmeal, makes great smoothies, and makes pancakes and pizza from scratch.  I also need to note that we prefer to use dinner rolls (they are small and low calorie) for some but not all (peanut butter and jelly) of our sandwiches.

The yogurt selection at the store is absolutely pathetic.  I hate it.  You can only get yogurt with too much sugar or artificial sweeteners.  There are really no low sugar options.  In my opinion, Siggi’s is the ONLY option.  We do, however, buy unsweetened Greek yogurt and add our own fruit.

Table 2 also lists some of the “one-off” indulgences consumed in our household.  These indulgences are not consumed weekly, but they are nonetheless consumed so I included them.  The condiments she uses are also listed.  I’d like you to notice that she doesn’t like to eat butter or mayonnaise.  We use cooking oil for some of our family dinners, but she rarely eats those – so she really limits the additional fat calories she would otherwise consume.

What a Day of Meals and Snacks Might Look Like

My daughter eats breakfast every morning, has a few mid-morning snacks, lunch in the early afternoon, late afternoon snacks, and although we offer her what we eat for dinner, she usually eats very little of it (apparently, she practices her own version of time-restricted eating!).  Below is an example of what she might eat for a day.

Table 3.  An Example of What a Toddler Eats in a Day. She probably eats closer to 1200 calories/day because she seldom finishes her oatmeal or peanut butter & jelly sandwich, among other things.

I was surprised to find that she consumes nearly 1600 calories day!  This isn’t too far off from what a toddler typically consumes (1200 calories) and in reality, she probably does consume closer to 1200 calories because she almost never cleans her plate/eats every bite. 

I also have to confess that this particular day is void of vegetables (whoops, insert dad guilt here).  Part of the reason for that is probably because she avoids eating dinner, where many of our family vegetables are eaten.  I guess I need to fit some more in during snack time as well.

Calories in All of the Items of the Toddler Diet

I have also taken the time to list out every food she typically eats and the number of calories in each (not shown here, but available for download if you’d like).  I already knew that fruit didn’t have too many calories in it, but my God man, you could eat buckets of fruit and not eat that many calories! 

It is also super interesting to me that the vast majority of her meals are <400 calories, her snacks fit the definition of a snack (<150 calories), and for the most part her indulgences also do not break the calorie bank.

Why I Think the Toddler Diet Can Work for Weight Loss

The only feasible way to meal plan for someone would be to drastically, and I mean drastically shrink their menu.  I always hesitate to do this because then it pigeonholes you into repeatedly eating certain foods.  But if the foods you are eating are tasty and relatively low calorie (fruit and cheese), then you have a pretty good base to start with.

People like to say that a good diet contains “everything in moderation” and a good “food variety”.  This happens to be bad advice.  Research has shown that diet variety, that is the more types of foods you eat (or are open to eating), the more you tend to weigh.  This makes sense to me.  Each eating opportunity is a chance to overeat.  If you tend to “like” everything or are at the very least open to eating it, you’re going to consume more calories than if you ate fewer items.  Just think of a buffet or even a dessert menu.  You might be stuffed but if a new taste is offered to you, you’ll find room for it.

The Toddler Diet is also good for people who are time starved (isn’t everyone) because it requires very little cooking.  Most foods are ready to go or only need to be heated up.  The lack of cooking is also good for anyone living on their own – who wants to repeatedly cook a full course meal for themselves?  Finally, most of the foods you would find on this diet are minimally processed, which limits the number of calories in them and lowers their palatability and temptation to overindulge.

What I Think You can Do

I’m not going to make a career out of “The Toddler Diet” but I really do think it could help people lose weight.  If someone wanted to, they could cut and paste their own meal plan into the example from the master list

My daughter has been eating this way for two years more or less, but I would caution that, like most diets, you will eventually need to transition into something more sustainable.  But with that being said, maybe The Toddler Diet can give you the opportunity to eat a basic, elemental diet and give you the chance to start over.  You can then expand out from the diet as you go.  Somewhere along the way, your diet went to crap.  People do detoxes, whole 30, and all kinds of other random diets.  I think The Toddler Diet is actually a pretty good way to hit the reset button and start over.

I don’t provide meal plans.  This is probably the closest I will currently come to doing so.  But if I did provide a meal plan, this is what it would look like.

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