Calorie needs depend primarily on a child's weight, height, and activity level more than they depend on a child's age. The website www.mypyramid.gov has an interactive tool where you can plug in the child's age, gender, weight, height, and activity level to get an estimate of recommended intake and how the calories should be dispersed by the various food groups. This is a good guide, but keep in mind that it still does not have the ability to know your child. Some children have a faster metabolism and need more calories to achieve age-appropriate weight gain, while others may need less than might be expected. Your child's weight is likely tracked on a growth chart at his/her pediatrician's office, and if your child is continuing to maintain growth more or less within the same percentile on that chart over time, he or she is likely getting an appropriate amount of calories for them.
Another important thing to consider is that this age group (toddlers) is variable in their growth patterns. There will likely be times where your child eats more than you would expect because he or she is experiencing a growth spurt (either in height and/or weight). There will also be times that it seems like they are eating like a bird, and these may be times when they are not growing as much and therefore may not need as many calories. If we let them, children are born with the ability to self-regulate their calorie intake (the exception would be a child who has a condition that interferes with this ability).
Therefore, the parent should be in charge of what the child eats, when they eat, and where they eat. After that, how much or whether the child chose to eat should be left up to the child. This gives the child the control of regulating food intake, which is something children crave and something of which they are usually very capable. The parent's role, however, still allows for boundaries to ensure that at the very least, the child is exposed to a variety of healthy foods and that they learn the concept of designated meal and snack times and locations. These boundaries are important for shaping eating behaviors. This role also allows the parent to teach the child that the meal served is the only option rather than falling into the trap of becoming a short-order cook at mealtimes.
Remember it can take up to 20 times or more of being exposed to a new food before a child will accept it, so continuing to expose them to a variety of foods may eventually lead to their decision to like it at some point, especially if they get to make the decision about eating it on their own.
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