Your Toddler's Nutritional Needs
Young children need to eat well for energy and growth. Many toddlers are fussy eaters but vital nutrients are found in a wide variety of foods – so it should always be possible to provide a healthy, balanced diet.
EnergyToddlers need about 1000 calories a day (the daily intake for adult women is 2000 and 2500 for men) from across all the major food groups:
- meat, fish, poultry and eggs – 2 portions daily
- bread, cereals, rice, potatoes and pasta – 5 portions daily
- fruit and vegetables – 5 portions daily
- dairy produce and other calcium-rich foods – 4 portions daily
CarbohydratesCarbohydrates are found in starchy foods like bread, cereals, rice, potatoes and pasta. They provide children with much of the energy they need every day.
FatsFats play a vital role in providing energy, carrying vitamins around the body and helping build cell membranes. Toddlers need more fat than adults – up to a third of their total food intake – so a low-fat diet is not appropriate.
Some of this can come from saturated fat, found in foods like cheese, whole milk, yoghurt and fatty meat. However, many toddlers eat too much saturated fat, which can cause obesity and lead to heart disease in later life. The main culprits are junk and fried foods and snacks like crisps, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and pastries. Fruit, raw vegetables, toast, crackers and cereals make much healthier snacks.
Good sources of unsaturated fats – which should make up the majority of fat intake – are oily fish; olive, vegetable and nut oils and spreads; avocadoes, nuts and seeds. Remember that toddlers can choke on whole nuts and they may also cause allergic reactions in some children, check out the information on allergies at our sister site www.kidsallergies.co.uk.
A note about oily fish: due to high levels of dioxins in oily fish, the government advises that boys eat no more than four portions a week and girls no more than two (to protect their reproductive health).
CalciumCalcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. Milk is the most important source, which should be full fat up to the age of two. A pint a day is about right. Calcium is also found in dairy products; tinned fish like sardines, pilchards and salmon; tofu; eggs; bread (fortified with calcium by law); green leafy vegetables; okra; dried fruit like raisins, apricots and figs; pulses; seeds and nuts.
Vitamin DVitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. The most obvious source is sunlight; food sources include oily fish, eggs and spreads.
Vitamin CVitamin C is essential for healthy skin, boosts the immune system and helps the body to absorb iron. It’s found in citrus fruits, berries, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C can be destroyed in cooking, so serve vegetables raw or cook only lightly. It also diminishes over time – frozen vegetables are better than fresh ones that have been sitting around for days.
IronWithout iron, the body can’t make haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. Red meat is a good source and so is liver (no more than once a week because too much vitamin A can be harmful). Good non-meat sources include green vegetables; dried fruit; beans, lentils and chickpeas; fortified breakfast cereals; and follow-on formula milk. Don’t be tempted to give iron supplements, because too much iron can be dangerous. If parents are concerned that a child might be anaemic (lacking in iron), they should always seek medical help.
Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron, so aim for a good balance of each on the plate, serve a piece of fruit after meals, or offer a glass of orange juice alongside.
Sugar and SaltSugary snacks and drinks can spoil children’s appetites and are bad for their teeth. Too much sugar also contributes to obesity and can lead to diabetes later in life. It’s best to keep these for treats.
Too much salt (sodium) is bad for the kidneys and can cause high blood pressure later in life, so keep snacks like crisps to a minimum and don’t add any more salt at the table or in cooking. Processed foods may also contain a lot of salt.