Healthy Diet for Your Toddler
Toddlers are lively, active little people who are growing all the time. They need a well balanced, nutritious diet to help them stay healthy and provide plenty of energy.
Toddlers can also be quite fussy about their food or reluctant to try anything new. But as long as they’re getting a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, they should be fine.
CarbohydratesCarbohydrates are foods like bread, cereals, rice and pasta that provide slow-burning energy. Whole grain types are best and contain plenty of fibre to help digestion.
ProteinsChildren get a lot of protein from milk. Other important sources are meat and fish, dairy products, eggs, pulses, lentils and soy products.
FatsToddlers need more fats than adults, but it’s important to get them from foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat and oily fish rather than from cakes, biscuits or pastries. Children should drink whole milk until at least the age of two.
Vitamins and MineralsCalcium, iron and vitamins A, C and D are particularly important for a growing toddler. Milk is the most obvious source of calcium, but it’s also found in yoghurt and cheese, pulses, soy products, green leafy vegetables and dried fruit. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. It’s found in sunlight and also in foods like oily fish, eggs and spreads.
Red meat and green vegetables are a good source of iron. It’s also found in dried fruit (such as apricots and raisins), beans, lentils and chickpeas – and in fortified foods like breakfast cereals and follow-on formula milk. There’s even a bit of iron in chocolate! Iron can be difficult for the body to absorb, but vitamin C helps – so try serving a glass of fruit juice or some fruit and vegetables with iron-rich foods.
Some parents give their children vitamin supplements. Most experts agree that this is unnecessary if they are eating a balanced diet.
Snacks and DrinksMost toddlers are not quite ready for ‘three meals a day’, although they can join the rest of the family for meals. They also need snacks in between. Good options include fruit, toast, cheese, breadsticks, rice cakes and raw vegetables like carrot sticks or baby tomatoes. Try to avoid too many sweet or salty snacks. A complete ban is probably not a good idea though – they’ll take on the allure of ‘forbidden fruit’. The occasional sweet treat will keep most toddlers happy.
Offer plenty of drinks throughout the day, but don’t let toddlers fill up on juice or milk so there’s no room left for food. Sugary drinks are best avoided and fruit juice can be watered down. Water is a good choice to serve with meals.
Faddy PhasesMost toddlers go through patches when they eat very little or want only one type of food. Continue to offer plenty of variety, make the food look tempting (such as small amounts of different coloured foods attractively arranged) and let them feed themselves as much as possible. Try not to give in to demands for something else – if they don’t eat what’s provided, don’t get angry or upset, but don’t try to tempt them with the contents of the larder either.
Toddlers have small stomachs, so they are unlikely to eat a great deal at once. But if they have access to healthy snacks throughout the day, they should have sufficient good food to meet their needs.
A relaxed, low-key but fairly disciplined approach to food usually works best.