Healthy eating for toddlers

A balanced diet in a child's early years is necessary to ensure proper growth and development, not to mention instilling a healthy attitude to food that will serve them well as they get older.

toddler nutrition

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During the ages between one and four, nutrition is particularly important, since this is when the teeth, bones and muscles are developing rapidly and becoming stronger. And all that growing takes some serious energy so the right nutrients are essential.

If you are unsure about exactly how to get your toddler's diet right, here's what you need to know.

The key food groups
The right amount of the right type of food will help to ensure that your little one is getting everything they need to grow up to be strong and healthy.

Each meal should contain at least one kind of starchy carbohydrate, like bread, rice, pasta or potatoes and it is a good idea to include some wholemeal or wholegrain foods, though not necessarily at every meal.

Carbs that are high in fibre, such as wholewheat pasta or brown rice, should be introduced carefully and gradually. A high fibre diet can be difficult for pre-schoolers to cope with and too much may reduce the amount of minerals their bodies can absorb.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are also a must for any growing child, and we shouldn't need to tell you that the recommended dose is five a day. A small handful of these health-giving goodies will count as one toddler-sized portion, and don't forget that the canned and frozen variety are just as nutritious. Raw fruit and veggies also make for a nutritious snack. Dried fruit is also packed with nutrients but contain a hefty dose of sugar too, so try not to go overboard.

The above groups should form the greater part of your child's diet.

For healthy bones and teeth, calcium is an essential and that means a daily helping of milk or dairy foods. Children from one-year-old upwards can happily drink cows' milk and, according to the Food Standards Agency, toddlers should consume the equivalent of one pint of milk each day to get the necessary amount of calcium. It is also recommended that under-twos stick to full fat dairy products to ensure they get the right energy and nutrients.

Milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt all count towards the daily dairy dose.

The all-important protein your toddler needs can come from a variety of sources - meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses are all excellent sources of protein, which helps promote growth and helps repair the body. Iron, essential for the formation of blood cells, is most easily absorbed from red meat but since protein should form part of two of your child's daily meals, it's a good idea to vary what you give them.

Oily fish is, of course, renowned for its healthy omega-3 fats, but only four portions per week for boys and two for girls is recommended. Always ensure that meat and eggs are cooked thoroughly.

Beware of...
Too much sugar, salt and saturated fat is not good for any of us, and toddlers are no exception. Keep sweet, sugary treats to a minimum and be careful with those sugary drinks, including fruit juice - they are a tooth's worst enemy.

Mealtime tips
Children, particularly the under-5s, can be notoriously fussy when it comes to food. But it's important not to turn mealtimes into a trial. Get your youngsters involved with food preparation (safely, of course!) - if they learn that about food and have fun with you at dinnertime, they will be happier trying new things.

Remember too that toddlers have tiny tummies so stick to small portions at regular times, and include healthy snacks like bite-sized chunks of fresh fruit or veg, rice cakes or crispbreads and yoghurt or cubes of cheese to keep their energy levels up through the day.

With all this talk of what your child should and shouldn't eat, it's easy for concerned parents to worry if their little one turns their nose up at certain healthy foods. Try not to make a mountain out of a hill of beans - if there's something they don't like, simply find an alternative they do like.

Have you had trouble with a food-fussy toddler? How did you get them to eat a healthy, nutritious diet? Leave your comments below...