Giving your toddler a balanced diet from morning to night
Your active toddler is growing rapidly. To get the right balance of energy and nutrients, they’ll tend to need 3 small balanced meals a day with regular nutritious snacks in-between.
A regular routine of meals and snacks will not only provide the energy and nutrition they need, it’ll keep hunger in check and set your toddler up to eat healthily for life. Just as you might have trouble sleeping if you’re over-tired, if your toddler is over-hungry they might find mealtimes difficult. Snacks keep your toddler’s energy levels topped up between meals and prevent your toddler becoming too hungry.
Toddlers also need fun and variety to keep them interested – they're ready to chew on more grown up shapes and textures now and offering a variety of foods will keep them entertained while encouraging them to feed themselves. So they’ll be growing in independence and getting a step closer to family mealtimes.
So what kind of small, balanced meals can you give your toddler?
For breakfast, dilute a little fruit juice for your toddler, which will contain plenty of vitamin C. The vitamin C in the drink will help the absorption of the iron in the cereal, which your toddler needs to support their rapid mental development. If they are still a little hungry, a slice of wholemeal toast with a little butter or margarine should do the trick.
For lunch, give them a balanced meal consisting of something high in carbohydrates such as potato, rice, or pasta, protein rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry or pulses and at least two different vegetables, ideally more, as different vegetables contain different nutrients. As a drink, water or diluted fruit juice in a beaker are best. You could finish off lunch with a nutritious fruit dessert like fruit pots or pouches, yummy rice pudding or fruit yogurts.
If your toddler has eaten everything up until now, including their in-between snacks (lucky you!), don't be surprised if they’re not up to eating much at teatime.
Try a little pasta dish, some beans on toast, or a cheese sandwich cut into fun shapes. Put a little water or diluted fruit juice into their beaker and if they still seem hungry, finish up with a little fruit or yogurt.
Your toddler's tummy is at least 5 times smaller than yours, so they’ll need to eat small amounts of energy and nutrient-rich foods frequently throughout the day. It's not surprising then that mid-morning and afternoon snacks play such an important role in their diet!
Try and have some of the following healthy snacks to hand, so you can avoid reaching for the sweets:
- Baby-tailored biscuits
- Fruit pots
- Rice cakes
- Fruit and vegetables e.g. apples, bananas, mango, carrots or pear.
- Fruit loaf
- Unsalted crackers and cheese cubes
- Bread sticks, or vegetable sticks with yummy, healthy dips like guacamole or tzatziki
Encourage your toddler to drink their milk
As a rule of thumb, try to accompany your toddler’s morning and afternoon snacks with a beaker of milk.
Bear in mind that semi-skimmed milk is not recommended for children under the age of 2 (and skimmed milk should not be given under 5 years of age) because it’s lower in energy and vitamins than full-fat milk. Semi and skimmed milk should only be offered at these ages if your toddler is eating well and has a varied diet.