Healthy eating for toddlers
Keeping up with your toddler’s changing nutritional needs
Isn’t it amazing to see your toddler growing and learning so quickly? It’s really important to make sure that they have a healthy, balanced diet packed with all the nutrients they need to help fuel all that amazing development.
So make sure that your toddler enjoys a combination of foods from these four groups:
Starchy foods (carbohydrates) for energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals
Cereals, pasta, bread, rice, couscous, potatoes, crackers, sweet potatoes & yam
Minimum 4 servings
Fruit and vegetables for vitamins and fibre
Bananas, apples, pears, pineapple, grapes, kiwi fruit, oranges, tomatoes, peppers, apricots, dates and raisins... all these make great nutritious snacks for toddlers when cut into easy-to-eat finger foods. Offer them at every meal so your toddler learns to expect them as part of a normal meal
Minimum 4 servings
Meat, fish and pulses for protein, fat, vitamins and minerals
Meat: chicken, fish, egg, mincemeat, and quality sausages and burgers with low salt are good sources of protein, fat and iron for your growing toddler.
Pulses: chick peas, kidney beans, hummus and lentils are also nutritious and tasty ways to add some protein to your toddler’s diet – particularly if you’re vegetarian
Minimum of 1 serving daily or 2 vegetable sources
Milk and dairy: milk, cheese and yogurt for calcium, other minerals and protein
Milk, cheese, yogurts and other dairy foods provide protein and give your toddler essential calcium for growing bones
Minimum 350ml milk or 2 servings of dairy products
Foods high in fat, salt and/or sugar, like biscuits, crisps and cakes provide energy but little else so try to keep these to a minimum. If your toddler’s hungry between meals, let them snack on fruit or bread. It’s best to limit soft drinks to mealtimes.
Getting the right vitamins
Importance of vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and teeth, so it’s absolutely vital for fast-growing toddlers! The challenge is to ensure your toddler gets enough vitamin D, as it’s only found in certain foods – and not all toddlers enjoy them!
- Egg yolk
- Oily fish
- Fortified cereal, milk and margarine
In fact, unlike other vitamins, most of our vitamin D is made by our own skin! It’s produced in response to sunlight when we’re outside. Of course, in Britain we don’t have sunshine all year round, so it’s recommended that toddlers should have vitamin D supplements:
The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that children up to the age of 5 receive a daily vitamin supplement, which includes 7.5μg of vitamin D3.
You’ll find vitamin supplements in most supermarkets and pharmacists. If you’re not sure what to choose, just ask the advice of your healthcare professional.
Getting enough iron
Iron is essential for your toddler’s health and development. Meat and fish (like sardines and pilchards) are really good sources of iron – and can be very tasty too. There’s also iron in some vegetables, but it’s not as easy for our bodies to absorb. Giving foods or drinks that are high in vitamin C at mealtimes can help to increase the absorption of iron from vegetables; foods high in vitamin C include oranges, berries, peppers and tomatoes.
Including a range of iron-rich foods in your toddlers diet will help supply essential iron and prevent iron deficiency anaemia, which can affect their development. Good sources include:
- meat and fish
- iron-fortified infant cereal
- dark green vegetables
- beans, lentils and dhal
- dried fruit, such as apricots, figs and prunes
Your toddler’s milk
The UK Government advises giving full-fat milk until children are two years old because they may not get the calories or essential vitamins they need from lower-fat milk. They also recommend that all babies and young children aged six months to five years take a daily suplement containing vitamin D in the form of vitamin drops, unless they are having foods fortified with the daily amount of vitamin D such as Follow On formula.
Now quite confident at feeding themselves, your toddler will probably have their own routine of regular meals and snacks. They know what they like, but do keep trying out new foods on them from time to time.
If you haven’t introduced them already, try tasty ‘combination dishes’ like macaroni and cheese, spaghetti bolognese and casseroles.
Your toddler will need about three regular meals a day and two or three healthy snacks. Make sure they get enough vegetables by experimenting with things like mashed carrots, green beans, broccoli, potatoes and peas. It’s natural for toddlers to be fussy and refuse some foods, but don’t give up. Keep offering the refused food, as this fussy stage generally disappears. Toddlers can learn to accept different foods, particularly by watching you or their brothers and sisters enjoying it!
Keep meals interesting and varied so that your toddler keeps eating a variety of nutrients. Give them a surprise new fruit for pudding occasionally, such as rice pudding with banana, a fruit salad with yoghurt, apple crumble and custard, or a pancake with a variety of fruit slices.
Between 1-3 years toddlers’ nutritional needs can be more than double those of an adult’s for their size.* Keep feeding them the good stuff!
Foods you should limit:
Sweets and chocolates: high fat and sugar foods like biscuits, ice-cream, cakes, chocolate bars should be limited as they can reduce your toddler’s appetite for healthy foods.
Salty foods: It’s important to not give your toddler too much salt. Never add it to their food and check ingredients on pre-made foods. Remember, toddlers should have a maximum of 2g salt per day – that’s one third of the daily maximum salt intake an adult should have.
*Based on RNIs