A Healthy Balanced Diet for a Toddler.
Healthy Eating for Toddlers.
Toddlers are very active little people. A lot of toddler activities require a lot of energy. So, it is important that we know how to fuel their bodies for proper growth and development. Click here for ideas on how to involve your toddler in meal preparation. A healthy balanced diet for a toddler can also get them into the lifelong habit of consuming a healthy diet.
What is a healthy balanced diet for a toddler?
You might be surprised to hear that a healthy balanced diet for a toddler is not the same as a healthy balanced diet for an adult. Toddlers, aged 1 to 4 years of age, have very high energy needs to sustain their growth both physically and mentally. A balanced dietary pattern for a toddler consists of three meals and two to three snacks a day. A toddler’s diet should consist of a balance of the following foods:
- Starchy carbohydrates.
- Fruit and vegetables
- Dairy, and protein, including meat, fish, eggs, pulses and ground seeds, nuts.
- Drinks like milk and water.
The high sugar, salt and processed fat foods are not needed in a toddler’s diet but can occasionally be given in small amounts.
So how does a balanced toddler’s diet differ from a healthy adult’s diet?
Good fat and less fibre.
Firstly, toddlers need diets high in good sources of fat and less in fibre. While fibre is great for adults, for toddlers with smaller stomachs too much fibre can fill them up and displace foods that would otherwise provide them with energy and nutrients. When it comes to dietary fibre, it’s advised to offer your toddler a wide variety of fruits and vegetables over the week. Daily, aim to provide your toddler with four to five small servings of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, offering a mix of starchy carbohydrates of both white and wholegrain, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes at every meal and some snacks. This will ensure they are not getting too much fibre.
Fat is not only a great source of energy for toddlers; it is also very nutritious. Good sources of fat to include in your toddler’s diet are full-fat dairy like:
- Natural yoghurt and full-fat cow’s milk.
- Oily fish at least once or twice a week.
- Meat, eggs, and pulses.
- Groundnuts and ground seeds.
Secondly, a healthy balanced diet for a toddler should have no more than 2 grams of salt compared to 6 grams for an adult. Therefore, it’s crucial to reduce the number of foods high in salt that your toddler may be eating. You can do this by not adding salt to your home cooking and avoiding foods high in salt. Usually, very processed foods contain too much salt for a toddler. Processed foods include crisps, rice cakes, olives, and processed hams.
Lastly, the big difference is not what’s in the diet, but the portion sizes of the foods offered. Toddler’s stomachs are much smaller than that of adults by at least four times. There are no overall recommended portion sizes for toddlers, as they can vary from day to day and meal to meal depending on the toddler. You, as the caregiver, will know what your toddler’s appetite is like, and you can serve accordingly. If you’re not sure, my advice would be to offer a smaller portion first and if they are still hungry, offer them seconds.
As your toddler grows, so too will their appetite and portion sizes. However, there are recommended dairy portion sizes for toddlers after their first birthday because their requirements for calcium are slightly lower. It is recommended that a toddler should have three portions of dairy over the day:
- milk 120ml
- a yoghurt 120g
- small serving of cheese.
Sometimes, this may not happen. The main thing is that they meet their requirements across the week. Often toddlers are drinking too much milk, which is low in iron and fills them up. This can result in displacing foods high in iron, leading to iron-deficiency anaemia, which is very common in toddlers.
Finally, it is recommended in the UK that all toddlers should get a supplement of vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin C.
Final word on a healthy balanced diet for a toddler.
As you can see, a healthy balanced diet for a toddler is different to that of an adult. Activities for toddlers, physical and mental, use a lot of energy; therefore, require a healthy diet. If you have concerns with your toddler’s diet, please speak to your general practitioner about a referral to a paediatric dietitian.