It’s critical to get nutrition right during the early years; what your child eats now affects health, growth, and development both now and later in life. Aside from nutrition, the proper food balance helps establish the habit of eating a healthy, varied diet.
What is a healthy diet for toddlers?
While there are clear guidelines for adults on what constitutes a balanced diet things become a little more complex when it comes to the right diet for tots.
Although it’s reasonable to include some healthy “adult eating principles” for your toddler, it’s also important to ensure they get all of the nutrients they need in manageable packages, which means avoiding too many bulky, high-fibre foods while including good-quality protein and healthy fats.
What should my toddler eat?
Toddlers, on average, require three meals, two to three snacks, and six to eight drinks per day. Children are good at judging their own appetites; some days they won’t eat much, while others they will. Because their tummies are small, serve ‘me-sized’ portions, which are typically the size of your child’s cupped hand.
Offering two courses at lunch and dinner can be a good way to add variety, but don’t expect a clean plate every time.
What do healthy toddler meals look like?
A healthy, well-balanced diet includes foods from all of the major food groups. This does not have to be done at every meal, but it is a good idea to include something from each group at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with others delivered as snacks.
The following are the primary food groups:
Grains and other carbohydrate sources
Include at least five toddler-sized portions of bread, rice, pasta, cereals, and potatoes per day. These provide energy as well as the B vitamin group.
Higher-fibre starchy foods, such as wholegrain cereals and brown rice, also provide additional nutrients, but they should be introduced gradually.
Vegetables and fruits
Include five hand-sized portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Fresh, dried, frozen, canned, or in juice form all count (but limit juices to one per day due to sugar content). Aim to include as many different colours as possible to ensure variety.
Because familiarity is important in the development of food preferences, having a bowl of colourful fruits and vegetables on display may encourage your child to try new fruits or vegetables.
Milk and dairy products
Three servings of dairy foods per day, such as cheese, yoghurt, and milk, would be ideal. Full-fat milk is best for toddlers, but semi-skimmed milk can be introduced after the age of two as long as their diet is varied and they eat well.
‘Plant milks’ fortified with calcium can be consumed by children as young as one, with the advice of your paediatrician.
Meat, fish, legumes, and other protein-rich foods
Include about two portions of protein per day, which can be meat, fish, eggs, nuts, or pulses. These foods contain protein as well as micronutrients such as zinc and iron. Once or twice a week, include oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel).
What should I give my toddler to drink?
Maintaining adequate hydration is critical, especially in hot weather and during strenuous activity. Six to eight drinks per day (roughly one litre) is about right. It’s best to give them water as their main beverage, along with one or two cups of milk. Fruit juice and soda are all acidic and can cause tooth decay, so avoid these if you wan to keep your children’s teeth healthy. Toddlers should drink beverages (including milk) from a cup or free-flowing beaker rather than a bottle.
Should I add supplements to my toddler’s diet?
Before giving your child supplements, speak to their doctor to find out if supplements are necessary.