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Just like you, your toddler needs a balanced diet to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need to fuel their bodies as best they can.
But if you have a toddler, you probably just rolled your eyes when you read that last sentence. Feeding a toddler is a battle and trying to feed them nothing but healthy food can be an all-out war.
They might be small, but they know the difference between carrots and a biscuit. And they know which one they’d rather have.
Most of the time getting any food into them is a cause for celebration, so how do you ensure not only that they’re getting enough food but that they’re getting the right food too?
In this article, we’re going to give you an idea of which foods are best to feed your growing little one, so when it comes to bribing them with snacks or hiding ingredients in their dinner, you can rest a bit easier knowing that they’re getting the good stuff.
Protein is an important part of a toddler’s diet as it’s vital for growth and brain development.
Animal proteins such as fish, cheese and lean meats are great as they include all 9 essential amino acids that children need to get from their food. If your child follows a vegetarian or plant based diets, beans and pulses are great foods but don’t contain all 9 amino acids, so will need to be combined with other proteins for the greatest benefit.
- Turkey breast
- Beans – black beans and kidney beans
Carbohydrates should also be part of your toddler’s diet as they are the body’s primary source of fuel and, let’s face it, toddlers have a lot of energy. Complex carbohydrates (like wholegrains) are best for toddlers as they take longer to digest and the slow absorption of sugar means your toddler has a steady supply of energy.
However, if your child is under one year old, it’s best to avoid the wholegrains as they can be harder for them to digest, make them feel too full and may impact their absorption of minerals like iron and calcium.
When it comes to carbs, it’s best to try a few different things like pasta and muesli and see how your child responds.
- Wild rice and wholegrain rice
- Wholegrain pasta
- Wholegrain bread
- Sweet potato
As well as protein, little ones also need fat in their diet for growth and brain development, in fact, it’s thought that toddlers should get around half their daily calories from fat.
Fats are a concentrated source of energy, they slow the absorption of carbohydrates and enable the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A,D, E and K. Nuts are one of the best sources of healthy fats and while for adults they make a great snack, they can present a choking hazard for children, so use organic nut butters as a substitute, perhaps with some apple or other fruit to dip in.
- Organic nut butters
- Chia seeds
- Whole milk
Fruit and vegetables
Some form of mashed up vegetable will probably be your child’s first real solid food. And while they probably loved that mushy carrot puree at first, you might notice that as they gain some independence, try new foods and learn to feed themselves, they become a little fussier with the fruit and veg.
While every parent knows that it’s impossible to force your child to eat more of fruit and vegetables, they are really important components in a toddler’s diet. They provide essential minerals and vitamins (like vitamin C) and can help their immune system ward off sickness.
When it comes to fruit and veg, make sure they are as whole as possible, avoid canned items or fruit juices when you can as they often have too much salt and sugar.
If you’re lucky enough to have a child that enjoys eating the good stuff, or if you just have ninja skills when it comes to sneaking things into food, here are some of the best veg and fruits for toddlers – ones that they’re actually quite likely to enjoy:
- Dried fruit
- Raw peppers
Toddler daily meal plan
- Porridge (about ½ cup) made with whole milk
- Half a chopped up banana
- Hummus on wholegrain toast
- Half a cup of chopped up roast chicken
- Quarter of an avocado chopped up
- Salmon (1/2) a fillet
- Half a cup of wholegrain pasta
- Half a cup of steamed broccoli
- One small yoghurt
- Handful of raisins
- Half and apple (chopped up) with tbsp. of organic almond butter to dip
How many calories does my toddler need?
As a ballpark figure, toddlers need around 35-40 calories per pound of body weight. However, it’s important not to strictly control what or how much your child is eating, unless told to do so by a doctor or professional.
Instead focus on developing a healthy relationship towards food. Lead by example, showing them how it’s fun to try a variety of different things and to eat when you’re hungry. Make meal times as pleasant as you can (which can be hard if you’re getting broccoli thrown at you by a squealing miniature demon).
Don’t use food or take away food as a punishment, don’t force your child to eat and try not to use food treats as a bribe. If you have any concerns with your child’s diet or their weight, or if you’re introducing variety of new foods, it’s always best to talk to a doctor or specialist who can not only give you the best professional advice, but advice that is catered to your child’s particular health and needs.
Supplements, vitamins and minerals for toddlers
The government recommends that all growing children, aged six months to five years, are given a vitamin supplement every day that contains vitamins A, C and D. These can usually be bought over the counter at pharmacies or health stores. Always talk to your doctor before giving these to your child to ensure that you are giving them the correct vitamins and the correct dose.
Top tips for feeding toddlers
- Change meals up frequently to give your child variety and prevent them from getting bored of certain foods.
- Stick to a schedule of when to eat
- Avoid food bribes
- Believe your child when they say they are full
- Don’t use food as punishment
- Lead by example
- Make meal times enjoyable
What are your top tips for feeding a toddler? Let us know by using the hashtag #MyIrishLife
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