Healthy Baby Package: parents need healthful eating habits to install in their children that will have long-term positive effects on their overall health and well-being. Find out the right foods and activities your child needs!
Feeding a toddler a balanced diet can be tough, especially if he is a fussy eater. You may worry that he is not getting enough good nutrients to grow. So how can you make sure that your toddler eats well?
What is a balanced diet and what’s so good about it?
A balanced diet is one that contains a wide variety of foods, eaten in different combinations, every day. By eating lots of different things, a balanced diet helps to give your toddler all the nutrients he needs. This means that you don’t have to worry about your toddler lacking something essential in his food.
However, providing a balanced diet for a toddler every day can be quite a challenge. So try not to worry if you don’t always achieve it. As long as your toddler eats well most of the time, he will be getting plenty of nutrients.
What foods should I feed my toddler for a balanced diet?
The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to stick to a certain food to provide your toddler with specific nutrients. For example, meat will give your toddler protein, but he can also get protein from nuts or chickpeas.
You can also give your toddler key nutrients in different forms. So if he turns his nose up at a boiled egg and a glass of milk, try giving him a pancake instead. Giving your toddler a variety of foods and being creative with his meals will help to make eating more exciting. It will also encourage your toddler to explore different flavours.
To help your toddler eat well, give him a variety of foods from all of the following groups.
Starchy foods (carbohydrates)
Offer your toddler starchy foods with each meal and for some snacks. Starchy foods include:
- potatoes and sweet potatoes
Foods made from flour, such as crackers and bread, are also starchy foods.
Your toddler may not like wholegrain starchy foods, so try to offer a mix of wholegrain and non-wholegrain foods. Doing this will also prevent him from feeling too full from high-fibre foods to get a good range of nutrients. Bear in mind that your toddler has a small stomach and it’s easy for him to feel full.
Fruit and vegetables
Getting your toddler to eat a variety of fruit, and especially vegetables, can be a challenge. Keep offering them to your toddler so that he learns they are a normal part of a meal. You can also experiment with unusual fruit, such as starfruit, to keep your toddler interested. Or offer a plate of different-coloured fruit to tempt him, such as banana, kiwi fruit, blueberries, and strawberries.
Try to always offer your toddler fruit as part of his sweet course.
High-iron and high-protein foods
Your toddler needs to have foods that are high in iron and protein twice a day. Foods that contain lots of iron and protein include:
- pulses (such as lentils, chickpeas and beans)
Make sure that any meat products you buy are high-quality, and are made of lean meat with low amounts of added salt. If you want to feed your toddler nuts, grind them up and mix them into a meal. This will help to prevent your toddler from choking.
You can try to keep these foods interesting by experimenting with marinades for meat, and making your own lentil dhal or hummus.
You can offer your toddler dairy foods three times a day. Dairy products are high in calcium, which is important for strong bones and teeth.
Dairy foods include:
If you want to feed your toddler yoghurt, opt for plain yoghurt or a variety that does not have too much sugar. To sweeten plain yoghurt, try mixing it with pureed fruit.
Milk is still a good source of calcium for your toddler, but he doesn’t need as much as he did when he was a baby. Aim to give your toddler around 350ml (two thirds of a pint) of milk a day. It’s best not to give him more than this as it will reduce his appetite for other foods.
Until your toddler is two years old, stick to full-fat milk. He will need the extra calories, and full-fat milk also has higher levels of vitamin A than lower-fat varieties. Once your toddler is two years old, you can start offering semi-skimmed milk. Skimmed milk is not suitable for your toddler until he is at least five years old.
There is no need to give your toddler follow-on milk; he should get all the nutrients he needs from a balanced diet.
Are there any foods that I should limit?
Foods high in fat and sugar
Foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar include:
Your toddler needs plenty of calories to keep him energised, but feeding him these foods in large amounts can make him overweight. Stick to small portions and try to offer them as an occasional treat.
Sweets and chocolate
Sweets and chocolate make a great treat, but they shouldn’t be eaten every day. Sugary foods contain little or no goodness and can spoil your toddler’s appetite. They can also damage his teeth.
Your toddler needs no more than 2g of salt a day, but it can be tricky to keep an eye on how much salt he eats because some foods naturally contain salt.
Here are some tips on how to avoid giving your toddler too much salt:
- Keep crisps and salty snacks for an occasional treat – no more than once a week. A whole bag of crisps is too salty for your toddler, so only give him a handful at a time.
- Try not to add salt to your toddler’s meal; use herbs and spices to add flavour instead. If you and the rest of your family would like some seasoning, add it separately.
- Limit the number of ready-meals and takeaways that your toddler eats. These processed foods often contain a lot of hidden salt. If you give your toddler a ready-meal, give him a small portion and add plenty of vegetables.
Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel, are a great source of omega-3 fats, vitamins, and minerals. But you don’t need to give them to your toddler too often; once or twice a week is plenty. Feeding too many of these fish may increase the build-up of toxins in your toddler’s body.
If your toddler has asthma, hayfever, a food allergy, or if food allergies run in your family, check with your health visitor or GP before feeding him foods containing peanuts. This way you can help to prevent a possible allergic reaction.
You can find out more about what foods not to feed your toddler here.
Does my toddler need a vitamin supplement?
You may feel happier giving your toddler a supplement. A supplement containing vitamins A, C and D for children is recommended for under-fives to prevent rickets (a bone disease), and to promote healthy growth.
Having a vitamin supplement is especially important for toddlers who fall into one of these categories:
- Fussy eaters.
- Those living in northern areas of the UK, where there may be fewer hours of bright sunshine.
- Those of Asian, African, or Middle Eastern origin who cover up their skin.
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