A healthy diet for toddlers

Your little one will go through so many amazing changes as they grow and develop. This makes a balanced diet for toddlers so vitally important. Here are some tips to help make sure they get everything they need

In Toddler

8 minutes read
Your little one will go through so many amazing changes as they grow and develop. This makes a balanced diet for toddlers so vitally important. Here are some tips to help make sure they get everything they need

At a glance

A balanced and healthy diet for kids ensures they get enough energy and nutrients for development

Offering a variety of foods exposes their tastebuds to essential nutrients and flavours

 

Avoid too many whole grains, sugar, salt or saturated fats

Vitamins for toddlers will make sure they get the right level of vitamins A, C and D

Variety of foods for a healthy  toddlers' diet   rel=

Milk and dairy – two to three portions a day

Milk and dairy are an important part of a child’s diet. They are a good source of energy and protein, and contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals for toddlers including:

  • Calcium which toddlers need to grow bones and teeth
  • Vitamin A which helps the body’s immune system
  • Riboflavin which keeps the eyes, skin and nervous system healthy
  • Magnesium which helps with bone development and converting food into energy
  • Potassium which controls the balance of fluid in the body and the correct functioning of the heart

Toddlers should have 2-3 servings of milk and dairy foods each day. These can include cows' milk, toddler milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais.

If your little one doesn’t like drinking milk, try adding it to mashed potato, pureed vegetables or hot cereals like porridge. And offer other dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese, as these are particularly good sources of calcium.

Fruits and vegetables – five portions a day

The vitamins, minerals and fibre in fruit and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. So it’s a good idea to introduce different ones from an early age.

  • They provide vitamins A and C, fibre and some B vitamins
  • Different fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins and minerals, so variety is not just important but vital
  • Mix up fresh, frozen, juiced, canned or dried foods

Toddlers should be offered fruits and vegetables at each meal and some snacks. Some children don't like cooked vegetables, so if they’re old enough to chew and there’s no choking hazard, try giving them crudités. Offer small amounts of fruits and vegetables to get them used to the taste. Add them to recipes such as pureed vegetables in a pasta sauce. Growing your own – with your toddler’s help – can also be a fun way to get your little one to try new things.

Meat, fish and vegetarian alternatives – two to three portions a day

Protein is important for your toddler’s growth and development. Meat, fish, eggs and vegetarian alternatives, such as pulses, are good sources of protein but they also contain other nutrients including:

  • Iron needed for your little one’s cognitive development
  • Zinc, magnesium and B vitamins

Toddlers need one or two portions of protein each day and vegetarians need an extra one. Most toddlers prefer softer cuts of meat, such as chicken, and may refuse more chewy textures. So add lean beef or skinless chicken alongside or mixed with other familiar foods, like macaroni cheese or in pasta sauce.

Red meat is a good source of protein and iron and zinc. But eating a lot of it isn't ideal. So mix it up and offer other proteins or iron-rich foods, such as fortified breakfast cereal, dark green vegetables, bread and dried apricots, figs and prunes. Vegetarians should take iron with vitamin C to help with iron absorption.

Fish – two portions a week

Fish is a good source of protein, and many vitamins and minerals, so it’s recommended that you offer it twice per week and oily fish — such as salmon, sardines and tuna — at least once a week. Here’s why:

  • Fish contains zinc, magnesium and B vitamins which are essential for healthy development
  • Oily fish are particularly high in long chain omega-3 fatty acids that support a healthy heart

Toddlers usually find cod, haddock, trout, mackerel, salmon and canned tuna tasty. But if your little one is reluctant, try adding fish to other familiar foods – make a fish pie topped with mashed potato, or mix tinned tuna with pasta and tomatoes.

Starch and carbohydrates – four portions per day

Good things most children don't need much encouragement to eat are bread, cereal, potatoes or pasta. Carbohydrate-based foods are important staples – they are a good source of energy and fibre, as well as, vitamins and minerals.

Offer toddler-sized portions of bread, rice, pasta or potatoes at every meal and within some snacks. You can also give wholegrain foods, such as brown rice, however too many wholegrain foods can fill your toddler up before they've had all the calories they need.

Fats

During toddlerhood, high fat foods are encouraged. At this stage, they need the concentrated energy and other nutrients provided by full fat whole milk, yoghurt and cheese. This is because:

  • Some vitamins such as A and D are only found in fats
  • Fat in the diet helps the body absorb certain nutrients
  • It also provides essential fatty acids that the body can't make itself

But not all fats are created equal. The unsaturated fats from vegetable sources, such as cooking oils, are better for health than the saturated fats found in meat and animal sources. To reduce the amount of saturated fat:

  • Buy leaner cuts of meat
  • Grill or bake foods instead of frying them
  • Use as little cooking oil as possible
  • Limit crisps and similar snacks, fried foods, pastry and commercially prepared cakes and biscuits

Low fat and fat free products often have ingredients such as sugar, thickeners and salt, to make up for the taste lost from the fat. And they may not have enough calories your toddlers needs so they should be avoided.

Snacks – two to three per day

Toddlers only have small tummies, so regular snacks between meals prevents them from getting overly hungry or going too long before eating. A recommended daily routine includes two to three snacks per day fit in around their three meals and nap times.

Little ones love sweet treats but these are more likely to cause tooth decay and may lack important vitamins and minerals. So limit sugar-containing foods and drinks in-between meals. And swap unhealthy snacks for more nutritious ones, like fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, wholegrain breakfast cereals, natural yoghurts, fruit puree lollies, bread and cheese.

Drinks – six to eight drinks per day

Growing up is thirsty work – literally. Toddlers should have six to eight drinks per day, each of about 100-120ml, more if it’s hot out or after extra physical activity. The best drinks are water and unflavoured milk which are kinder to teeth than sugary drinks. Water helps:

  • Maintain the body’s balance of fluids
  • Energise the muscles
  • The kidneys function
  • Normal bowel function

Everyone knows natural, not from concentrate fruit juices, such as orange juice, are a good source of vitamin C, but not everyone knows they also contain high levels of natural sugars and acids which can cause tooth decay. Squash or cordial also contains added sugar and very few nutrients. And too many juice based or flavoured drinks can be filling, leaving less room for healthy food choices.

Diluting juice and squash, or cordial - one part to 10 with water, will make them less sugary but should be limited to meal times to help protect teeth from dental erosion.

Supplements

Growing children sometimes don't get enough vitamins A, C and D, particularly if they do not eat a varied diet. That’s why it is recommended that all children from six months to five years are given vitamin drops. This is because:

  • Vitamin A helps to strengthen your toddler’s immune system and helps maintain healthy skin
  • Vitamin C helps your toddler’s body absorb iron and helps with the normal function of the immune system
  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from the foods we eat — supporting their rapid bone growth and development in the early years

Having too much of some vitamins can be harmful, so keep to the recommended dose. If you qualify for Healthy Start (only applicable in the UK), you're entitled to free vitamin drops. If you prefer not to give supplements, include some other fortified foods like cereals and toddler milks in your child’s diet.

Sugar

There are two types of sugar – natural sugars that are found in whole fruits, vegetables and milk, and added sugar that is found in fizzy drinks, and biscuits for example. The natural sugars present in foods such as milk, fruit and vegetables provide energy, but these foods also provide other important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.

On the other hand, food with lots of added sugar provides energy but often has fewer nutrients, so it’s best to keep them as an occasional treat rather than an everyday snack.

Sugary foods and drinks can cause tooth decay, particularly if eaten between meals. So it’s best to give your toddler sugary foods with their meals – the more they chew, the more saliva they produce. This helps to neutralise the acids that could harm their teeth. Fluorides in water can help prevent tooth decay. It’s best to use a cup, beaker or a straw for drinks rather than a bottle. And remember to clean your toddler’s teeth last thing before bed.

Leave a comment for yourself

Next up: Baby

prev Previous article
In Baby

Family meals with toddlers

Next article next
In Toddler

Sign up or log in to save articles

If you are already a member of the SMA® Baby Club you will need to reset your password to access your amazing new profile page. You can then benefit from the upgraded functionalities and personalised profile.

Not registered ? You can join us now

Register