The transition from infant to toddler is a time of intense mental and physical development for your little one, and this is when your toddler’s brain braces for the challenge of more developed talking and walking. A balanced diet is utterly important to ensure the healthiest development and growth for them. Between 12–24 months, babies start weaning off the bottle and learn to eat table food and accept new tastes and textures. Breast milk and formula sufficed for your child as an infant, but as toddlers, they should be starting to meet their nutritional needs through a variety of foods. A balanced diet for a toddler is quite different from ours. If you are feeling at a dead end when planning your toddler’s meals, here is our guide to help you get started.
Toddler Meal Considerations
Salt and Sugar: Toddlers are only allowed 1/3rd of an adult’s maximum daily allowance of salt, which comes up to about 2g/day. Try not to add salt to their meals and instead season the food with different herbs. Some store-bought snacks already contain enough salt to meet your toddler’s daily maximum salt allowance, so go easy on ready to eat snacks. For the same reason, certain adult foods may not be suitable for a toddler at all. Also, avoid adding sugar to your toddler meals but foods that contain natural sugar, such as milk, vegetables and fruits are fine. You can sweeten porridges and cereals with honey or date paste instead.
Portion sizes: Before you start worrying about how soon your toddler seems to feel full, remember that their tummies are about 5 times smaller than yours. So, instead of cramming foods down their throats and turning mealtimes into battleground, give them small amounts of nutrient-rich foods frequently throughout the day. To give them a right balance of nutrients and energy, your toddler should be eating 3 well-balanced meals a day, with two nutritious snacks interspersed in between.
Energy and nutrient needs: Your toddlers need a diet low in fiber and high in fat. A low fiber diet is recommended since fiber makes them feel fuller for long, depriving them of nutrients they could be getting throughout the day. Different food groups have different nutrients, so make sure that your toddler is eating a wide variety of foods to ensure a balanced diet which is important for their brain development and growth.
How Much Should My Toddler Eat?
While each child is different, ideally your toddler should be eating three full meals, in addition to two healthy snacks and six to eight drinks. Don’t be alarmed if your toddler doesn’t seem to want to eat one day and gobble up a huge meal the next day. As their tummies are still small, don’t force them to eat what you would call a healthy proportion. Let them eat how much they wish to. Also, instead of serving one big serving of one dish, offer two or more courses at mealtimes to ensure that your children don’t get bored of one fare quickly enough, plus to work in extra nutrition with a wider food selection. Don’t fall prey to the “clean plate syndrome” and force them to finish whatever you give them.
What Do Healthy Meals Look Like?
A healthy balanced diet includes a wide selection of foods from four main food groups. While you can’t work everything into one meal, health experts recommend smaller meals, given throughout the day. As a general rule, try to incorporate at least one element from each group at breakfast, lunch and dinner time. These main food groups include:
Try to make your toddler eat at least five toddler-sized portions per day of potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, or cereals. These don’t just provide instant energy but are also laden with calcium and B vitamins. Higher fiber starchy foods, while being extremely nutritious, should be introduced only gradually. My toddler used to love courgette and pea risotto with prawns and stir-fried rice for lunch.
One serving of starch equates half slice of bread, 1/4th cup of cooked rice, cereal or pasta, 1/4th cup of dry cereal, 1-2 crackers, 1/4th naan bread, 3 – 6 heaped tablespoons of breakfast cereal, 2 – 4 medium potato wedges or 4 – 8 thick cut chips.
Fruits and vegetables
By this time, your toddler should be eating five servings of fruits and veg a day, either canned, frozen, dried, or fresh. When it comes to fruits and vegs, try tossing in as many different colors as possible to ensure a good variety. During summers, you can even treat your kids to ice-lollies made with freshly squeezed juices or try frozen fruity skewers for dessert, for a blast of vitamin C.
One serving of fruit equals 1/4 – 1/2 medium apple, 3 – 10 Cherries, 1/2 -2 tablespoons raisins or sultanas, 1/2 – 1 tangerine , 1 banana, 1 – 4 apricots, 3-10 small strawberries, 1/2 – 1 kiwi, plum, apricot, ½ plum, 3 – 10 small grapes, 1/4 – 3/4 pear or 1 medium slice pineapple. One serving of vegetable equals 2 tablespoons peas, 1/2 – 2 tablespoons green beans, 1/2 – 2 tablespoons cooked spinach, 1 small tomato, 2 tablespoons corn, 2 – 6 carrot sticks, 4 cherry tomatoes, 1 – 4 small florets of broccoli or cauliflower or 2 – 8 small sticks celery, cucumber or radish.
Milk, cheese, and yogurt
While milk is still an important part of your toddler’s diet, try including other calcium-rich dairy foods as well, such as cheese, flavored yogurt, desserts, and snacks made from dairy, and so on. Ideally, your child must be getting 2-3 servings of this food group a day. One serving of dairy equals 2-5 tablespoons rice pudding, 125ml yogurt, 1 cup milk, 1-inch cube of cheese, and 5-7 tablespoons custard.
Meat, fish, and alternatives
Pulses, eggs, salmon, and chicken are ideal protein sources. This food group fulfils your toddler’s protein needs. Give your toddler at least 2 servings of this food group a day. Meat and pulses are also good sources of iron, which plays a crucial role in brain development. Not to mention, foods in this group are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, an essential element in brain and eye development.
1 ounce of meat, fish, poultry, or tofu, 1 – 3 mini falafels, 1 ½ small slices of ham, 1 medium sausage, 1/2 tablespoon tinned fish, or a half egg constitutes one serving, as does 2 tbsp of cooked legumes and 1 egg. A tablespoon of peanut butter spread thin over a toast also makes a healthy snack.
Supplementing Their Diet
Keep your toddler hydrated, especially in hot weather and when they’re highly active. Six to eight drinks per day is about right. Water should be the main drink, in addition to one or two cups of milk. Squash, juice, and pop are all acidic and can cause tooth decay, but freshly squeezed juices, without added sugar and flavors, are also great for keeping them hydrated. Don’t forget that, to boost their diet, vitamin drops are recommended for children under five. Not to mention, all toddlers should take vitamin D (plus vitamins A, C and E drops or even vitamin gummies, as recommended by your healthcare advisor.
Sample Menu For A Toddler
Breakfast: Mini oatmeal pancakes with sliced bananas and nut butter and breastmilk or milk in a cup or Mini mushroom omelet, berries with plain yogurt and milk.
Morning Snack: Apple slices with nut butter and cheese cubes or Ripe melon pieces and fruit yogurt, with water
Lunch: Meatball with penne pasta, cooked sweet potato mash and milk, or Tofu vegetable soup, pear slices and milk.
Evening snack: Hummus with 100% whole wheat pita, cherry tomatoes and water, or 100% whole wheat unsalted crackers with Cheese cubes and water.
Dinner: Baked risotto with salmon, carrots and parsnips, or Turkey or vegetarian chili with whole grain bun or roll and water.