Meal times can be stressful when you have a toddler who happens to be a picky eater. This is an important time in your child’s life for development, as they’re essentially growing a body and need to consume the right key nutrients for optimal health. So, what exactly should your toddler be consuming for a proper well-rounded diet?
While our society tends to promote a low-fat diet, dietary fat is incredibly important for building your toddler’s immune system, as well as the development of their brain and nervous system. According to the American Family Physician, restricting fat intake in toddlers can cause nutrient deficiencies. Don’t shy away from fats. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that toddler’s get 30-35 % of their daily calories from fat. Peanut butter, avocado, coconut and dairy products are perfect additions to your child’s diet.
Hannah Stahmer is a registered dietician at the University of Florida and has a background rooted in 20 years of pediatric experience. She’s worked closely with infants through adolescence, studying their growth and advising parents on what nutrients their child needs.
“The most common deficiency in children is iron in this country,” Stahmer said. “Kids who are anemic don’t learn as well and don’t grow as well, so iron is important for carrying oxygen to all the cells, which is important when you’re growing and building new cells.”
The recommended amount of iron for toddlers with an age range of 1-3 is 7 milligrams, so to help reach this goal, feed your child iron-rich foods like lean meats, fortified cereals like oatmeal or Cheerios, dried fruits and dark, leafy greens.
Toddlers need about one to three servings of calcium per day, as it helps with bone growth and development. “We have until the age of 28 to build up our bone density as much as possible so it’s those crucial years of toddlerhood, when getting the right amount of calcium, protein and vitamin A, all the things that are essential for bone health, is really important,” Stahmer said.
A glass of milk might not always seem appetizing for a child, but there are many delicious ways to sneak calcium into their diet. Stahmer recommends cooking with more milk and making milk- based dishes such as cheese and yogurt. While nut milk may seem trendy, cow’s milk or soy milk is preferred, as your child needs the protein that comes with regular milk.
Vitamin A is crucial for vision, bone growth, healthy skin and works to fight infection. It also is found in many fruits and vegetables. Reap the benefits of vitamin A by introducing your toddler to carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli and apricots.
Not only is it essential that your child is meeting all of their nutritional needs, they’re also learning to be more independent and building a healthy relationship with food. Involve your child in the cooking process, take a trip to the farmer’s market and teach them about the colors and shapes of food.
“This is a good time in childhood to teach them body positivity and how food works. Not that there are good and bad foods but that there are sometimes foods and everyday foods,” said Stahmer. “Those messages stick with us for a long time, so I think it’s important to teach kids what food does for our bodies but not make it a guilt trip.”