Renee Naturally’s top tips for toddler nutrition
Toddlers grow and develop quickly so they need the right nutrition for energy. It’s also a time when nutrition can have a lifelong impact. Early life nutrition has a significant influence on the brain and the immune system, as well as how the body metabolises food.
But let’s face it, toddlers are headstrong, busy little people with limited attention spans. They would often rather be playing with their toys than sitting down to a huge plate of nutritious food and ticking off all the essential food groups! So let’s learn what makes toddlers tick, how to work with them around food, and most importantly, how to stay calm at mealtimes.
Firstly, toddlers are notorious snackers. Their stomachs are still very small, limiting the volume of food they can consume. This is why a diet of highly nutritious food and pattern of small, frequent meals is so important for toddlers. Their appetites wax and wane, so don’t expect them to always eat three full meals a day. Offer dedicated meal times, but also nutritious snacks, because toddlers may not sit still for long enough to finish a full plate.
It’s important to make sure that the foods that you do offer as snacks are not ‘empty’ fillers like. white bread, sugary snacks or highly processed foods that will increase their appetite for more healthy food. Healthy snacks will help prevent mood swings and difficult behaviour that’s caused by low blood sugar levels.
Over the course of a day, try to include a wide variety of foods in as close to the food’s natural state as possible. It’s important that toddlers receive a variety of foods from the four main food groups:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Cereals and grains
- Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, or other vegetarian or vegan protein alternatives
- Milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or dairy-free alternatives
Try not to stress too much as your child will pick up on your anxiety at meal times and this may reduce their desire to co-operate, or even reduce their appetite. Children can inherently balance the amount of food eaten with exactly how much they need if they are given the opportunity to enjoy good foods and are not forced to overeat or finish all the food on their plate.
Our role as parents of a toddler is to decide which food to offer and when, but your toddler should decide how much they’ll eat. Toddlers won’t starve themselves, so resist the temptation to cave and give them unhealthy options you know they’ll devour with no fuss! If you insist that your child eats more than they choose to, you’re potentially overriding this natural ability and may encourage future over-eating or a negative view of healthy foods.
Picky eating can be common in toddlers. The world has become an exciting place and food may be less important when there are many other things to do. Rejecting a food does not always mean the child doesn’t like it. If you offer it on another day, they may just eat it. Be patient and keep offering new foods. Asserting independence is part of normal toddler development and this often includes refusing to eat foods that you offer.
Some further tips to encourage nutritious eating habits include:
- Be a positive role model by eating a healthy and varied diet yourself
- Don’t worry too much – a toddler’s appetite and food intake can vary daily. Your toddler probably doesn’t need to eat as much as you think he/she does. Children grow more slowly after the age of 12 months. Their caloric needs are less than what they were during the rapid growth period of newborn to one year old.
- Serve a new food with one your child likes.
- Offer new foods in a relaxed environment.
- Avoid using food as a reward, pacifier or punishment.
- Enjoy family meals together at a table (where possible, even if just on weekends), so toddlers can watch and copy others and enjoy company while eating.
The toddler years are fun, frustrating and high-energy all at once. Encourage healthy eating habits, offer nutritious and varied food options, but most importantly, don’t forget to foster enjoyment around food and mealtimes and hopefully encourage lifelong loyalty to healthy living!