A balanced diet for toddlers is different from that for adults since the nutritional requirements of a person changes throughout their life. Infancy to early childhood is an important developmental stage, so they need a lot of nutrients to assist with their rapid growth. For babies until 12 months, breast milk and iron-fortified formulas are enough to give them the nutrients they need. But when your infant becomes a toddler, you’ll definitely need to incorporate more foods into their diet.
Here are some of the most important nutrients you should be giving your toddler:
Proteins are everywhere in the body; they help build, maintain, and repair tissues. Toddlers will need 3-5 ounces of this nutrient daily. They also help fight infection and carry oxygen. There are two kinds of amino acids: essential and nonessential. Nonessential amino acids are basically amino acids that the body can produce by itself. Essential amino acids, then, are those that your body can’t produce itself - meaning you’ll need to acquire them through food. Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products are high in protein. Meat, poultry, and fish can be tricky to prepare, but there are cooking techniques aside from frying that get rid of extra fat and calories while still keeping the flavor. If done correctly, your toddler won’t find roasted or grilled protein flavorless and boring.
Carbohydrates are a main source of energy, and an energetic toddler will need about 5 ounces of carbs daily. They help the body use fat and protein to build and repair tissue. There are different kinds of carbs, and among these, toddlers should be intaking more starches and fibers than sugars. Fibers, or whole carbs, are found in many foods, such as grains and seeds like quinoa or brown rice. Cooking different grains can be a daunting task, considering how each requires different prep instructions and cook times. Thankfully, today's mini rice cookers are up to the task, as you can easily cook a variety of whole-carb baby meals with a push of a button. Meanwhile, starches are found in some vegetables, like potatoes, peas, and corn. But it’s also found in foods that are already cooked, such as bread and pasta.
Iron is found in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen throughout the body. It’s also important for brain development. Babies up to six months old have enough stored iron from their days in the womb, but it eventually gets depleted. Because of this, children are at a higher risk of iron deficiency compared to adults due to their rapid growth. Toddlers will need about 10 milligrams of iron daily to keep up with the growth. Otherwise, chronic iron deficiency can cause permanent impairment of development. Luckily, iron can be found in a lot of foods: poultry, fish, whole grains, leafy greens, eggs, even peanut butter! Eating foods with vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, can improve iron absorption.
Calcium helps build healthy bones and teeth. It also helps with blood clotting, and muscle, nerve, and heart function. Toddlers will need about 500 milligrams daily, otherwise, they might develop rickets. This is a disease that softens the bones, causing bow legs, stunted growth, and even sore and weak muscles. Aside from milk, calcium can also be found in other dairy products, like cheese, yogurt, and even ice cream (but regulate the intake as it contains a lot of sugar as well). Leafy greens, tofu, and salmon also contain calcium. Also have your toddler consume vitamin D-rich foods, such as eggs and tuna, since it helps with calcium absorption.
Healthy eating helps support your toddler’s physical and mental development. Sometimes, it might be difficult to get them to eat healthily. If you’re having a hard time with a picky eater, check our recipes that can help make these foods more appealing to them.
Written by Leia Potter for kizingokids.com