Healthy eating for toddlers
Keeping up with your toddler’s changing nutritional needs
Isn’t it amazing to see your toddler growing and learning so quickly? It’s really important to make sure that they have a healthy, balanced diet packed with all the nutrients they need to help fuel all that amazing development.
So make sure that your toddler enjoys a combination of foods from these four groups:
Starchy foods (carbohydrates) for energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals
Cereals, pasta, bread, rice, couscous, potatoes, crackers, sweet potatoes & yam
4 servings daily
Fruit and vegetables for vitamins and fibre
Bananas, apples, pears, pineapple, grapes, kiwi fruit, oranges, tomatoes, peppers, apricots, plums and carrots... all these make great nutritious snacks for toddlers when cut into easy-to-eat finger foods. Offer some at every meal so your toddler learns to expect them as part of a normal meal
2-4 servings daily
Meat, fish and pulses for protein, fat, vitamins and minerals
Meat: fish, eggs, beef, turkey, chicken, pork and lamb are good sources of protein, fat and iron for your growing toddler. Minced beef is great for making homemade mini beef burgers without the added salt that is present in prepacked versions.
Pulses: chick peas, kidney beans, hummus and lentils are also nutritious and tasty ways to add some protein to your toddler’s diet – particularly if you’re vegetarian
2 small servings daily
Milk and dairy: milk, cheese and yogurt for calcium, other minerals and protein
Milk, cheese, yogurts and other dairy foods provide protein and give your toddler essential calcium for growing bones
3 servings daily
Foods high in fat, salt and/or sugar, like biscuits, crisps and cakes provide energy but little else so try to keep these to a minimum. If your toddler’s hungry between meals, let them snack on fruit, vegetable sticks, crackers, rice cakes or bread. It’s best to limit juice drinks to mealtimes.
Getting the right vitamins
Importance of vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and teeth, so it’s absolutely vital for fast-growing toddlers! The challenge is to ensure your toddler gets enough vitamin D, as it’s only found in certain foods – and not all toddlers enjoy them!
- Egg yolk
- Oily fish
- Fortified cereal, milk and margarine
Vitamin D has really become more and more important in the diet and although your body can make vitamin D when the UV rays from the sun hit the skin, in Ireland we don't get enough of the right UV rays to provide us with enough of it. Also, sun screams which are important in preventing skin damage have an effect too.
We know from research in Ireland that toddlers aren't getting enough vitamin D, along with iron in their diets.
Getting enough vitamin D is difficult to achieve due to the lack of sunshine in Ireland and the limited number of foods rich in vitamin D. Do your best to encourage your little one to eat oily fish, vitamin D fortified foods/milks and eggs each week to boost their vitamin D intake.
Getting enough iron
Iron is essential for your toddler’s health and development. Their little brains are still growing and developing at a rapid pace. Iron is really important to support this growth and development. You can get it from a variety of sources. But it is impotant that you keep in mind the different types of iron: haem iron and non-haem iron.
Haem iron is found is meat and fish and is easily absorbed by the body. Non-haem iron is found in non-meat/fish sources and is harder for the body to absorb. But eating vitamin C rich foods (e.g. citrus fruits, berries) at the same time boosts the absorption of the iron by the body.
One in four toddlers don't get enough iron.
Including a range of iron-rich foods in your toddler's diet will help supply essential iron and prevent iron deficiency anaemia, which can affect their development. Good sources include:
- Red meat (e.g. beef, pork, lamb)
- Eggs (well cooked)
- Poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey)
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, broccoli, cabbage)
- Oily fish (e.g. salmon, herring)
- Peas, beans & lentils
- Iron fortified foods (e.g. breakfast cereals and milk)
- Wholemeal bread
- Include iron rich foods everyday day, including both haem and non-haem sources.
- If you give your toddler a non-haem source of iron, make sure to include a source of vitamin C in the same meal.
- Ham and bacon are generally high in salt and should only be given occasionally.
Toddler Drinks: Explained
Take a trip down the supermarket aisle and you’ll see lots of drinks labelled for children. While many of them may look good, some contain added sugars. Read below for a list of drinks to pick and to skip!
- Water – one of the best choices to give your little one. Try adding slices of lemon or orange if your tot finds plain water boring!
- Milk – is a suitable drink for toddlers however cow’s milk is not recommended as a main drink until 12 months of age and semi-skimmed milk is not suitable as a main drink until your little one is 2 and skimmed milk isn’t suitable until they are 5 years old. Cow and Gate growing up milk is also a suitable drink for toddlers at this stage as it has been tailored specially to meet the key nutrients which are lacking in the diets of pre-school children (i.e. iron and vitamin D).
- Unsweetened pure fruit juice can be a source of vitamin C. But if you’re giving this to your little one make sure to dilute it well (1 part juice mixed with 5-10 parts water).
- Smoothies – these drinks shouldn’t be used to quench your toddler’s thirst and should be used occasionally as a snack or as part of a meal. Shop bought smoothies can contain added sugar so try making your own using your little one’s favourite fruit and vegetables.
- Fruit juices and fizzy drinks – these should be avoided as they can contain sugar or artificial sweeteners which can damage your little one’s teeth.
- Tea and coffee – are unsuitable for toddlers as they contain caffeine which can affect the absorption of iron.
Now quite confident at feeding themselves, your toddler will probably have their own routine of regular meals and snacks. They know what they like, but do keep trying out new foods on them from time to time.
If you haven’t introduced them already, try tasty ‘combination dishes’ like macaroni and cheese, spaghetti bolognese and casseroles.
Your toddler will need three regular meals a day, with two or three healthy snacks in between. Make sure they get enough vegetables by experimenting with things like mashed carrots, green beans, broccoli, potatoes and peas. It’s natural for toddlers to be fussy and refuse some foods, but don’t give up. Keep offering the refused food, as this fussy stage generally disappears. Toddlers can learn to accept different foods, particularly by watching you or their brothers and sisters or friends enjoying it!
Keep meals interesting and varied so that your toddler keeps eating a variety of nutrients. Give them a surprise new fruit for dessert occasionally, such as rice pudding with banana, a fruit salad with yoghurt, apple crumble and custard, or a pancake with a variety of fruit slices.
Between 1-3 years toddlers’ nutritional needs can be more than double those of an adult’s for their size.* Keep feeding them the good stuff!
Foods you should limit:
Sweets and chocolates: high fat and sugar foods like biscuits, ice-cream, cakes, chocolate bars should be limited as they can reduce your toddler’s appetite for healthy foods.
Salty foods: It’s important to not give your toddler too much salt. Never add it to their food and check ingredients on pre-made foods.
Any more questions?
Our specialist baby advisors and experienced mums are here to talk and ready to help whenever you need them. You can call or live chat us, 8am - 8pm Monday to Friday.