A varied and nutritious diet and good eating habits are essential for healthy growth and development. The toddler years are a time of rapid growth and development and your growing active toddler has specific nutritional requirements to meet their needs.
By offering meals and snacks made with nutritious healthy food, your toddler’s energy and nutrient needs can easily be met. With a tummy that is at least 3 times smaller than yours, your toddler needs to eat little and often. Three small meals and two to three regular nutritious snacks in between will give them a steady stream of energy and nutrients throughout the day.
Healthy eating is about offering your toddler a variety of different foods in the right proportions. The toddler food pyramid is there to help you make sure they are getting the right balance of all the different food groups.
A balanced diet for a toddler is made up of the same food groups needed by adults, just in slightly different proportions:
- Starchy foods to provide energy, such as bread (offer a mix of wholegrain and white) pancakes, savoury muffins/scones, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes. Offer a portion at every meal, or as a snack and aim for 4 in total throughout the day
- Fruit and vegetables for vitamins, minerals, and fibre. The more varied in colour the better as each tends to provide different nutrients. Aim to give them 2-4 servings a day by including fruit and vegetables at each meal and as snacks
- Dairy foods for calcium and protein such as milk, cheese and yogurt and other calcium-rich dairy food. Your toddler should be having 3 portions of dairy food per day (choose full fat varieties if your toddler is under 2 years old)
- Meat, fish and alternatives, eggs and pulses which provide your toddler with essential iron, protein and omega-3 fats. They should have 2 small servings a day. Processed pre-prepared food like chicken nuggets, sausages, fish fingers and burgers are lower in protein and often higher in fat and salt, so limit their use
- Foods high in fat and sugar such as oils, butter, cakes and biscuits should be used sparingly or as treats. Although they provide energy, they contain relatively small amounts of vitamins and minerals. So while these may be included in your toddler’s diet, serve them as an extra or occasional treat and don’t use them to replace one of the other food groups
- Make sure that you offer your toddler 6-8 beakers/cups of fluid each day. Water and milk are the best drinks, as they are the most tooth friendly. Encourage water drinking regularly throughout the day.
Don’t worry if your toddler doesn’t eat all of these every day. Simply aim to achieve an average over each week.
Foods to avoid
- Added salt should be avoided – use herbs and spices to season instead. Toddlers should have less than 2g of salt per day – 1/3 of an adult’s maximum daily allowance. It’s because of this that many adult foods are deemed unsuitable for toddlers.
- Artificial flavourings, colourings, preservatives and sweeteners should also be avoided. Although they’re not allowed to be added to manufactured baby foods, they can be present in some adult foods such as soft drinks and juices.
- Eggs and shellfish can cause food poisoning if not cooked properly, so ensure they’re well cooked.
- Limit foods with added sugar, the natural sugars found in fruit, vegetables, and milk are fine though.
If you’ve got any questions, the chances are that our team of experts have been there themselves