Guest post by Shae Rickards, Global Nutrition Manager and Paediatric Dietitian at Bellamy’s Organic.
Feeding your one to three-year-old toddler a healthy, wholefood diet can help set the foundation for a healthy life. The right food supports your toddler’s physical and mental development and also assists with encouraging a long-term preference for wholesome food over salty and sugary treats. Shae Rickards, Global Nutrition Manager and Paediatric Dietitian at Bellamy’s Organic offers her insights on what types of foods are best for your little person as they grow into a bigger person.
The importance of setting healthy foundations
According to Shae, the first few years of your toddler’s life lay the foundations for a healthy future.
“A nutrient-rich diet is important for healthy development in toddlers. Nutrients play an important role in brain development, eyesight, immunity, and the growth of your child.”
“Eating patterns established in childhood continue into adulthood, so the more healthy choices toddlers are offered, the better.”
Feeding toddlers can be a challenge
Little ones between the ages of one to three tend to be very active and it can be difficult to get them to follow a traditional feeding pattern, so patience, persistence and routine are key.
By the time they reach 12 months, many toddlers can become picky eaters, which can be a normal part of their development. In addition, your toddler’s growth begins to slow down and therefore so does their appetite!
Shae says, “Toddlers also have small stomachs, short attention spans and start to assert their independence. Because of this, it’s common for toddlers to eat very small amounts, to be fussy about what they eat, and to refuse to eat at all.”
“With toddlers its normal for their appetites to change from day to day. Be guided by your toddler’s appetite; the amount they eat will vary each day. Sometimes your child might want to eat a lot and other times they might not want to eat. Best to assess your child’s food intake over the week, rather than each day.”
As toddlers are getting better at moving around, they will spend more time exploring their world.This leaves less time for eating and drinking. Remember these are normal behaviours.
What exactly to feed your toddler when they are one to three years old
Shae explains that by the time your child is one, their main source of nutrition should be family meals with a wide variety of flavours and textures.
From 12-24 months, your child should be provided with a variety of foods from each food group that’s consistent with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. These include vegetables, fruits, cereals and grains, dairy and meat or their alternatives.
“Develop a regular mealtime routine and as a guide, offer 3 small main meals and a snack between each meal (allow 1 ½–2 hours between each meal and snack). Offer small serves and then they can ask for more if they are still hungry.”
“Treat the guidelines as a rough plan for what you provide. Remember your child is in charge of how much they eat. Do not force them to eat if they are not hungry.”
Grain and cereal foods include bread, rice cakes, breakfast cereal like whole grain bread, porridge and pasta.
Fruits and vegetables including a variety of different coloured vegetables every day
Bellamy’s Organic Mixed Vegetable & Beef Bolognaise is a great option when it comes to feeding your toddler a range of healthy veggies, while Bellamy’s Organic Pear & Apple Snacks are a convenient way for your toddler to increase their fruit intake when fresh fruit is not available.
Dairy foods include milk, cheese and yoghurt
Protein foods include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, canned beans or legumes, tofu and nut spreads.
Bellamy’s Organic Pumpkin, Carrot, Broccoli and Grass Fed Beef are nutrient-dense savoury meals that, chunky in texture and full of flavours that your little one will love.
What about fluids?
Shae says water should be the main drink and aim for four cups of water per day.Your toddler can have tap water, and there’s no need to boil it after 12 months. Encourage toddlers to drink from a sippy cup, working towards a cup without a lid.
Getting in the habit of choosing water instead of juice or cordial has the benefit of reducing sugar intake, which can cause tooth decay. Full cream milk can also be given, with no more than 350 mL per day otherwise it can displace other foods in the diet.
“Keep breastfeeding for as long as Mum and baby desire, but stop bottles and infant formula from around 12 months. Offer cow’s milk from a cup after 12 months.”
Junk foods are a no-go
It might seem like a no-brainer but avoiding feeding your toddler foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt is important.“ Junk foods add no nutrition or benefit to a child’s diet.Too many serves of these foods and drinks are linked to poor health, weight gain and tooth decay,” Shae says.
“Treats and processed foods (chips, chocolates, lollies, cakes, biscuits and take-away food) should be limited to special occasions and be consumed in moderation in accordance with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.”
A final word on toddlers and food
Remember that toddlers are learning about themselves and the world around them.They might be super hungry one day and eat less the next. It’s important to average their food intake over the week and allow them to listen to their own satiety signals and let them feel like they are allowed to choose from the food on offer independently.
Remember children have a natural ability to sense when they are hungry and when they are full. If you insist that your child eats more than they choose to, you are likely to be overriding this natural ability and may encourage future overeating. With any luck, your little one will learn to love eating healthy foods as much as you do.