Chances are, if you’ve got a toddler, bananas and veg sticks feature regularly in their diet. They’re one of the first foods parents give babies when they start solids as they’re easy to eat – and kids love them!
But as babies move into toddler stage, it’s vital to give them a more varied, nutrient-packed diet to support growth. "After 12 months, you need to ensure your child has a good appetite for food by reducing milk intake," says Judy More, paediatric dietitian and expert for the Infant & Toddler Forum.
"By this time, tots should be having three meals and two or three snacks a day. Plus, baby food should be replaced with normal family meals to offer more flavours and textures."
IT’S IN THE MIX
Make sure tots get a balanced diet by including…
Starchy foods: Foods, like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, serve five portions of these each day. Avoid too many fibre-rich foods as toddlers can fill up on these before they’ve eaten enough to get all the nutrients they need. Move them onto wholegrains from about the age of five.
Fruit and veg: Give toddlers their 5-a-day, ideally different varieties – though don’t worry if they’ll only eat a few types.
Milk and dairy: Include three servings a day to provide calcium for bones to develop. Choose full-fat versions at first (toddlers need fat to provide the energy they need for growth). From age one, non-dairy alternatives can be introduced, but go for calcium-fortified, unsweetened versions.
Protein foods: Foods like beans, pulses, fish, eggs, and meat. Tots need two servings of these a day. Pulses, tofu, soya and Quorn are suitable for vegetarian diets.
TODDLER’S DIETS – THE LOW-DOWN
Sugar pit: On average, tots aged 18 months to three years get about nine cubes of added sugar a day in their diet – at least twice the recommended maximum for four- to six-year-olds. Biscuits, cakes, sweets, sugary drinks and fruit juice provide almost two-thirds of this, so limit these.
Drink up: When it comes to toddlers’ drinks, it’s best to stick with water and milk. From 12 months, full-fat cows’ milk is suitable in place of formula (it’s fine to continue breastfeeding). If children are developing well, you can give them semi-skimmed milk from the age of two.
Shake off salt: Youngsters between one and three years should have less than 2g of salt a day. So, to keep it low, don’t add salt when you prepare meals, limit salty foods like crisps, and choose foods with a green traffic light for salt.
Boost vitamin: Give their diets a helping hand with a vitamin top-up – the Department of Health recommends a supplement of vitamins A, C and D for kids from six months to five years. Ask your health visitor for advice, or visit NHS Choices for more details.
Proper portions: A recent survey found 79% of UK parents offer toddlers bigger portions than recommended, yet almost three-quarters worry their little ones aren’t eating enough. We can take a lead from our children, explains Judy. "Toddlers are experts at regulating their appetites and eating the right amount to grow properly." For more guidance on portion sizes, go to nutrition.org.uk.
Iron it out: Lean red meat and oily fish are the best sources of iron. Eggs, pulses, fortified cereals and green leafy veg provide some iron, but it’s less well absorbed by the body.