A helpful way to look at giving them a healthy diet is to consider the different categories of nutrients they require and see if you can cover these food groups each day. Plus pick a few of the foods they do like which are nutrient-packed and add these to their diet regularly.
Fruits & Vegetables: Generally these foods are nutrient dense and great to eat plenty of each day. Try and vary and generally buy fruit and vegetables which are in season so that you will give your toddler a variety over the year.
Broccolli for example is a great source of iron, beta carotene, vitamin C and E, magnesium and calcium. This means it will give a boost to your toddlers immune system to help ward off ‘creche colds’ and childhood infections as well as being helpful for building and maintaining strong bones. Other vegetables in this same brassica family include cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
Recipe idea: Cook brocolli in a little water, then mash or put in the food processor and add a little parmesan and olive oil for a delicious pasta sauce. Or, serve “little trees” with their favourite dip.
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C and bioflavonoids, and carotene plus some folate, potassium and calcium. Swap or mix with other berries such as strawberries, blackberries and raspberries which give similar nutritional value. These berries support skin and blood vessel development, fibre for bowel health and are food for the immune system.
Recipe idea: Add these tasty berries to a plain yogurt with the natural acidophilus and bifidus. Or freeze and make a delicious juice, smoothie or blend for a natural ice-cream.
Protein rich foods: Ideal for your toddler to eat at least two protein rich foods on a daily basis. These include lean meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds and pulses.
Salmon is an oily fish which is fantastic for toddlers. It provides high levels of good omega 3s which are essential for healthy cell function, skin, immunity and also for mood and brain development. It also contains protein which provides the building blocks of all our cells and is essential for many functions including healthy skin, hair and nails. Vitamin D and calcium are also found in oily fish and assist in peak bone development. Iron and iodine are other key nutrients found in Salmon.
Recipe idea: Salmon patties can be popular with children. Mix a tin of wild Atlantic or Alaskan salmon with mashed potato, an egg and finely chopped parsley or other herbs. Ideal to oven bake in a little olive oil or alternatively fry lightly.
Sunflower & Sesame seeds are foods that can be used as snacks or added to main meals. As well as providing significant amounts of protein and essential fatty acids they are high in calcium, B-vitamins and iron. Good for the brain and enhancing mood, energy and helping good bone development. If your child has a nut allergy then you may also need to be careful of these seeds too.
Recipe idea: Give as snacks mixed with dried apricots or raisins or alternatively buy tahini as a spread on corn thins or rice cakes.
Energy foods: Carbohydrates: Needed daily to provide calories which give energy plus they are also high in fibre to assist with bowel health. As our children’s diet tends to be skewed towards wheat try and rotate with other grains such as oats, corn, rice, millet, rye and barley.
Oats are a superfood which are richly nutritious providing carbohydrate for energy, fibre for regular bowel function and also protein, vitamin E, B complex vitamins along with calcium, potassium, iron, silica, zinc and magnesium. Ideal for a healthy nervous system, mood, immunity, energy and helping to make strong bones and teeth.
Recipe idea: An ideal way to start the day for your toddler is with a nutritious porridge plus try adding a banana and a cut up date and sprinkling with sunflower or sesame seeds. Also use oat meal to make healthy muffins.
Children enjoy routine and can get their minds set on certain foods they like or dislike. If they have refused foods before then retry that food every few months. Making different recipes or disguising foods can also work.
Importantly, don’t assume that your child won’t like a food just because they are little. Young children can have incredibly open minds when it comes to foods – they are developing their tastes so expose them to a wide variety of flavours over time and see what they respond too. Things that I’ve found children really enjoy include:
- Nori sheets (seaweed) chips – just cut them up into little pieces. Eat alone, or with a few steamed vegies and dip. Seaweed is a great source of vitamins, especially iodine which is commonly lacking in Australian children’s diets.
- Olives! A salty tasty snack, with good oils built in.
- Sardines. Many young children really enjoy quite fishy flavours if introduced early. Such a great source of good fats, calcium and protein.
- Fetta, goats cheese and parmesan. Good alternatives too cheddar cheese, use in sandwiches, or stir through sauces, vegies as you would any other cheese. Place a chunk of fetta inside a savoury muffin or meatball for a soft melty treat on eating.
Don’t ban foods from your toddlers diet but aim to keep treat foods to eat very occasionally at parties or celebrations only. These junk, low nutrient choices can also reduce uptake of some of the good vitamins and minerals. These foods include lollies, cakes, sugar, ice cream, sweets, soft drinks, cordials, crisps, chips, junk and snack foods. A good rule is to give snacks a miss that are marketed towards children. These tend to be full of sugar, fat, salt and artificial additives.
swap ice cream for a frozen fruit and yogurt smoothie, or fresh fruit with yogurt and a drizzle of honey.
- Swap crisps or chips for home made baked vegie slices (can be stored for several days in an airtight container in the fridge (less crispy, but still very yummy). Beetroot, sweet potato and carrots work well.
- Instead of cordial and soft drinks, keep a jug of water with sliced fresh fruit (apples, strawberries, lemon, oranges, limes, mint, etc) in the fridge. Refresh every day, but the flavours of the fruit make a delicious alternative to plain water and keeps taste buds sensitive to mild flavours.
- Look for gluten free, low sugar, fruit based cakes and recipes for cakes and muffins.
Buy organics where you can to reduce the load of aggro-chemicals and pesticides consumed. Try farmers markets or organic delivery services.