Why Nutrition is Everything for Toddlers
15 November 2023
Is your toddler getting all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need? And what do they need anyway? In this post, we break down why a well-balanced diet is everything for toddlers 👇
A balanced diet with all the necessary macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are the building blocks of a healthy body and mind. After all, there’s a reason you heard ‘if you don’t eat your veggies, you won’t grow up big and strong’ as a child on repeat.
Therefore, it’s vital to embed healthy eating habits and proper nutrition from an early age to ensure the best chance for success later in life.
In this post, we break down why nutrition is everything for toddlers. We’ll also provide some handy tips to get your toddler eating their fruit and veg!
How Much Protein Does my Toddler Need?
Toddlers need around 13g of protein daily, or roughly 15-25% of their diet. Protein is a vital macronutrient as it contains essential amino acids. While you’re probably familiar with its muscle building effects, protein is a part of every cell in the human body! It builds and repairs skin, nails, and even hair. Additionally, protein helps maintain a healthy weight, curb hunger, and repair injuries.
Some high-protein foods for toddlers include:
- Lean meats
- Dairy products
How Many Carbs Does my Toddler Need?
Paediatric experts recommend toddlers get around 45-65% of their diet from carbs. However, it’s essential to be mindful of the sources and quality of carbohydrates. Importantly, there are two types of carbs: simple and complex.
Simple carbs (or simple sugars) contain only one or two types of sugar, while complex have many. Sugary foods, fruit, and soft drinks contain simple carbohydrates which are quickly broken down into energy. This is why you might find your toddler bouncing off the walls on a sugar high.
Conversely, complex carbs, such as starches and fibre, break down slowly as they’re made up of many chains of carbs. Therefore, complex carbs release energy slowly and are less likely to spike blood sugar, hence avoiding those dreaded sugar crashes.
While some simple carbs are naturally occurring, experts recommend avoiding processed foods and drinks with added sugar entirely for children under 2, and preferably well into childhood and adolescence. Instead, reach for whole foods to boost your toddler’s energy.
Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include:
- Whole grains (whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice)
- Pulses (lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans, kidney beans)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas)
How Much Fat Does my Toddler Need?
According to recent studies, fats should make up around 30-40% of a toddler’s diet. However, there are different types of fat to keep in mind, both healthy and not so healthy.
Firstly, there are two kinds of healthy fats. These fats derive from natural sources and should be consumed on a regular basis for brain function, hormone balance, and energy:
- Monosaturated fats (nuts, avocado, canola oil, olive oil, sesame oil)
- Polyunsaturated fats (fish, sunflower seeds, flaxseed oils, soybean)
Additionally, while not necessarily healthy or unhealthy, saturated fats should be consumed in moderation:
- Saturated fats (beef, pork, poultry, full-fat dairy products, eggs)
Lastly, trans fats (or trans fatty-acids) should be avoided entirely. In fact, the World Health Organisation recommends limiting trans fats to less than 1% of total energy intake. In several cities around the world, such as New York City, trans fats have been severely limited or outright banned and there’s a growing movement in Australia to follow suit.
Trans fats can be naturally occurring but are most often industrially made. You’ll find trans fats in highly processed foods which offer little to no nutritional value to you or your child. Additionally, a diet high in trans fat has been regularly linked to an increased likelihood of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
- Deep fried foods
- Fast food
- Commercially baked goods (cakes, biscuits, pies, muffins, etc.)
- Frozen food (pizza, nuggets, ice cream, etc.)
- Potato chips
- Butter and margarine
What are the Essential Vitamins for My Toddler?
Vitamins are essential for toddlers to boost the immune system and strengthen cell function. Likewise, vitamin deficiency can lead to lower energy levels and may affect children’s development. Therefore, if you suspect your toddler may have a vitamin deficiency, consult your GP or a healthcare professional. Rest assured, these deficiencies are common and often easily treatable.
There are seven vitamins needed for healthy growth:
- Vitamin A (eggs, fish, sweet potatoes, spinach)
- Vitamin B (whole grains, poultry, fish)
- Vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes)
- Vitamin D (fortified milk and cereals, fatty fish, sunlight)
- Vitamin E (vegetable oils, leafy green veggies, nuts)
- Vitamin K (eggs, milk, broccoli)
- Folate (beans, fresh fruits, beans, sunflower seeds)
What are the Essential Minerals for my Toddler?
Minerals are key for building strong bones and teeth. While vitamins help the body’s functions, minerals help the body’s structure. Similarly, mineral deficiencies are also commonplace, especially with fussy eaters. So, be sure to contact a healthcare professional if you’re concerned and they can take the necessary steps.
Essential minerals include:
- Calcium (dairy products, fortified cereals, leafy greens)
- Iodine (dairy products, chicken, iodised table salt, seaweed)
- Iron (red meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, dried fruit, leafy greens)
- Zinc (beef, oysters, pumpkin seeds, rolled oats)
Tips to Get Your Toddler Eating Healthy
While it’s handy to know what your toddler needs to eat, for some the battle is just getting the food into their mouths in the first place. We’ve compiled a few handy tips to get your child eating more, and some ways you can incorporate healthy foods into healthy habits:
- Don’t serve too much – this one might sound obvious, but only serve what your toddler will eat. Forcing children to ‘clean their plate’ when they’re not hungry can impact their ability to read hunger cues, make healthy eating choices, and listen to their body. It also prevents food waste!
a) 1-2 year olds: let them decide how much they want to eat. Importantly, think about how much your child eats over the course of a week, rather than day-by-day. This is because toddlers appetite wanes often, which is okay!
b) 3-4 year olds: offer a wider variety of healthy foods. Likewise, give them the choice to eat or not, but be sure to include foods from the five food groups.
- Offer variety – toddlers often refuse to eat as a way to express control. Therefore, food choices offer fussy toddlers a compromise. Something as small as choosing between mashed potatoes and mashed pumpkins can be a huge boost for a toddler’s sense of agency.
- Get creative with consistencies – dips, dips, dips! By using hummus, yogurt, or blended veg, you can make healthy eating a more fun and interactive experience for toddlers. Additionally, it’s an opportunity to strengthen fine and gross motor skills.
- Make a routine – children thrive off structure, so be sure to encourage family mealtimes at the same time every day (where possible) can ease stress and anxiety around mealtime.
Overall, getting enough macro and micronutrients is essential for babies and toddlers alike. Whether it’s for brain health, bone strength, the immune system, or making sure everything is working just right, a balanced diet is a must for growing bodies. With these facts and tips in mind, you can ensure your child is getting all the building blocks they need for a healthy and fulfilling life.