Healthy Meals for Toddlers and Preschoolers
As children become toddlers, they begin to rely on solid food for their nutrition. The eating habits that they learn when they are young become their way of eating even as adults. The nutrition that they get also determines their level of growth and development.
Hence, it is essential for parents to carefully plan and prepare their toddlers' meals to meet their nutritional requirements, expose them to different textures, and introduce them to other flavors.
You may have several questions regarding your child's diet and nutrition, so we will go over each one of them.
Healthy Food Choices
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, children between ages one to four should have a balanced diet consisting of starchy food, fruits and vegetables, dairy foods, and protein.
· Starchy foods
These are the source of carbohydrates, vitamin B, calcium, and fiber. Ideally, your toddler should get at least five servings of starchy food throughout the day. Here are typical examples with recommended toddler portion size.
o ½-1 slice of bread
o 1-3 tbsp mashed potato
o 2-4 tbsp cooked pasta/rice
o 2-4 potato wedges
o ½-1 scone
· Vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are abundant in vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidant, and fiber. Having an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables can promote healthy growth and development, strengthen the immune system, and improve digestive functions.
Toddlers should have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables. Here are typical examples with recommended toddler portion size.
o ½-2 tbsp raisins
o ¼-1 banana
o 3-8 grapes
o ½-2 tbsp peas
o ½-2 tbsp broccoli
o ¼-½ medium apple
o 2-6 vegetable sticks
· Dairy Foods
Common examples of dairy foods are milk, yogurt, cheese. These foods have calcium, protein, fat, and vitamins B2 and B12. Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth. Protein helps build muscles, while fat helps the body absorb other vitamins. B2 supports the healthy function of the nervous system, while B12 helps with normal blood production.
Toddlers need around three servings of dairy daily. Here are common examples with recommended toddler portion size.
o 100 ml of milk
o 125 ml pot of yogurt
o 1 cheese triangle
o 1-3 tbsp cheese sauce
This group is also known as the Grow food. Protein-rich foods are essential for children's growth and development. It helps build, recover, and repair muscles, skin organs, blood, hair, and nails.
Toddlers need around two servings of protein daily. Here are typical examples with recommended toddler portion size.
o 2-3 tbsp ground meat
o ½ of an egg
o 2-3 tbsp chickpeas, kidney beans, dhal, lentils, or beans
o 2-4 tbsp cooked minced meat
o 1-2 fish fingers
o 2-3 tbsp baked beans
o ½-1 poached, boiled, or fried egg
o Peanut butter on bread or toast
Children need to drink around six to eight glasses or 1 liter of fluids to keep them hydrated. Water is the best drink for kids because it does not have any sugar that milk and fruit juices have.
These are general guidelines that can help you determine the portion sizes you should prepare for your toddler. Allow your toddler to listen to his/her stomach and let them decide whether they are full or not.
For preschoolers, you can increase the portions. In general, preschoolers should eat half of what adults usually eat.
Sample Meals for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Toddlers and Preschoolers should eat three main meals and a snack in between. Meal planning is the key to ensuring that they get nutritious food that varies in flavor, texture, and colors.
You can get meal ideas for toddler by downloading and printing the Tiny Steps Sample Healthy Meal Plan
Foods to Avoid for Toddlers and Preschoolers
According to the NHS UK, children ages one to three years old should only have two grams of salt per day while children ages four to six should only have three grams of salt.
The easiest way to avoid and reduce salt intake is to refrain from giving the kids processed food like bacon, sausages, and junk foods like chips and crackers. By feeding toddlers home-cooked meal, you have control over how much salt is in their food.
Watching your kid's salt intake can prevent excessive thirst, salty food cravings, and even hypertension,
As parents, you may be giving your kids treats as a reward for good behavior or achievement. While it may provide your kids joy, having sugary treats may have adverse effects on their health.
By looking at other incentives and offering other sweet but healthy food, you can encourage healthier eating habits and reduce the risk of obesity, tooth decay, and inadequate nutrition.
· Saturated Fat
Too much-saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels and increase the chance of heart disease. Saturated fats can be found in animal products, butter, and cheese.
· Whole nuts and peanuts
Nuts are choking hazards to young children. It may be best for kids under six years old to give nuts in crushed, ground, or smooth form. Also, nuts are a common allergen so give your kids nuts with caution.
· Unpasteurized cheeses
Unpasteurized cheese, mold-ripened cheese expose your kids to the risk of listeria. Opt for pasteurized cheese like cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, or cream cheese.
· Raw or lightly cooked eggs
Uncooked or minimally cooked eggs may contain salmonella that is harmful to young children, elderly, or immune-compromised persons. Avoid giving your kids uncooked food that has eggs in it. Typical examples are chocolate mousse, hollandaise sauce, fresh mayonnaise, or cake batter.
· Rice drinks
Some parents resort to giving rice milk to their kids instead of giving cow's milk. It may not be the best alternative because it does not contain the same protein level as cow's milk. Also, studies have shown that rice drinks may contain arsenic, which may impact baby and younger kids' brain development. In the United Kingdom, medical experts have advised kids under 4.5 years old not to drink rice drinks due to their arsenic content.
· Shark, marlin, and swordfish
These fish has more mercury than other types of fish.
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