Once children reach 12 months old, they start to eat a diet similar to that of the rest of the family. But they have their own nutritional needs what is different from an adult's diet. So here are the key nutritional points for toddlers.
Healthy - balanced diet
It is a big relief when our children can eat the same meal as the rest of the family. Or the rest of the family can eat what we prepare for our toddlers. If we just make our family meals a bit healthier - reducing salt, sugar and saturated fat in homemade meals, - we can offer them to our kids too.
I always say, that having toddlers in the family is the best reason and opportunity to switch to a healthy diet.
Toddlers love eating with us and copy us. Obviously, they want to eat what we eat - or at least to give a try. I can watch both of my daughters chewing on raw spinach and lettuce leaves recently, trying to understand why we love them... They do not swallow them, but at least, they are open-minded and curious. :-)
The most important nutrients for toddlers
The key vitamins and minerals for this age group are the followings:
Main sources: red meat (pork, lamb, beef), bread, eggs, beans, fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables
Main sources: dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt), canned fish, sesame seeds, green vegetables
Main sources: yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, liver, dairy products, green vegetables
Main sources: citrus fruits, berries, vegetables (broccoli, water cress, pepper)
Main sources: oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), fortified margarine, dairy products
Main sources: red meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, beans and pulses, wholegrain cereals, green vegetables
What is the different between a toddler's and an adult's diet?
More fatsWhile fats make 30-35% of an adult's daily calorie intake, toddlers need much more fat in their diet. The fat content of breast milk is around 50% and this reduces in the diet of pre-school children's diet gradually to 30-35% by age 5. It is important to limit saturated fat in toddlers diet too, and offer them different sources of fats: like oily fish, oily vegetables, vegetable oils: olive oil, sunflower, rapeseed oil.
Less fibreWhat is really important for an adult - high fibre intake, not so good for small children.
Fruits and vegetables are important. However, toddlers' digestive system cannot deal with large amounts of high fibre food. They usually tend to be chewy and children cannot break them up properly, so minerals and vitamins cannot absorb properly. They also fill up children quickly and they finish the meal before getting the right amount of nutrients.
Toddlers need relatively more protein: while adults need 0.75g protein per kg body weight, pre-school children need 1g protein per kg body weight. So compared to their body weight they need more protein. We can offer them a varied source of protein like meat, poultry, fish, beans and pulses, bread, rice, nut butter, tofu.
We all know that sugar needs to be limited in small children's diet, so sweets and chocolate obviously need to remain only treats.Usually, the hidden sugar is what causes problems: it is there not just in sweet drinks and food (like juices, squash or biscuits) but in savoury foods as well like bread and processed food. The problem with sugar that high in calories but do not have any other nutritional values and can cause serious health problems later in life. Besides this, sugar is the major cause of tooth decay.
Less saltToddler's kidneys can not cope with the large intake of salt. Try to reduce salt in homemade food using spices and herbs instead. And avoid high salt content ready made food, salty snacks and salty cheeses.
Avoid food containing artificial colouring, flavouring, preservativesThese can trigger allergies and some of them are linked to behavioural problems in children.
These are not allowed to be in baby and toddler foods but they are very often present in adult food. So think about this before offering adult food to your children.
Fluid needsSmall children's fluid intake needs more attention as they can get dehydrated more easily. Their body cannot cope with the very hot condition and their body temperature regulation is different from adults: they sweat less, they get hotter during exercise than adults, and they do not recognise or respond to the feeling of thirst. So it is really important to offer them water regularly.
Toddler's stomach is 5 times smaller than an adult's stomach, that's why it is so important to offer them regular smaller nutrient-dense meals throughout the day: 3 main meals and 2-4 smaller snack.
You can find more about toddlers' diet here: