Accredited Practising Dietitian
Scientific Affairs – Nestlé Infant Nutrition
The toddler years – when a child is aged between 1 and 3 years – can be some of the most challenging and rewarding times as a parent. Your little one is starting to explore the world around them and they seem to be constantly on the go. These years are also critical in terms of their nutrition and longer term well-being as this is the time where lifelong eating patterns and habits can be established.
Your child has just gone through the most incredible 12 months of fast growth and development, and they have generally tripled their birth weight in that first year. In the toddler years however, this rate of growth slows right down and you should therefore expect that their appetite will also decrease as a result. Generally a toddler will still eat adequate amounts if they are offered a wide variety of healthy foods, but if you are in any way concerned then you should talk to your health care professional.
By the time your baby is a toddler, the fresh fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, meats and dairy that you consume, your toddler can also, maybe just in a more appropriate size and consistency. The good news is that recent Australian studies suggest that the vast majority of toddlers are getting enough of the right nutrition, however if anything, some are getting too much. Intakes of calories (energy), sodium (salt) and protein were above recommended levels, whilst intakes of iron, zinc, fibre and long-chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids (fish oils), were most likely to be low.
Poor nutrition in toddlerhood can affect growth and development and lead to common nutritional problems. A particular concern is inadequate iron as this can affect how your toddler develops in many ways, such as their brain development and energy levels. Try to offer foods that are high in iron, including red meat, chicken, eggs, and choose cereals that contain iron. By including a source of vitamin C with the meal (such as in citrus fruits, tomato) then the amount of iron absorbed from the meal can double.
Milk is an important food for toddlers, it provides energy (calories) and important fats for growing bodies. For this reason, full fat milk is recommended until the age of 2, after which low fat milk may be used. Some toddlers however can get into the habit of drinking excessive amounts of milk which may displace the intake of other nutritious foods. This may lead to lower iron levels, as cow’s milk is naturally very low in iron. Toddler milks have become popular in recent years, and whilst not essential for every toddler, these supplemented milk drinks do provide more nutrition than normal cow’s milk. They are enriched with some important vitamins and minerals (such as iron and zinc) and some have reduced amounts of salt and protein so they are more adapted to what a toddler needs. They can also contain additional ingredients like probiotics (good bacteria) or fish oils which can be important to consume regularly.
The main thing to remember with feeding your toddler is to be patient and consistent. Keep offering a variety of foods despite previous rejections – research has shown it can take numerous offers before a food is finally accepted and liked. Try to remove tensions from mealtimes and not over-analyse the situation. Remember their appetites are generally less as their growth rate has slowed right down. And lastly – always seek advice from an experienced health care professional if you have any concerns, and good luck!
You can learn more about the types of foods a healthy Toddler’s diet should include in our Toddler Nutrition section.
References (available on request)
2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition & Physical Activity Survey
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