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Feeding your toddler

Feeding your toddler

Food gives us the energy needed to carry out daily tasks, and, for toddlers, the energy needed to grow. This growing process requires a lot of fuel, so you may be surprised how much food your child consumes. The best measure of how much food a child needs is their appetite. They may appear very hungry one day and less so the next; their appetite is variable at this stage. Provided you offer a well-balanced, healthy diet, and pay attention to your child's response of 'hungry' and 'full' you can be pretty sure they are eating enough.

What is a balanced diet?

A variety of foods, eaten in moderation, best describes a balanced diet. Different types of food provide our bodies with the different nutrients needed to maintain our health. Missing out any important food-groups can lead to poor health and illness.

Children need a good quality diet more than adults as their bodies are growing. If they survive on cakes and biscuits they will be missing out on vital vitamins and minerals. At the same time, a diet consisting solely of fruit and vegetables is not good for a growing child as they needs fats and starch to give them calories for energy.

Over the past decade we have been encouraged to adopt a healthy diet, rich in wholegrain foods, fruit and vegetables. However, babies and children shouldn't be given low-fat or low-calorie foods. Babies and children under 5 need plenty of calories to keep them going. This does not mean that they can eat as many doughnuts and crisps as they want, but these foods can be given from time to time. Keeping a check on how much sugary foods a child eats is a good idea as they can develop a liking for them and nothing else. Also, too many can rot their teeth.

Babies and children need a healthy, balanced diet, with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes and pasta. This will provide them with the fuel necessary for proper growth and to have enough energy to be active. The key to a healthy diet for your family is moderation - try not to provide too much or too little of one food.

Five food groups

Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt contain protein and calcium which are used to build up the body, repair damage and for the growth of bones and teeth.

Young children should be given full-fat milk, as skimmed and semi-skimmed do not provide the nutrients and calories necessary for growth and energy. If your toddler goes off milk, offer cheese, milky puddings or cereals with lots of milk or yoghurt instead.

Fats and oils are essential for protecting and insulating vital organs, but too many can be harmful. Vegetable oils such as sunflower and olive oils should be used when cooking; fried foods should be avoided as much as possible.

Meat, fish, eggs and pulses contain protein, iron and vitamin D, which help make muscles and tissues. Vegetarians should choose a variety of pulses and cereals to meet their protein requirements.

Bread and cereals such as pasta, rice and potatoes provide energy and some nutrients. Try to choose wholegrain varieties as these are richer in fibre and nutrients.

Fruit and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals and provide us with fibre to keep our bowels working properly. Avoid over-cooking vegetables as this destroys many of the nutrients. Frozen vegetables are as good as fresh and much better than tinned, as these have lost much of their nutritional value. Raw fruit and vegetables are the best. If your child refuses vegetables, it's probably a phase. Offer him fruit juices instead and ensure he sees you enjoying your vegetables.

Start as you mean to go on

It is a good idea to introduce your young child to healthy eating habits very early. Try avoiding bad diet habits within your family by encouraging everyone to eat healthily - without making it seem it is the 'healthy option'. For example, instead of cakes or biscuits as mid-morning snacks, try some fruit (fresh or dried). Also, try to avoid buying sugary, fatty foods when shopping, so the temptation isn't there - for you or your children. However, don't deny your children the odd chocolate bar or bag of crisps, because this can make 'junk' foods even more appealing. Try giving your children some of the less commonplace fruits - like kiwi fruit, pineapples or custard apples. Children will love the unusual shapes, colours and textures.

At snack time, try giving your children foods they will find interesting - breadsticks and dips, raisins and chunks of cheese, cut up into little pieces on a brightly coloured plate.

Guidelines for a healthy diet

  • Young children need three meals and three snacks a day. Make sure snacks are nutritious and not too filling as they may then refuse to eat their main meals. Try pitta bread or yoghurt rather than crisps and biscuits.
  • Introduce your child to a variety of foods. If they refuse something one day then try it again a few weeks later. It is often just a phase and is their way of testing you; coercion will only extend this phase.
  • Don't add salt or sugar to foods as it is not necessary. Try cutting it out of your diet.
  • Try sharing your meals with your child so they learn that mealtimes are an enjoyable, social part of the day.
  • Avoid sugar-laden drinks, such as squashes and fizzy drinks. Give your child water as much as possible and perhaps a diluted glass of pure fruit juice once a day. About 4-6 cups a day is the right amount of fluids. Keep drinks such as lemonade and cola for special occasions.

Feeding your toddler may seem like a complicated process, but if you try to take the healthy option, your toddler should grow up fit and strong.