Would you believe us if we said that feeding toddlers wholesome nutrients while they’re young is critical to long-term health and development? Fruits, vegetables, and fibrous carbohydrates can keep them on track for growth, while also setting healthy habits early on.
We know what you’re thinking – when toddlers are screaming for food, it’s easy to just hand over cereal for a quick fix. But, that boxed food isn’t going to do them any favors. So, what are the most important aspects of toddler nutrition and what’s the importance of a healthy diet for kids?
Why kid’s nutrition matters
“The first five years are especially critical, because that is when the brain develops most rapidly and has the highest capacity for change,” said Holiday Zanetti, a Nutrilite™ senior research scientist and clinical investigator.
“These years are paving the foundation for a lifetime of health and wellbeing.”
That’s why, in the first five years, parents should focus on ensuring their children get adequate nutrition to support and promote normal growth and development, Holiday said.
“The focus should be placed on selecting appropriate foods and amounts, while creating a supportive food environment that enables the child to self-regulate their food intake,” she said. “This means children should begin learning hunger and satiety cues, that special physiological connection between the tummy and brain.”
Feeding Toddlers and Preschoolers: Dietary Guidelines
Not sure what you should be feeding toddlers? We get it – their likes (and dislikes) can change every day, but you should still focus on providing them with the core nutrients they need to grow and develop. Let’s dive into all things toddler diet.
When it comes to toddler nutrition, you’ll want to focus primarily on four major food groups: carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fat. Just how much should they be consuming of each? The United States Department of Health recommends the following toddler nutrition guidelines:
Toddlers (1-2 years old)
Preschoolers (3-5 years old)
25-35% of total calories
5 tips to promote healthy eating for kids
Feeding toddlers isn’t always as easy as it sounds. As babies grow, here are five tips Holiday offers parents to guide kids’ nutrition along the way:
1. Portion sizes: Healthy eating does not always mean a clean plate
Children are not adults, so let them choose their portions with oversight. One aspect of kids’ healthy eating habits is helping them identify signs that they are full so they can learn self-regulation.
“Let children dictate when they are finished eating,” Holiday said. “This may mean they don’t clean their plate, and that is okay! When children know they are full they are less likely to overeat.”
2. Introduce new foods early in your toddler’s diet
Food preferences start early in life, so new foods should be introduced early and often. They may not bite the first time, but the second or third might find them asking for more. Cooking foods in various
ways (like steaming, roasting, and mashing) can help kids be more open to these foods and prevent your child from turning into a picky eater later in life.
3. Offer a variety of foods to ensure good nutrition
Offer a variety of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables from across the color spectrum to ensure they get their phytonutrients. “A variety ensures children are getting the key vitamins and minerals for healthy growth and development,” Holiday said.
If you’re worried they’re not getting what they need because their preferences are limited, consider children’s dietary supplements to fill any nutritional gaps. There are several options for children who are old enough to chew and swallow safely.
4. Limit processed foods, fast foods for optimal toddler and preschool nutrition
Processed foods and fast foods are often lacking in good nutrition and they promote bad eating habits, Holiday said.
Not to mention, poor nutrition for kids – namely diets filled with processed foods that are high in sugar and salt – may put children at greater risk of obesity and diabetes. As a rule of thumb, stick to whole foods in their natural form when possible. If you need to grab processed foods in a pinch, check the nutrition label to make sure there are no added sugars and sodium isn’t too high.
5. Limit sugary drinks
Sodas, juice drinks, lemonade, sweet tea, sports drinks – they can all lead to tooth decay and unhealthy weight gain, Holiday said.
“Milk and water are the best drink choices, and whole fruits over sugary fruit juices are preferred,” she said. “Even 100 percent fruit juice still has concentrated sugar and doesn’t contain fiber.”
Getting started with feeding toddlers
The best way to achieve a proper toddler diet is by sticking to whole, nutrient-dense foods that naturally contain the macronutrients your little one needs to grow and stay healthy. Whether they love fruits or can’t get enough of your roasted vegetables, continue to introduce them to new vegetables – and preparing them in different ways – until you find the foods they love.
Struggling to find a delicious yet nutritious snack for your toddler or preschooler? Check out the Nutrilite™ Kids Superfood Smoothie to provide them with a tasty dose of eight fruits and vegetables. Check out the other Nutrilite™ Kids products to see how you can support your childhood nutrition.