Nutrition for your toddler

By the time your little one reaches 2 years old they should be eating a wide variety of foods, and ideally they should be eating the same as the family for the evening meal. But what do you do when your child refuses to eat what is on offer and wants to have something completely different, do you then get in to the unenviable position of having to cook two or more different meals each night?

It is important to establish good ground rules from the time your child is eating food without assistance. This is a vitally important time in your child’s life to set up good habits, which will last a lifetime.

Meal times should be stress free and not allowed to develop in to battlegrounds. Offer the food to your child and as soon as they have finished eating, remove the plate. Do not insist they finish everything on their plate. Your child’s developing unhealthy habits of overeating will not feed the starving children in Africa. To eat according to individual appetite is what we want to achieve.

Never resort to bribing a child to eat. Never say if you finish all the food on your plate you can have a lolly or an ice cream. If you do this, what exactly do you think you are teaching your child? You are teaching your child that eating your main meal is something horrible that has to be done in order to get to the good bit. If your child pushes the food away, remove it calmly and don’t offer anything else. This becomes easy if you have set this pattern as long as your child has been feeding himself. It is the normal calm thing that happens at meal times.

When your child becomes around two years old, what is known as the terrible two’s set in – there is a good reason this age acquired this somewhat scary name.

Not long after your angel learns to talk they discover the awesome power of the word “No”. Suddenly your angelic, obliging child becomes a wilful, stubborn little demon. I think the look of shock on their mother’s face the first time they refuse to do what ever is requested is so powerful and satisfying they do it again, and again, and again…

The way to negotiate your way through this minefield is to never ask your child if they want to do something important like eat or sleep. Instead announce “it is time for dinner” or “it is time for bed”. This is not negotiable and can’t be changed; it is just simply time to do that. Expect that your two year old will develop somewhat of a mono diet. Often at this age a child picks a small number of foods they will eat and can stick to this limited range for what seems to be a very long time. As long as the foods they have chosen are nutritious don’t worry about it. No child has voluntarily starved itself to death. Most mothers worry a lot about a child eating a small range of food and fear their child is not getting adequate nutrition, but if you can calmly ride this period through, they will increase their eating range. Offer healthy small snacks for morning and afternoon tea as well as meals. Children don’t like to be faced with a large amount of food at mealtimes; small amounts more frequently are a better way to go. If children don’t like the taste of cooked vegetables they will often eat them raw. Many vegetables can be eaten raw, including frozen peas.

Continue to offer new tastes to your child. Often a small child will want to eat something their mother is eating and this is a good opportunity to allow them to taste something new. With the little bits of one thing and another the child eats during the day it adds up to enough food. Remember too, when a child is between growth spurts they have less of an appetite. Try not to let the child have large amounts of milk. This of course fills them up and then they are not hungry at meal times. Three bottles or cupfuls, about 600mls is plenty of milk per day. Encourage your child to drink water – this is better for them than lots of juice, which contains a lot of sugar. Any juice given should be diluted with water, half and half.

When your child is a little older and you are looking for a childcare centre or kindy for them to attend, I would advise checking out what food they provide to assure yourself it is healthy. Most childcare centres are very aware of nutrition for little ones.

There are a number of vitamins and minerals that growing bodies need, the main ones are listed, along with common food sources.

Iron
Iron is needed for healthy blood and muscles and deficiency can lead to poor mental development.
There are two types of iron, one from meat and one from other sources. The iron from meat is the easiest for the body to assimilate. Examples of iron rich food include red meat, eggs, beans, tofu, tuna, apricots, raisins and prunes (try to choose unsulphured), cereals and breads, and green vegetables. Some foods have added iron, such as breakfast cereals.

You can help your child absorb iron by giving the food in combination with Vitamin C rich foods, such as meat and green vegetables and cereal and orange juice.

Vitamin C
This vitamin is used in just about all of the body’s function. It cannot be stored so we need to get our supply daily.

Most fruits and some vegetables are rich in vitamin C. Examples are citrus fruits, berries and melons and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Vitamin A
This is needed for healthy skin and hair, good night vision, and growth. Full fat milk, egg yolk, unsalted butter and full fat cheese and fish such as mackerel are all good sources.

Calcium
This is needed for development of bones and teeth. A good supply of calcium in childhood ensures strong bones in adulthood. You will get this in milk, cheese, yoghurt, green vegetables, (did you know broccoli is a very rich source of calcium?) and canned fish such as sardines and salmon.

Vitamin B
These are vital for healthy nervous system and immune function, and in the production of red blood cells. These are found in just about everything, vegetables, meat, vegetables and fruit, as well as bread and cereals.

Protein
Protein contains the building blocks of life. It is used for repair to cells and muscles, all tissues hair and organs, and for immune and hormonal function. If your child regularly eats meat, fish, eggs, cheese and milk they are likely to get enough protein. Other good sources of protein are beans such as baked beans and tofu. For an older child nuts and nut butters are an additional protein source.

Carbohydrates
These are the body’s primary source of energy. There are two sorts of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars and complex are starches and fibre. It is a good idea to limit simple carbohydrates and to concentrate on the complex. Too much refined simple carbohydrate such as sugar and honey, cakes biscuits and lollies can lead very quickly to weight problems and dental problems. Stick to natural foods such as good quality bread, sweetcorn, potatoes, bananas, rice and pasta.

Fats
There are three types of fat, saturated, mono saturated and polyunsaturated. Butter is saturated, olive oil is mono- saturated and sunflower and safflower oil is polyunsaturated. Your child needs some of each type for a supply of energy. Animal products such as milk, cheese, meat butter and eggs all contain saturated fats. Oils, nuts and seeds and avocado all contain unsaturated fats. Children need a higher amount of fat than adults and should not be given low fat foods until they are over five years.

Remember, the foods we like are the foods we become used to eating in childhood. A taste for fresh, healthy food is a preference that will stay with your child for life.