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The period in a child's development between one and three years of age can often be a difficult one - particularly when it comes to eating. Food and nutrients are the building blocks which help to form strong teeth and bones, muscles and healthy tissues. A good diet can also help to protect against illness.
Particularly important vitamins are A, C and D.
Vitamin A is needed for:
Vitamin A can often be lacking in the diets of toddlers.
Vitamin C is important for:
It also helps in the absorption of iron, especially iron from non-meat sources. Vitamin C intakes are often low in children who don't eat much in the way of fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin D is:
Vitamin D can be synthesised through the action of sunlight on the skin. In winter, and if your child is always covered if outside, make sure you include dietary sources of vitamin D, along with supplements (in tablet or liquid form) that contain this vitamin.
The B group vitamins are very important, particularly B6 which is:
The minerals iron, calcium and zinc are all needed by the growing toddler.
Iron-deficiency is common in toddlers as iron requirements are high but dietary intake is often low, especially if little or no meat is eaten. If your toddler is listless, irritable, tires easily, yawns all the time and is very pale, then it may be a good idea to have them checked for anaemia.
Poor eating habits, monotonous diets, overemphasis on foods that have a low iron content, too much liquid in the form of milk and fruit juice, can all contribute to a lack of iron in the diet.
The recommended intake of calcium for this age group is 800 mg a day. Requirements will be met as long as the child consumes enough food sources of calcium. Good sources of dietary calcium are shown below.
Magnesium deficiency in young children has been associated with hyperactive behaviour.
A toddler with a zinc deficiency may fail to grow, have a poor appetite, and their cuts and scrapes may take longer than normal to heal. The best sources of zinc are meat and fish, especially seafood, which many toddlers may not be inclined to eat. Zinc is, therefore, a nutrient that you may have to supplement.
|Vitamin A||Yellow and orange fruit and vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, mango, apricots), dark green vegetables, liver and dairy products.|
|Vitamin C||Citrus fruits, berries, and vegetables (provided that they are not cooked until very soft), potatoes and fruit juice.|
|Vitamin D||Oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines) and dairy products.|
|Vitamin B6||Avocados, bananas, fish, liver, wheat bran, cantaloupe, cabbage, milk and eggs.|
|Iron||Meat-based (haem) sources - beef, pork, lamb; plant-based (non-haem) sources - fortified cereals, bread, dried fruit, eggs, beans and pulses and green leafy vegetables (cabbage, spring greens, broccoli and green beans).|
|Calcium||Dairy products - milk, yogurt, cheese (unless avoiding dairy) - dark green vegetables, sesame seeds, canned fish with soft edible bones, fortified orange juice and pulses.|
|Magnesium||Brown rice, soybeans, legumes, brewer's yeast.|
|Zinc||Offal, meat, mushrooms, oysters, eggs and wholegrain products.|
The amount of energy toddlers require depends on how fast they are growing and how active they are. Between the ages of 1 and 3 years, children need about 1300 kcal or 5500 kJ a day.
Most toddlers in the western world do not suffer from protein deficiency. In fact, they may eat more protein than they require. It is suggested that toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 only require 16 g of protein a day. Malnourished children may have protein and energy deficiencies, which need to be addressed if the child is to grow and develop normally.
There are a number of things that you can do to assist your toddler to learn healthy eating patterns and to get the nutrients they need.
Toddlers have a very small stomach capacity and cannot handle a lot of food at a meal.
The basic rule that can be applied to the dietary intake of toddlers from the ages of 1 to 3 years, is one tablespoon of each food for every year of life.
This is one reason why you need to give toddlers a number of small meals every day and not expect them to eat large quantities at three main meals like adults.
Many of the problems experienced at meal times during the first three years of life are due to the unrealistic expectations of caring adults. A tiny child just cannot eat large amounts of food and cannot thrive on only three meals a day.
Both the child and the parents will experience less stress and meals will be pleasant, happy times if you offer the child portions that are suitable for the child's age and let the child eat six or more small meals a day. This means that healthy snacks are important to help provide the energy and nutrition your toddler needs during the day.
Mealtimes should be relaxed and happy. Suggestions include:
To reduce the risk of choking, safety suggestions include:
Toddlers should be offered all drinks in a cup. Some children may fill up on drinks, particularly sweet ones like juice, and this leaves little room for solid food. Suggestions include:
(Also see tips for fussy eaters)
We are not enthusiastic supporters of dairy. If your toddler complains of tummy pains or has excessive wind or diarrhea after eating dairy then he or she may be lactose intolerant.
Lactose is the form of sugar in dairy products and without sufficient lactase enzyme it cannot be properly digested and this causes the symptoms above.
Also, dairy products are mucogenic. They cause congestion through production of thickened or excess mucous. If you toddler seems to be congested or 'snuffly' and irritable, remove the dairy products from the diet and see if things improve after a few days.
Bland, J. 1996, Contemporary Nutrition. J & B Associates.
Davies, S. and A. Stewart., 1997, Nutritional Medicine. Pan.
Elliot, N. 2004, Green Peace. Practical Parenting.
Sullivan, K. 2002, Vitamins and Minerals: A Practical Approach to a Health Diet and Safe Supplementation. Harper Collins.