The best food to feed your child

You’ve probably noticed that your little one seems to get bigger and bigger every day. That’s because his body is growing and developing faster now than at any other point during his life. It’s therefore vital to fuel him with the right nutrients for growth.

Toddlers vary in the amount they want to eat and it can range from anything between a quarter to half an adult portion. They often prefer to eat little and often, having six meals throughout the day rather than three bigger meals.

The best way to ensure he gets everything he needs is to encourage him to enjoy a wide variety of fresh, colourful food from each of these food groups:

Carbohydrates

Why are they important?

As your child learns to walk and become more active, he’ll need plenty of energy to keep him going. A lot of this energy comes from carbohydrates and toddlers should eat four to five portions each day. As a rough guide, a portion is the amount that will fit into your child’s hand. As well as energy, carbs provide your child with vital B vitamins to support his metabolism, immune system, nervous system and cell growth. They also provide fibre to keep his digestive system in good shape, as well as other important vitamins and minerals.

Which foods contain carbohydrates?

  • Wholegrain cereals and bread
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Cous cous
  • Yams
  • Sweet potatoes

Proteins

Why are they important?

Proteins are the building blocks for your child’s growth and development so encourage your toddler to eat two portions a day. Fish is a great source of protein so aim to serve your toddler two portions a week. One of these should be an oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines or salmon, which are also a good source of fatty acids, which promote brain and eye health.

Which foods contain protein?

  • Meat (red meats are also a good source of iron, which helps the blood carry oxygen around the body)
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts (don’t give your child whole nuts until he’s five years old as they are a choking risk)
  • Beans, pulses and lentils
  • Quorn and soya
  • Fruit and vegetables

Why are they important?

Toddlers may only be small but it’s just as important for them to get their five a day of fruit and veg as it is for adults. Fruit and veg provide fibre for good digestion, energy and lots of important vitamins and minerals. The fruit and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, tinned or dried. Remember, fruit juice only counts as one portion, however many glasses your little one drinks, and potatoes don’t count as a vegetable (unless they’re sweet potatoes). Because they’re low in calories and high in fibre, fruit and veg will keep your toddler full for longer and help control his weight. Encourage your toddler to eat a range of different coloured fruits and veg to ensure he gets all the right nutrients.

Calcium

Why is it important?

Calcium-rich foods are important for healthy bones and teeth. Dairy products are our main sources of calcium and your toddler should eat three portions each day. This could be a glass of milk, a matchbox size piece of cheese, or a small pot of yogurt. Dairy products also provide important vitamins like vitamin B12, vitamin A and vitamin D. Remember, children under two should always be given whole milk as they need the extra fat and calories for growth. You can introduce semi-skimmed and low-fat milk once your tot’s turned two.

Which foods contain calcium?

  • Milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Fromage frais
  • Milkshakes
  • Cheese
  • Soya products like tofu and soya milk
  • Sesame seeds
  • White bread
  • Pulses
  • Dried fruit
  • Green leafy vegetables

Unsaturated fat

Why is it important?

There are two kinds of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated are good fats and they contain more than twice the amount of calories as carbohydrates. That makes them a great source of energy for growth and nerve function.

Which foods contain unsaturated fats?

  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Whole milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Oily fish

Foods to beware of

Saturated fat

Saturated fat tends to be animal fat and is best avoided as much as possible. It’s the solid white fat you see on red meat and is also found in junk food, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and pies. This can clog up our arteries and cause heart disease.

Sugar

Sugars occur naturally in fruit, vegetables and milk so it’s best to avoid the added sugars found in fizzy drinks, sweets, junk food, biscuits, cakes and confectionery. They supply energy but there is little nutritious about them. They can also cause tooth decay. Try to limit these foods to occasional treats.

Salt

Salt can be dangerous to young children so don’t add salt to your toddler’s food. Children between one and three years old should have no more than 2g of salt per day so avoid giving them junk and processed foods, which tend to have high salt content.

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