1 to 3 year olds
Offering a variety of different tastes and textures during weaning will encourage your child to enjoy a range of foods. Many toddlers struggle to eat large amounts of food at one mealtime, three small meals and three small snacks spaced equally throughout the day seems to work best.
Between the age of one-to-three years, children's energy requirements provided by the calories in food, are high, as they start to walk and become more active. Starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes and plantains all form an important part of a toddler's diet. These starchy carbohydrates provide energy, fibre and important vitamins and minerals.
Fat contains over twice the amount of calories as carbohydrate and is necessary to provide the energy needed for growth and nerve function. Foods such as whole milk, cheese, yogurts, meat and oil-rich fish should be the source of fat, rather than cakes, biscuits and pastries. Low fat foods are not recommended for children of this age.
Protein foods are necessary for growth and development. Dairy foods, lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, lentils and soya products are all good protein sources as well as providing vitamins and minerals. Try to serve two portions of fish per week - one should be oily such as mackerel, sardines or salmon as they are a good source of protein and essential fatty acids. A vegetarian diet will provide enough protein if dairy products, eggs, beans, pulses, bread and lentils are included regularly. A vegan diet should include plenty of beans, lentils, bread, nut butters and seed pastes.
Calcium-rich foods are needed for healthy bones and teeth. The main sources are dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurts and fromage frais. The Dairy Council recommends that children eat three portions of dairy foods a day, eg a glass of milk, a small piece of cheese or a small pot of yogurt. Milk is an essential part of a toddler's diet, providing calcium, fat, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Whole milk should be given to children under two because it contains more fat and calories for growth. Semi-skimmed milk has similar levels of calcium to full fat and can be introduced after the age of two. On a vegan diet useful sources of calcium include soya products such as tofu and soya milk, sesame seeds, white bread, pulses, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables.
Iron is needed for healthy blood. Red meat is the best source of easily absorbed iron and can be offered to children from 6 months of age. For children following a vegetarian diet, iron can be found in green vegetables, beans, lentils and chickpeas; dried fruit such as apricots, figs, raisins and sultanas, as well as bread and breakfast cereals. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron so try to give foods high in vitamin C, such as fruit and vegetables or diluted fruit juice at mealtimes to boost absorption.
The fruit and vegetable five-a-day message applies to young children too. A rough portion guide is the amount that will fit in their hand. Fruit and vegetables provide fibre, energy and vital vitamins and minerals, and can be fresh, frozen, dried or canned.
Potatoes do not count towards the target and fruit juice counts as only one portion, regardless of how many glasses are drunk. Introduce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables including different types and colours to ensure the vitamins and minerals needed for health. Try to be creative with meals and use vegetables imaginatively in savoury dishes and add fruit to breakfast cereal or yogurt.
Salt should not be added to your toddler's food. Children aged one to three should have no more than 2g per day. Processed foods can contain high amounts so limit salty foods such as crisps.
Sugary foods and drinks should be limited in a toddler's diet. Sugars are naturally present in fruit, vegetables and milk. Although added sugars present in sweets, confectionery, biscuits, cakes and sweet fizzy drinks do supply energy, their consumption can mean there is less room for more nutritious foods so limit sugary foods to occasional treats. To avoid tooth decay try and give water, flavoured water or diluted fruit juice and brush your child's teeth at least twice a day.
- Make meals interesting by presenting food in lots of different shapes and themes.
- Offer small, attractive portions and let them feed themselves as much as possible.
- Your toddler learns from you so sit with them at mealtimes and make it a sociable, happy occasion.
- If your child refuses a particular food, take it away and avoid fuss. Wait until the next regular snack or mealtime before offering anything else.
- Children need small healthy snacks eg fresh fruit, raw vegetables, dried fruit, breadsticks, chunks of cheese, small pots of yogurt, toast and rice cakes, in between meals for energy and growth.