Feeding a toddler can be a real challenge and somewhat frustrating. Around the age of two a child will exhibit more control at mealtime and start rejecting healthy foods that were accepted eagerly in the past. This can be frustrating for parents who had enjoyed offering a colorful plate of fruits and vegetables just a few months earlier and are now seeing it rejected. I’ve been experiencing this in my household with my soon to be 2 year old lately. She will often start chanting “chip” at lunchtime while she reaches out her hand to give me back the strawberries I’ve sliced up on her plate. The best thing a parent can do at this stage is to continue to offer a variety of healthy foods to their child and give them the control they want to decide how much or how little to eat. Some days they’ll eat more and some days less, but if you expose your child to healthy foods consistently over time, they’ll get the nutrients they need. I often give my toddler veggie or sweet potato chips so she gets some food she really wants next to new foods to try. In order to ease my mind that she is getting what she needs, I reviewed the important nutrients and narrowed it down to these seven key nutrients I feel are most important for a growing toddler. When including the foods in your toddler’s diet that these seven key nutrients are found in, other important macronutrients as fat and protein will be meet. If your toddler is refusing certain foods and eliminating food groups, a supplement maybe needed, so consult with your pediatrician or a dietitian.
Calcium: This is important for bone formation and muscle and nerve functioning. If your child is drinking 16 oz of milk (or calcium fortified beverage) per day then you are set. If not, make sure she is eating something from the dairy group at 2-3 meals such as cheese or yogurt. Calcium fortified orange juice is also an option but juice at this age should be limited to 4 oz. The recommended daily allowance for calcium is 700 mg.
Vitamin D: This important vitamin aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for bone mineralization. Excellent sources include milk (or fortified beverage), salmon, canned light tuna in water and eggs. Sunlight is not a reliable source since it’s limited by sunscreen use and geographic location depending on where you live. The recommended daily allowance is 600 IU.
Iron: Iron carries oxygen and stores it in cells and its requirement is accelerated at times of rapid growth. The best and most easily absorbed sources are heme iron from beef, dark meat turkey or chicken. Nonheme sources include iron fortified cereals, soybeans, black or pinto beans and raisins. By including a food high in Vitamin C (orange juice, strawberries, spinach or tomatoes) it will increase the absorption of the nonheme iron sources. Recommended daily allowance is 7 mg.
Vitamin E: This vitamin functions as an antioxidant, protecting cells from free radical damage, which may decrease the risk of heart disease and cancers. It is also involved in immune function. Sources include fortified ready to eat cereals, sunflower seeds, nuts, avocado, spinach and sunflower oil. The goal is 6 mg.
Potassium: Potassium is an important electrolyte. Almost every cell and organ in the body needs potassium to function. Sources include potatoes, beans, yogurt, bananas and orange juice. The RDA goal is 3000mg.
Zinc: Zinc is an important nutrient for brain development. The body needs zinc to grow and develop. Zinc also plays a role in immune support and helps to fight viruses. Sources include: Chicken, beans, fortified breakfast cereals, cheese and cashews. The recommended daily allowance is 3 mg.
DHA: DHA plays a critical role the first 24 months of life aiding in brain development and eyesight. Breast milk and formula provide adequate DHA. Other excellent sources include salmon, eggs and canned light tuna in water. The recommended daily allowance 10-12 mg /kg of body weight, 100- 160 mg for toddler.
Is your toddler a picky eater? Read more on the Do’s and Don’t on Feeding Picky Kids.