Nutritionist offers tips to give your toddler a balanced diet
The first five years of a child's life is a critical period for setting the foundations for optimum growth and development.
Lucy Francis is a registered nutritional therapist based in Hove.
She said: "Many changes are happening on a physiological level during those first five years; organs are developing, hormones are changing and from an immunological perspective, the gut in particular is an organ which requires nourishment through the variety of foods we feed it, helping to build a diverse microbiome (the trillions of microorganisms within the GI tract that is) which functions to help protect our physical and also emotional health throughout our lives."
Research has shown that good nutrition in early childhood is linked to better long-term health and providing your toddler with a balanced diet incorporating plenty of variety and colourful foods is key.
What is a balanced diet for my toddler?
Lucy shares a simple number pattern you can keep in your mind to ensure your little one is on the right path to balanced nutrition, set out by the
British Nutrition Foundation –
Five portions of starchy foods per day
Five portions of vegetables and fruits per day
Three portions of dairy (or DF alternatives)
Two* portions of protein per day (3* if vegetarian). Ensure two portions per week are sustainably sourced fish – one of which ideally being an oily variety, such as salmon.
Nutrient spotlight: pay special attention to Iron, Zinc and Vitamin D…
"During times of rapid growth, toddlers have a high requirement for iron (6.9mg); iron is important for brain function, blood cell production and helping to carry oxygen around the
body. It’s estimated that around 1 out of 8 children experience iron-deficiency anaemia.
"Food sources of iron include red meat, fish/seafood and egg yolks, plus vegan sources such as spinach, beans, lentils and tofu. The absorption of these plant ‘non-haem’ forms of iron
can be further enhanced by foods rich in vitamin C such as berries, broccoli and tomatoes, so pair these alongside where appropriate."
Zinc is a mineral involved in hundreds of enzyme reactions within the body, it’s estimated that up to 70 per cent of toddlers in the UK have insufficient amounts of zinc in their diet. Zinc is
important for immune development, insulin and growth hormone regulation and wound healing. The best zinc food sources include meat, fish, eggs, chickpeas and lentils,
wholegrains such as oats, dairy and pumpkin seeds.
Vitamin D is a vitamin-like hormone, our body produces it when sunlight hits the skin. It’s important to protect toddlers’ skin in the sun, so the NHS advise that children from the ages
of 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10µg of vitamin D, as food sources alone are unlikely to provide adequate amounts. Vitamin D is important for bone
health and the absorption of calcium, as well as nerve and neuromuscular function. Food sources include oily fish, eggs, dairy and sun-exposed mushrooms, as well as fortified foods
like certain plant-based milks/yoghurts.
What may a balanced diet for my toddler look like on a plate?
Lucy Francis, registered nutritionist in the UK has developed an example day of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in line with the 5532 guidelines. Why not enjoy some of these meals together as a family?
Breakfast: Porridge made with whole milk (or fortified DF alt), berries, nut butter and milled seeds
Lunch: Salmon & potato fish cake with broccoli trees and sliced cherry tomatoes
Dinner: Mild chicken, chickpea and butternut squash curry served with white rice
Snacks: x2 oat cakes with ¼ mashed avocado on top
x1 125ml pot of whole yoghurt and ½ a kiwi
Top tips for fussy eaters:
1. Lead by example - eat the same foods as your toddler and make a fuss of how delicious they taste (even if broccoli isn’t your favourite!) Chances are they will observe what the ‘grown
ups’ are eating and want the same.
2. Positive affirmations - encourage and celebrate trying new foods and being experimental. Try not to feel disheartened if the food is rejected, keep offering the ‘trickier’ foods in small
amounts regularly, or they will never learn to like them.
3. If a meal is refused, simply put it in the fridge and try again later. There can be many reasons a child doesn’t want to eat. Don’t force a child to eat a meal or it may instil a negative
relationship with food or mealtimes.
4. Involve your child in the kitchen and make food fun! Cook together, giving them suitable jobs such as sprinkling cheese, helping to measure, setting the table, and give them the
choice to pick from two healthy, colourful foods to include in their meal.
For more information on Lucy click here
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