As your baby becomes a toddler, it can be challenging to make sure they’re getting the recommended amounts of nutrients for healthy growth and development — like vitamin D, DHA and iron. Toddlers are notoriously picky, and some use mealtime as an opportunity to assert their independence, which makes meals more challenging.
Concerns about nutrition for young children
An analysis of nutrient intake of children 1-6 years old using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) concluded that most children did not consume enough of several important nutrients:
- 87% had inadequate vitamin D, which helps children build strong bones.
- Over 7% may be deficient in iron, which supports brain development and helps carry oxygen through the body.
- Intake of DHA was universally low. (This fatty acid is important for brain development.)
- Very few consumed adequate amounts of fiber, while less than 50% consumed adequate amounts of choline and potassium.
- Fiber deficiency and inadequate calcium were seen in a significant percentage.
“All these nutrients are important to help growing toddlers develop physically and cognitively,” said Katina Langley, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and medical science liaison for Reckitt. “And it gets harder to ensure children get adequate nutrition as they become more particular about what they eat.”
Tips for ensuring toddlers eat a nutritious diet
Langley recommends persistence, plus trying several approaches, from modeling healthy behavior to offering nutritious — but limited — choices. “Toddlers can be overwhelmed by too many choices,” said Langley. “Provide a few healthy options to give them a sense of control.”
Try these tactics to help keep your toddlers developing as they should.
1. Lead by example
Toddlers watch what you do more than they listen to what you say. Fill your own plate with the same healthy foods you want them to eat, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins and whole grains.
2. Let kids help
From growing food in your garden to preparing food together, inspire curiosity about where food comes from and how it’s prepared. Take kids to a farmers market or pick-your-own farm. Let kids help wash fresh fruits and veggies, then measure or mix ingredients. Limit tasks to safe and easy things to do — adding to what they can handle as they get older. They’ll be more likely to try food they helped make.
3. Keep portions small
Introduce small amounts of new items alongside familiar foods. Choose or cut food to the appropriate size for toddlers to avoid choking hazards. Don’t stress if they won’t eat new food right away, but keep trying. Over time they may become curious about it.
Offer easy-to-chew-and-swallow finger foods:
- Eggs contain high-quality protein, choline and vitamin D.
- Cut berries can provide fiber, potassium and antioxidants, like vitamin C, that can help the body absorb iron.
- Cooked butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and chopped bananas are good sources of potassium.
- Cut or mashed black beans and garbanzo beans are good iron sources.
Cut foods into bite-sized portions or gently bake, sauté or steam them to make them easy to eat and more appealing.
4. Use a supplement
For toddlers with low variety in their diets or who may be particularly picky, try adding a toddler nutritional drink to help fill any nutrient gaps. This can help ensure they’re getting important vitamins and minerals to help support their growth and brain development. For example, Enfagrow Premium Toddler Nutritional Drink is made with real milk and contains nutrients like vitamin D, DHA and iron. Serve as a drink on the go, or use the powder in baking or a smoothie.
5. Get creative
Try blending nutrient-dense, vitamin-rich foods into items they’re already eating: Add spinach or cauliflower to pasta sauce, blend frozen berries into yogurt or add egg whites or milk to oatmeal.
It’s normal for toddlers to have narrow food preferences, and some days they may be more picky than others. Think of a child’s nutritional intake over a week — rather than per day — to decrease the stress of needing them to eat every food, every day.
Learn more about toddler nutrition and Enfagrow recipes at www.Enfamil.com.