A Balanced Diet for your Child
Your toddler may look and act like a little adult, but his nutritional needs are still very different to yours. Children have smaller stomachs but need plenty of energy and nutrients to promote healthy growth and development.
In this section, we look at how you can ensure your child is consuming a healthy balanced diet, why more fat and less fibre is important and which foods will help in supporting their development. It’s also important to pay special attention to foods your toddler may be allergic to.
The period of physical and mental development your child goes through as he advances through different stages of childhood brings with it enhanced cognitive abilities. As their muscles strengthen, their brain is also quickly developing. To ensure healthy growth and development, a balanced diet is essential.
Your child is not a mini adult
A balanced diet for a toddler is very different from an adult’s. Based on his nutritional needs, his meals need to be taken into account separately when planning family meals.
Children’s tummies are at least 3 times smaller than an adult’s. This means that your child will need to eat small meals often throughout the day to meet his nutritional requirements.
Three small, balanced meals along with frequent nutritious snacks will give them the energy and nutrients they need throughout the day.
Sugar and salt
Toddlers should have less than 2g of salt per day, 1/3 of an adult’s maximum daily allowance. Based on this, you will find that many adult foods are not suitable for your child to consume. It is advisable not to add any salt or sugar to your child’s food as you prepare it. Instead, use the natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables and milk.
High fat, low fibre
Your child requires a diet that is relatively high in fat and low in fibre, the opposite of what the average adult needs. Although fibre is a good thing for us adults, giving your child too much may get him full and prevent him from getting the energy and nutrients he needs from other food groups.
Prebiotic ollgosaccharides (prebiotics)
Prebiotics feed the friendly bacteria found naturally in your child’s tummy. They are found in some foods and drinks such as bananas, onions, tomatoes, chicory and some Growing Up Milks. Including these foods in your toddler’s diet will enhance existing levels of friendly bacteria to thrive.
Milk and dairy
Milk still plays an important role in your child’s diet; they can have up to three servings of milk, or a combination of milk, cheese and yoghurt to get their three dairy servings. Aptamil Kid with Pronutra contains a unique prebiotic blend to support your toddler’s growth as part of a balanced diet. It provides 40 times more iron than the same amount of cows’ milk, plus vitamins D and C, both essential to their healthy development.
What is ‘balanced’ toddler diet?
A balanced diet for a toddler is made up of the same food groups needed by adults:
- Starchy foods such as bread (offer a mix of wholegrain and white) pancakes, savoury muffins, cereals and potatoes. Offer a portion at every meal, or as a snack
- Fruit and vegetables offer a variety of colours as each colour provides different nutrients. Give your child 5 toddler-sized portions a day by including fruit and vegetables at each meal and as snacks.
- Milk, cheese and yogurt and other calcium-rich dairy food. Your toddler should be having three portions of dairy food per day.
- Meat, fish and alternatives, eggs and pulses, which provide your toddler with essential iron, protein and omega-3 fats. They should have one to two servings a day.
- Foods high in fat and sugar such as oils, butter, cakes and biscuits. Although they provide energy, they contain relatively small amounts of vitamins and minerals. So while these may be included in your toddler’s diet, serve them as an extra or occasional treat and don’t use them to replace one of the other food groups.
Foods to avoid
- Added salt should be avoided; read the salt content on food labels of pre-prepared food and avoid adding salt to home-cooked meals – use herbs and spices to season instead.
- Artificial flavourings, colourings, preservatives and sweeteners should also be avoided. Although they’re not allowed to be added to manufactured baby foods, they can be present in some adult foods such as soft drinks and juices.
- Eggs and shellfish can cause food poisoning if not cooked properly, so ensure they’re well cooked.
The number of overweight children in the Middle East and Gulf region has increased dramatically in recent years. In the 1970s the prevalence of childhood obesity in the Middle East was between 4 and 5%. In 2006 this had jumped to 17.6% and in 2008, more than one third of all adolescents and children in the region were obese. The statistics point to a potential healthcare time-bomb for the future, as many lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are related to the condition. For most children, overweight is the result of unhealthy eating patterns (too many calories) and too little physical activity. Obesity in childhood leads to obesity in adulthood and once eating patterns have been established in childhood, they can be difficult to reverse. Making sure that your child eats a healthy, well-balanced and nutritious diet can directly influence their future good health as adults.
How do I know if my child is overweight?
It can be difficult for parents to determine if their child is overweight, as all pre-schoolers exhibit their own individual body structure and growth pattern. Children grow in unpredictable spurts and because of this, parents should not make changes to a child’s diet based solely on perceptions of overweight. Instead, any assessment of overweight in a child should be undertaken by a health care professional, as they will need to establish the child’s height and weight relative to their previous growth history.
Helping your overweight child
If a health care professional has determined that your child is overweight or obese, they can help you with a healthy eating and exercise regime to help them get back into a weight range that is appropriate for their growth. Weight loss programs are not necessarily a good approach for most young children, as their bodies are still developing. Overweight children should not be put on a diet unless a doctor supervises one for medical reasons – placing a child on a restrictive diet may mean that they may not receive an adequate amount of energy and nutrients needed for normal growth and development. For most young children, this means that the focus should be on maintaining their current weight while they grow normally in height.
Preventing your child become obese
The most important strategies for preventing obesity in childhood concentrate on healthy eating behaviour, regular physical activity and reduced sedentary activity (such as watching television and playing computer games).
As a parent, you can help prevent your children becoming obese by providing them with healthy meals and snacks, encouraging daily physical activity and educating them about their diet. Healthy meals and snacks provide nutrition for their growing bodies while physical activity will reduce health risks and help with their weight management.
Educating your child about nutrition will help them to develop an awareness of healthy eating habits that will last them a lifetime. You can help your child attain their optimum weight for their development by:
- Focusing on good health, not a certain weight goal.
- Teaching healthy and positive attitudes toward food and physical activity
- Involving the whole family and not setting an overweight child apart.
- Leading by example and ensuring that you follow the same advice that you are giving out
- Eating together as a family as often as possible.
- Establishing daily meal and snack times
- Planning sensible portions