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Toddler Nutrition

Children at this age have small appetites, so often times they will not eat much during meals, according to Debi Silber, RD, Whole Health Coach and the author of "The Lifestyle Fitness Program: A Six Part Plan So EVERY Mom Can Look, Feel and Live Her Best." Feeding them healthy snacks at regular intervals is important so that they get all their nutrients.

Top 5 Toddler-Friendly Snacks, from Debi Silber, RD

  1. Fruits and vegetables (cut appropriately)
  2. Healthy dips (peanut butter, low-fat salad dressing, yogurt)
  3. Whole grain crackers with cheese
  4. Granola
  5. Milk-and-fruit smoothies

Silber says, "It's not necessary to give your child supplements if he or she has a well-rounded diet. That means that every day, you're giving your child three meals and two to three snacks composed of nutrient-dense, high-fiber, vitamin- and mineral-rich foods." Since kids enjoy eating food that looks fun, Silber uses tricks to make food more enticing, including cutting grilled cheese sandwiches with heart-shaped cookie cutters and squeezing ketchup into smiley face designs.


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What Moms Can Do about Toddler Nutrition

For children under 2 years, up to half of their calories should come from fat, according to Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Whole milk is a good source of fat for children over 1 year old. Once a toddler is 2 or 3 years old, moms may switch to low-fat milk. It's also important to make sure your child gets enough iron, and toddlers between ages 1 and 3 need 500 milligrams of calcium daily.

Since toddlers are often very finicky eaters, it may seem difficult to fulfill their nutritional requirements. Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson says toddlers often refuse to eat certain foods just to push your buttons. The first step to get them to try new foods is to not react when they refuse to eat something.

It is also important to ritualize mealtimes. Dr. Natterson recommends making sure to serve all meals at the table, even if the child will only sit for a few minutes. Make sure to include foods of different colors on their plates. Kids often only want to eat yellow foods such as bread and pasta. Even if you only put five green peas on their plate, it is important for them to learn that balanced meals contain a variety of foods in different colors. Set up the expectation that this is how your family eats.

Since these strategies may take time to work, Dr. Natterson says one step moms can take now is to hide nutrition in their toddler's food. If your child enjoys pasta, Dr. Natterson suggests stuffing vegetables and cheese into ravioli. You could also mix pureed fruits into a smoothie or blend vegetables into pasta sauce or soup.

In addition to making sure toddlers get appropriate nutrients, doctors are now focusing more on encouraging young children to start developing healthy lifestyles. Pediatricians around the country are providing weight-management programs for parents interested in teaching their kids healthy eating habits at an early age. Kids can choose "thumbs-up" and "thumbs-down" foods and learn to listen to bodily cues, as well as find out about the importance of exercise.

Dr. Natterson says about the idea of toddler weight-management programs, "I think this is fabulous. It is never too early to teach children how to eat well and live healthfully. It is true that obesity among children has skyrocketed over the past two decades, and studies show that an overweight 2- or 3-year-old is at greater risk for becoming an obese adult. Perhaps the entire family will benefit because you can't ask a parent to enforce nutrition rules for a young child that they don't follow themselves."
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Related Momlogic Stories on Toddler Nutrition

  1. Toddler on a Diet?
  2. Day Care Makes Kids Fat
  3. Mom and Kid's Food Fight

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