The Building blocks of good nutrition for your toddler

Once your milk guzzling baby steps into toddlerhood, the foods you select to feed your child become the cornerstone for healthy eating habits for life. HEALTH speaks to Fahmida Jafri, Head of Nutrition at GMC Hospital & Research Centre in Ajman who explains why proper nutrition is so important for toddlers and the best ways to get those tricky tots to eat what’s good for them.

The Building blocks of good nutrition for your toddler


A toddler is a child between the ages of one and three, explains Fahmida and these years are a time of great
cognitive, emotional and social development. “Growth is generally slower in first year of life but continues gradually,” she says while activity increases in the second year. At this stage, parents, says Fahmida, can hugely impact their children’s lifelong relationship with food, enabling them to grow into healthy, confident adults.


According to Fahmida, there is an increase in all of the nutrient requirements according to their role in child’s growth. “The proteins requirement is 1.8 grams per kilograms of body weight until age three and 1.5 grams per kilograms of body weight from ages four to six,” she tells, and if a child’s diet is inadequate in carbohydrates and fats, then the proteins will be utilized for the energy rather for tissue building which can affect the growth rate of this child. Fat energy, she adds, should be 25 percent of the total calories required and should be procured from essential fatty acids and invisible fats sources.

She suggests that parents plan and choose a variety of healthy snacks for their toddler. “Provide a variety of foods from each of the four food groups – vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives and meat and alternatives,” she urges and describes that a toddler-sized serving is usually half the food guide serving of an adult.

Healthy Eating Tips

Breakfast, tells Fahmida, should become a regular and routine habit in your home. “Breakfast helps children to participate and learn better at school,” she explains and some great choices include fruit, whole grain cereals, pita-bread, toast, milk, soy beverage, yogurt, tofu, eggs or peanut butter.

Another tip is to make mealtime a family time. “Cook together, eat together, talk together; as family meals help promote healthy eating overall,” says Fahmida. Aim to make the meal time a relaxed and positive

Environment and be sure to switch off the television during meals and do not allow toys at the table.

Also advised is to share decisions about food. Parents and caregivers, points out Fahmida, most often decide what kinds of food to offer and when; instead allow children decide whether and how much to eat. “Trust their feelings of hunger and being full, and rather than using food as a reward, active praise, hugs and just spending time together work well as rewards,” she explains.

Also picky eating, she reminds us, is temporary. “Picky eaters often eat slowly or play with their food,” she
says, while some want to eat the same food day after day, others will refuse to eat certain foods. Many factors, she adds, such as growth spurts and activity levels will affect appetites, but over time, your child’s intake of nutrients and energy usually average out to achieve a healthy balance. Steady growth, explains Fahmida, is the best indicator that your toddler is eating sufficiently and adequately. “Remember that toddlers need less food because they don’t grow as fast; it’s best not to battle with him over this,” she tells, offer a selection of healthy foods and let him choose what she wants. Keep trying new foods; it might take time for him to learn to like them. Also she reminds us that when your child says no to new foods, don’t give up. “A child may need to be exposed to new foods many times before they will accept them,” she points out. “Trust your toddler to know when he is hungry or full; pressuring yourchild to eat will not help.”

Food Suggestions

Add pureed or minced vegetables to spaghetti sauce, hamburgers, soups, muffins or bread, suggests Fahmida. “Offer some nutritious foods that contain fat like peanut or soy nut butter, milk or cheese,” she notes, and other foods include protein-rich seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. “Also encourage your child to eat a variety of fresh, canned, frozen or dried fruits — rather than fruit juice,” says Fahmida, if your child drinks juice, make sure it’s one hundred percent juice. Also be sure to serve a variety of fresh, canned or frozen vegetables — especially dark green, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas. “In grains, choose whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, or brown or wild rice,” she suggests
and in dairy, encourage your child to eat and drink fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.

Eating Out

While eating out, Fahmida advises that kids should drink water or milk instead of sodas. “Also avoid chicken nuggets which are unhealthy imposters of real chicken,” she tells, and skip the fries; instead consider taking along a bag of mini carrots, grapes, or other fruits and vegetables to have instead. This will add vitamins and fiber to the meal.“ Order the kid’s meal with some substitutions –children often love the kid’s meal more for the fun box and toys than for the food,” she says.“Also opt for chicken and vegetables or spaghetti with tomato sauce in a sit-down restaurant, rather than a big plate of macaroni and cheese.”

Dealing With Picky Eaters Tips:

• Satisfy children’s thirst with water:- Drinking lots of juice can fill up their little stomachs so that they are not hungry at regular meal times.
• Try new foods in small amounts and in a form that your toddler can easily handle.
• Young children have taste sensitivity; therefore the food prepared should be mildly flavored. The food served should
be of different shapes, colors and flavors. This will improve the food intake.
• Never rush your child while he/she is eating and never show any dislike towards that food. This may lead to rejection of the food by the child.
• Angry discipline is wrong discipline. Handle frustrating situations with patience and positive attitude
• Let your kids be “produce pickers.” Let them help pick out fruits and veggies at the store.
• Children also learn about fruits and vegetables when they help make them.
• Offer choices. Rather than asking “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask “Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?”

Offering a variety of foods helps preschoolers get the nutrients they need from every food group. They will also be more likely to try new foods and learn to like more foods.When preschoolers develop a taste for many types of foods, it’s easier to plan family meals.
(Credit: Fahmida Jafri)

Healthy Snack Ideas For Toddlers:

Although planned snacks are a great way to help children get calories and nutrients they need for growth and development, be sure that you don’t offer snacks too close to regular meal times. Offer snack foods that are generally high in fiber, low in sugar and fat. Some ideal snack foods are as follows:
• A piece of fresh fruit – nature’s convenience food, portioned and ready to go
• A small handful of dried fruit • Raw veggies with low fat yogurt dip or hummus
• Celery or apple slices with peanut butter
• A bowl of fresh berries
• A cup of vegetable soup
• Mini carrots – a great grab-andgo snack
• Skip the fries and choose or bring seasonal or canned fruit.Pair frozen pizza with steamed veggies, salad or fruit.
(Credit: Fahmida Jafri)

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