Guest post by Alzein Pediatrics
You’ve celebrated your baby’s first birthday with candles, balloons, and cupcakes and suddenly, you have a toddler. Suddenly too, while the candles were still sending tendrils of smoke into the air, your toddler seems to have become a picky eater.
Your baby who was once eager to try everything is now eating only green peas and chicken – and absolutely nothing else. Their appetite also seems to have dropped sharply since eating that birthday cupcake.
With this abrupt shift, you may be newly concerned about nutrition. Is your child getting enough to eat – and are they getting enough vitamins and minerals for their growth and development?
Dr. Hassan Alzein of Alzein Pediatrics in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn Illinois says, “It’s normal for toddlers to start rejecting new foods – and for parents to worry about how much food their child is actually eating. At this point, it’s helpful to take a big step back and look at the big picture.”
Dr. Alzein recommends starting with the basics, the ABC’s of toddler nutrition. “First, we start with vitamins and minerals,” he says. “Then we’ll think about quantity.”
Vitamin A helps promote normal growth and development. Vitamin A is important to your child’s body for bone and tissue repair. It’s also critical for healthy skin, healthy eyes, and a robust immune system.
Your child can get Vitamin A by drinking two cups of milk, and eating cheese. Eggs are also a good source, along with yellow and orange vegetables like carrots, yams, and squash.
Vitamin B is an entire family of nutrients, including B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6( pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), Folate, and B12 (cobalamin). The B Vitamins help your child maintain and grow a healthy metabolism and aids in energy production.
Your child needs B Vitamins for a hearty circulatory system and nervous system. Serve your child proteins for Vitamin B, including lean red meats, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, nuts, beans, legumes, and whole grains.
Vitamin C is packed into all sorts of fruity goodness like oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, strawberries, and kiwis. Red bell peppers, also a sweet treat, are one of the best sources of Vitamin C. It’s also plentiful in tomatoes and broccoli.
Vitamin C acts as a biochemical redox system that helps to “recharge” enzymes. It helps the heart by acting as a vasodilator in atherogenesis and is an antioxidant. It also helps your child build strong muscles, robust connective tissues, and healthy skin.
Calcium is important for strong bones throughout your child’s life – from infancy to old age. Dairy products provide large amounts of calcium, so serve your child full-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurts. You can also provide calcium in tofu and calcium-fortified orange juice.
Vitamin D – well, you know that one! Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and teeth, and it helps your child’s body absorb calcium. Besides milk, serve your child fatty fishes like salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
Did you know your child’s body can also produce Vitamin D on its own? Just make sure your child is getting five to fifteen minutes of sunlight exposure to their face, arms, and hands each day.
Iron is crucial for brain development, building muscles, and producing healthy red blood cells. Lean red meat – beef, pork, lamb, and others – is a strong source of iron. You can also serve your child turkey, spinach, beans, and prunes for a boost of iron.
TIP – Vitamin C helps your child’s body absorb iron from plant sources and drinking milk blocks the absorption. When your child is enjoying spinach, serve up some orange segments too. Serve your child milk between meals and serve water or orange juice with meals.
Zinc plays an important role in your toddler’s nutrition as it helps heal all the bumps, scrapes, and bruises that happen as they become more mobile. Your child can get zinc in lean meats, nuts, seeds and legumes, milk and cheese, and eggs.
Worried about how much your toddler is eating? Dr. Alzein says, “Your toddler needs about 1,200 calories each day. That’s perhaps a breakfast of one egg and small toast with avocado and a few snacks such as an orange or cucumber slices with hummus dip throughout the day. Also, a small turkey, corn, and tomato wrap for lunch and about 4 ounces of salmon and with a few asparagus spears for dinner.
While it might not seem like much to you, it’s plenty for your child. Our nutritionist stresses that kids are born with the ability to eat only as much as they need to grow. Parents serve food, but your child should choose how much to eat.”
Toddlers are more likely to “graze”, eat small meals and snacks throughout the day to maintain energy and blood sugar levels. When your toddler enjoys frequent snacks but pushes back against meals, offer snacks that are nutrient-dense such as whole-grain crackers with yogurt. Avoid highly processed foods like chips and sodas.
- Provide meals and snacks at regularly scheduled times.
- Use a child-size spoon and fork with dull prongs.
- Seat your child at a comfortable height in a secure chair.
- Avoid battles. If your toddler refuses a food, accept that and try again in a few days.
- Keep portions small.
- Don’t use dessert as a reward, and serve healthy options like a bite of dark chocolate.
- Cut food into bite-size pieces.
- Use ground meat instead of steak or chops.
- Make plates colorful with lots of red, green, and orange vegetables.
- Serve fresh or frozen fruits, whole or cut up depending upon your child’s age.
Other Helpful Hints
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice to less than 4 ounces per day for children 1 to 3 years old.
- Celebrate Meatless Mondays with meals centered around beans, seeds, nuts, peas, and fish.
- Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, and oatmeal.
- Make it fun! Involve your toddler in choosing and preparing foods to help expand their palate and teach them healthy eating right from the start.
Your Healthy Toddler
“The toddler years are a time of transition, full of exploring and discovery – and that includes mealtimes,” says Dr. Alzein. “However, if your child is losing weight, not wetting diapers throughout the day, crying without producing tears, or seems listless and tired, along with an overall refusal to eat or drink, contact your pediatrician’s office.”
“Your toddler may have health issues that prevent them from enjoying food, such as gastrointestinal challenges, swallowing issues, constipation, food allergies, or sensitivities. Keep a food diary for several days before your appointment, writing down every bite and swallow your toddler takes, to show your pediatrician.”
Dr. Alzein notes that the very best thing you can do to help your child become a life-long healthy eater is to offer your toddler a variety of foods from each food group with different tastes, textures, and colors – and then let them decide how much to eat.
Child Care Answers Resources on Nutrition
As your child grows or you add little ones to your family, don’t forget to review Child Care Answers parenting resources. Not only are there more tips on infant and child feeding, but also all about toddlers, including resources on biting, temper tantrums, school transitions, and more!