Nutrition for Toddlers
A healthy diet is essential for your child’s mental and physical development and can have positive effects on your child’s sleep. Breast milk or formula has all the nutrients that babies need up until they are around six months old. At six months and sometimes earlier, babies will begin to eat solid food to ensure they are receiving the nutrients they need for growth. It’s a good idea to consult your medical professional for advice around whether or not your baby is ready to start solids.
Nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals are found in a range of foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat and meat alternatives. When unhealthy food choices such as foods that are high in salt, fat or sugar replace nutrient rich foods, it can lead to long term health consequences like obesity, tooth decay and iron deficiency. A healthy diet also plays a major role in maintaining a healthy weight in babies and toddlers. Eating patterns established in childhood often continue into adulthood, so the healthy choices children make when they are younger can have positive long term affects on their health later on.
List of essential nutrients your toddler needs
- Vitamins and tryptophan. Choose: turkey, chicken, nuts, bananas, oats, kidney beans, eggs and dairy
- Protein. Choose: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, dairy products, iron fortified cereals
- Zinc and iron. Choose: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, tahini, pumpkin seeds, lamb and beef
- Omega 3. Choose: fatty fish and flaxseed oil
- Magnesium. Choose: leafy green vegetables
- Calcium. Choose: milk, cheeses, yoghurt, broccoli, spinach, tofu
- Vitamin A. Choose: carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, eggs, apricots
- Vitamin C. Choose: oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, melons, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach
- Fibre. Choose: wholegrain cereals, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, seeds, nuts
- Good fats. Choose: whole-milk dairy products, olive oil, meat, fish, nuts
Top Tips for Toddlers
- Your toddler does not need to drink much milk. Excessive milk intake can cause refusal of solid foods and subsequently the intake of essential nutrients. Calcium can be found in many other foods (see list).
- Try and have your child sit with the family to eat for mealtimes because this routine sets your child up for healthy eating habits in the future
- Never use food as a bribe e.g. just two more bites and you can have some ice-cream
Food and Sleep
Diet plays a pivotal part in how well a child sleeps. Foods that can have a positive and direct impact on sleep are food groups such as low GI carbohydrates and protein, as they can help counteract dips in blood sugar levels during the night. Low blood sugar can cause the hormone adrenaline to be released, and adrenaline makes the body more alert, which can in turn cause sleep disturbances.
Including meat every day in a non-vegetarian diet will ensure your child is getting enough iron and zinc which are essential for good sleep in young children. It is common for children under three years to be anaemic from not enough iron in the diet, and being deficient in iron can have an adverse effect on sleep. Vegetarians should source alternate foods which include these nutrients and possibly consult with a nutritionist to ensure their child is getting the quantity they need.
Other nutrients to include in your toddler’s diet that will help with sleep include complex B vitamins and tryptophan, found in foods such as chicken, bananas, oats, kidney beans, eggs and dairy. These support the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, whose job it is to wind the body down to a lethargic, sleep ready state.