Your little one is over a year old and is now learning to eat more of the family diet. Proper nutrition gives your toddler all the nutrients they need for good growth and development. But, apart from providing correct macronutrients there are two areas we sometimes neglect in toddler feeding. Those two areas are the rough and tough of toddler nutrition.
WHAT IS THE CORRECT DIET FOR MY TODDLER?
Maybe before we look at the rough and tough of nutrition, let us just go through the basics of what your toddler’s diet should be looking like at this stage. The below are general recommendations of how much your toddler should be eating each day.
Grain group: at least 6 servings each day
- 1/4 – 1/2 slice of bread
- 2-3 crackers
- 1/4- 1/3 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal
Fruit and vegetable group: at least 5 servings each day
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup cooked, canned, or chopped raw vegetables
- 1/4 – 1/2 small fruit/vegetable
Milk group: at least 3 servings each day
- 1/2 cup milk or yogurt
- 15-30g of cheese
Meat group: 2 servings each day
- 30-60g lean meat, chicken, fish
- 2-4 tablespoons dry beans and peas
- 1/2 – 1 egg
Fat Group: 3-4 servings each day
- 1 teaspoon margarine, healthy oils1
THE TOUGH OF TODDLER FEEDING
Toddlers especially boys like to tumble and be all tough. The texture of their food should follow the example. Texture describes a food’s consistency, whether a food is lumpy, smooth, thin, thick or a combination of all these things. Most toddlers will go through a phase where they are cautious of trying new foods and different textures2.
Texture is one of the main reasons why both adults and children reject foods. Healthy foods have complex textures so it is crucial to introduce various textures as early as possible. Introducing texture should be done as soon as toddlers can manage them, which makes the first three years of life a critical period. If this opportunity is missed, your toddler may not be able to handle textures in the future. If your toddler cannot handle certain textures it may lead to avoidance of healthy foods and picky eating in the future2,3.
The introduction of texture into your toddler’s diet is also important for the development of oral motor skills. These are the actions of the mouth, lips, tongue, cheeks and jaw as they suck, bite, chew, and lick. These motor skills work the same muscles in the mouth as those which are needed for speech development. Muscles will not develop if toddlers are not given the textures required for the actions of chewing, biting etc.2,4
From around 12 months, your toddler’s food should be similar in texture as the rest of the family. But be careful, young children under the age of four are at risk of choking, so care should be taken with foods such as:
- Hard lollies
- Raw hard fruit and vegies (e.g. apples, carrots, and celery)
- Small round foods (e.g. olives, grapes and cherry tomatoes)
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole kernel corn
- Hot dogs
- Chunks of tough meat or poultry
- Sticky foods, such as peanut butter, which can get stuck in the back of the mouth
- Hard candy, gum drops and jelly beans5,6.
For toddlers, chop grapes, meat, poultry, hot dogs and raw vegetables and fruits into small pieces about 1½ cm or smaller to promote chewing but prevent choking.
THE ROUGH OF TODDLER FEEDING
The rough of toddler feeding is roughage or more commonly known as fibre. As toddlers grow they start to say “no” more and may want to stick to the bland, beige, starchy diet like chicken nuggets, fries and macaroni. Your toddler may have been willing to eat puree fruit and vegetables. Introducing texture would have been important in moving over to more complete fruits and vegetables they can recognise. It’s at this stage that it is really important to encourage more complete fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans which all provide fibre. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for fibre in children aged 13-36 months is 19g of fibre per day7,8.
Why is fibre important?
There are a lot of reasons to encourage fibre in your child’s diet, and to make sure you are getting enough as well. The most obvious benefit of fibre is good digestion. Fibre intake combined with adequate fluid intake keeps the digestive tract moving along, preventing constipation which can be painful for both the toddler and parents. Fibre helps make us full and high fibre foods are good sources of nutrients and vitamins that may help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and obesity9.
Good sources of fibre to include in your toddler’s diet are:
- 1/2 cup of beans or legumes = 6 grams of fibre
- 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables = 2–4 grams of fibre
- 1/2 cup of chopped fruit or 1 small piece of fruit = 3 grams of fibre
- 1 slice of whole wheat bread = 2–4 grams of fibre,
- 1/2 cup of whole grain cereal = 5 grams of fiber1, 10
Remember that fibre works well in a fluid environment so make sure to provide plenty of clean water and other low sugar beverages.
So, as your little toddler grows and begins to explore the world around them, make sure that the world inside them is healthy. A healthy tummy equals a healthy toddler and of course happy parents. Make sure you introduce plenty of different textures so your little one will be able eat all varieties of food as they globe trot the world.