12:52, 11 April 2013
Food and nutrients help to form strong bones and teeth, muscles and healthy body. A good diet can also help to protect your little one against illness now and in the future.
Young children’s need for energy and nutrients is high, but their appetites are small and they can be fussy, too, and it can be a challenge to get your child’s diet right.
Remember, pre-school children can normally eat the amounts they want, even if it seems they’re not taking in very much. At this age, children are often good at regulating their appetite. If they’re not hungry, insisting on larger amounts of food can create a battle, which you’re likely to lose.
Key foods for a toddler
Base your child's intake on the following food groups to make sure he’s getting all the important nutrients.
There's no need to rely on pre-prepared toddler foods. If the family diet is healthy, children can just have family food.
Make sure your child has the following, every day:
At least one kind of starchy carbohydrate, such as bread, rice, pasta, noodles, cereals or potatoes.One or more of these should be served with all meals.
Young children have small appetites, so fibre-rich carbohydrates can be bulky and inhibit the absorption of some minerals. Gradually introduce higher fibre carbohydrate foods, such as wholewheat pasta and brown rice, so that by the time children are five, they're eating the same fibre-rich foods as the rest of the family.
Fruit and vegetables
Aim for at least five servings a day, where a serving is about a handful in size. Use fruit in puddings and as snacks. Frozen and canned fruit and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh varieties.
Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked (serve crunchy rather than very soft to preserve the vitamins and minerals).
If your child doesn’t like vegetables, try hiding them by pureeing in to soups, sauces, casseroles and pizza toppings.
Milk and dairy foods
Milk and dairy foods are an important source of calcium. Your child should be having the equivalent of about one pint (500 to 600ml) of milk a day.From the age of one, normal cows’ milk is fine, and you don’t need to use formula.
Use full-fat varieties for the under-twos; semi-skimmed may be given from the age of two if the overall diet contains enough energy and nutrients.
Milk can be used on cereals or in drinks, puddings and sauces, and cheese, fromage frais or yoghurt can be given instead of some milk. Grated cheese, cheese spread or cheese portions can be used on sandwiches or toast. Try yoghurts as a pudding or snack between meals, served alone or with fruit.
Meat, fish and alternatives
Meat, fish and alternatives should be eaten once or twice a day. Cook minced beef, turkey, chicken and pork slowly to ensure it's soft and tender.
Nutrition experts recommend at least two servings of fish a week, one of which should be oily. But don't give your child more than four servings of oily fish a week for boys and two servings a week for girls (shark, swordfish or marlin should also be avoided, as these contain high levels of mercury, which might affect a child's developing nervous system).
Use eggs, either boiled, in sandwiches, as omelettes or scrambled.Try different beans and pulses, such as lentils, baked beans, peas and chickpeas.
You can read about the most important nutrients your child needs here