Healthy & Happy: Toddler Nutrition Basics
We’ve all been there: Standing in front of an open refrigerator trying to figure out what to serve your toddler as a snack. Or looking down at the dinner plate wondering if you’re reaching all of the recommended daily servings of fruits and veggies.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to instill healthy eating habits in our children from a young age. But with so many guidelines to memorize, it can be hard to figure out where to start.
That’s why we’ve pulled together these tips from our research-based parenting courses to help you navigate the basics of toddler nutrition.
- Build the perfect plate.
In 2011, the USDA replaced the Food Pyramid with MyPlate as an easy way to illustrate healthy eating practices. The new chart (represented by several small sections on a dinner plate) shows how much of each food group should be included in a meal. According to the USDA, fruits and vegetables should make up at least half of the food on your toddler’s plate, with grains and proteins making up the other half. Add a glass of dairy milk or yogurt and you’ve got a perfectly balanced meal!
To help your little one better understand what goes into a healthy meal, print off the MyPlate template and walk them through it during mealtime. This also serves as a great way to teach your toddler about the basic food groups.
- Go against the grain.
Did you know there are two major types of grains? A balanced diet should include a mix of whole grains (like oatmeal and brown rice) and refined grains (like white bread and white rice). While both play an important role in keeping your toddler healthy, whole grains should make up at least 50% of the daily intake.
An easy way to ensure your toddler is getting enough of each type is to quickly check the ingredient list when you’re grocery shopping. Pay special attention to products mentioning “multi-grains,” as those aren’t always whole grain (they can be a mix of both).
- Mix it up.
By serving your little one at least one cup of fruits and one cup of vegetables each day, you can help them build a healthy heart, promote healthy organ function and help stave off childhood obesity. While it can be easy to fall into a routine with a certain fruit or vegetable, the USDA recommends eating a variety of types to ensure they’re getting a healthy mix of nutrients.
One way to make sure your toddler is getting a good mix is to serve vegetable and fruit juice blends when possible, while also increasing the amount of dark green and orange vegetables (like spinach and carrots) they eat. Try to stay away from canned fruit, where possible, as most contain added sugars.
- Be a role model.
As a parent, you play a crucial role not only in what your child eats but also how they eat and how they view food. By sitting at the table with your child during mealtime (and eating the same food as them), you’re able to demonstrate proper eating techniques, manners and portion sizes.
You can also be a role model by encouraging positive attitudes about food. This can be as easy as talking about how food helps kids grow or encouraging meaningful conversations and social interactions during snack time.
Want to learn more about how you can instill healthy habits in your toddler? At ParentEducate.com, we’ve got an ever-growing course catalog packed with classes on everything from nutrition basics to oral health and potty training. See how you can get free access to all of our online courses with a one-week trial by clicking here.