Toddler Nutrition Tips

Help your toddler to begin practicing healthy eating habits with these tips for making nutritious foods that have toddler appeal.

Persuading a toddler to eat nutritious foods can be tricky sometimes, especially if the child has developed a taste for junk food and vast quantities of sugary juices. Here are a few tips for tricking your toddler into eating well and enjoying it!

Many toddlers have an insatiable appetite for apple juice or grape juice. This is not entirely bad: such juices help keep the child hydrated and ward off constipation. However, recent studies have shown that high consumption of sugars, especially sugary drinks, during early childhood can lead to obesity and even diabetes later in life. It is thus very important to limit the child's intake of these juices.

Cutting back your child's juice consumption may seem easier said than done, especially since the recommended daily juice allowance is only 4 ounces - and the average toddler can drink as much as 6 times that amount in a single day. To help your child break the juice habit, try giving "half and half" bottles - half juice, half water. If you wish to wean her off the juice completely, gradually increase the ratio of water to juice until she is basically drinking water or is no longer interested in juice because the taste is too plain.

At the same time, introduce other beverages that are more nutritious and include calcium, such as milk or soymilk; buy the full-fat versions until the child is a year old, and the low-fat or skim versions thereafter. And if your child is determined to drink juice, be sure to buy the best juice - choose one that is fortified with vitamin C or calcium instead of the cheapest varieties, which are not fortified and supply little more than sugar.

Now that your child has a nutritious drink, how about a nutritious meal or snack for a child who only desires pretzels and potato chips? Most kids like fruit, so experiment by serving your child different kinds of fruit until you've found 2 or 3 favorites. Then rotate those on a weekly basis so the child doesn't become tired of them. Grapes, strawberries, kiwi fruit, cantaloupes and bananas are usually popular with small children, but be sure to cut them into bite-sized pieces that are easy to pick up. Grapes, in particular, should be sliced in half to avoid a choking hazard.

As for vegetables, many toddlers like frozen peas and carrots that have been warmed up but still retain their bright colors (so don't overcook them). Older toddlers sometimes enjoy raw vegetables like carrots and green bell pepper slices - but again, make sure your child is old enough to eat carrots (another potential choking hazard) or slice the carrots into thin slices that are easier to bite and chew. Some toddlers even enjoy salads. (You may find it helpful to relax your etiquette standards a little, however, because toddlers often think the best way to eat a salad is with their fingers!)

Protein is vital for a toddler's development, so be sure to find a few forms that your child enjoys and serve at least one or two every day. If your child is not allergic to peanuts, the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is an easy way for your toddler to get protein. Other toddler favorites are meatballs, chicken nuggets, yogurt with fruit, and cheeses of various kinds (especially string cheese, which is fun to pull apart). Toddlers who don't like meat or whose parents are vegetarians may enjoy some of the many soy-based meat substitutes, including soy hamburgers and "chicken" cutlets and nuggets; these soy foods are often rich in protein, iron, and calcium, and may also be fortified with B vitamins.

Calcium is vital for a toddler's young bones and teeth, so be sure to include plenty of low-fat dairy foods and/or calcium-fortified soy foods in your child's diet. Veggies such as broccoli and spinach - if your child will eat them - are also high in calcium.

If your child is a picky eater, which is not at all uncommon among toddlers, you may try sneaking in nutrition in a few ways. One is by making a smoothie with frozen fruit such as bananas and strawberries; milk, yogurt or soymilk; and a little honey or natural apple juice concentrate as a sweetener. Recipes for smoothies are numerous and vary widely, so look for one with the most nutrients or experiment on your own with flavors your child likes.

Another way to add "hidden" nutrition to foods that your child already likes is by adding wheat germ, which is high in fiber and iron, or by sprinkling on nutritional yeast, which is high in B vitamins and has a light, somewhat nutty flavor. Wheat germ is available in most grocery stores, and nutritional yeast can be found in health food stores.

If your child is hooked on junk food, however, try to at least find healthier varieties, such as whole wheat crackers and pretzels, or low-sodium organic tortilla chips. It may take a few tries for the child to develop a taste for them, but keep trying - and provide a good example by eating healthy foods yourself.

And finally, ask your pediatrician to recommend or prescribe a vitamin supplement just in case your child's daily diet falls short of its nutritional goals. Keep the vitamins out of the child's reach, however - they are one form of nutrition that your toddler will want more of than his daily dose!

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