Nutrients your toddler needs

All you need to know about nutrition and how to give your active child all the goodness she needs...

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With food rather than milk now making up the bulk of your child’s diet, those solid meals are her main source of nutrition. Some foods give her energy, while others help her to grow and protect her body from illness.

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Children of toddler and pre-school age are growing rapidly and are very active, so you need to make sure they receive the right amount of energy and nutrients by providing them with a healthy, balanced diet (and then trying to get them to eat it!). So what should you be serving up to meet your toddler’s needs?

Fat

Why it’s important

Fat plays a vital role in giving your toddler energy, carrying vitamins around her body and helping build cell membranes. Toddlers need more fat than adults – up to a third of their total food intake – so stick to full-fat milk, butter and yoghurt rather than semi-skimmed or low-fat versions.

Good food sources
Dairy food, fats and oils, meat, eggs, oily fish, nuts.

How much your toddler needs
Around two glasses of milk and a serving of egg, oily fish (only twice a week for girls, up to four times for boys), meat or cheese.

Protein

Why it’s important

Protein provides vital amino acids (the body’s building blocks) and gives your child the energy she needs for all that walking, climbing, running and jumping.

Good food sources
Meat, fish, eggs, dairy foods, cereals, bread, soya products, nuts and pulses.

How much your toddler needs
Around two servings a day of meat, beans, fish, egg or cheese.

Carbohydrates

Why they’re important

Carbs provide your toddler with much of the energy she needs each day.

Good food sources
Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles and cereals.

How much your toddler needs
Roughly four servings per day – but don’t give her too much bulky fibre (such as bran or brown rice) as it will stop her absorbing the nutrients she needs. You can give her brown bread, but avoid wholemeal rice and pasta at this age.

Calcium

Why it’s important

It helps build strong bones and teeth, regulates your toddler’s muscles and her heartbeat and makes sure her blood clots normally.

Good food sources
Dairy foods, green leafy vegetables, soya beans, tofu, nuts and bread.

How much your toddler needs
Around three servings – so two glasses of milk and a yoghurt or a cheese sandwich. Use full-fat milk, not semi-skimmed, until she’s at least two.

Zinc

Why it’s important

Zinc helps your child’s her body use carbohydrate, protein and fat. It also helps her grow, repair tissue and boosts her immune system.

Good food sources
Meat, milk, cheese, eggs, shellfish, wholegrain cereals, nuts and pulses.

How much your toddler needs
Roughly two servings of foods containing zinc each day.

Iron

Why it’s important

It helps to make red blood cells which carry oxygen around her body. Iron is essential for energy, particularly at this stage when children are very active and growing fast.

Good food sources
Red meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, dried fruit (such as apricots), whole grains, breakfast cereals and dark green leafy vegetables (but not spinach).

How much your toddler needs
Around two servings a day, for example a bowl of fortified cereal and a portion of baked beans. Having a vitamin C-rich food (like orange juice) at the same as eating non-meat iron sources will her to absorb more.

Vitamins

Why they’re important

These essential micronutrients are needed in small amounts in your child’s body to keep her healthy, and are involved in processes from eyesight to immunity.

Good food sources
Fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, K) are found in vegetable oils, dairy foods, liver and oily fish. Water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin C and the vitamin B group) are found in fruit, vegetables and grains.

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How much your toddler needs
A healthy balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day, including fresh, frozen, tinned and dried varieties, juices and smoothies), meat, fish, dairy foods and carbohydrates should provide her with the majority of vitamins she needs. However, supplements providing vitamins A, C and D (in the form of liquid drops) are now recommended from six months to five years, especially if she has a limited diet. Ask your health visitor for advice on the best supplements for your child.

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