Healthy Variety on the Plate
Toddlers need a diet which can provide them with the energy and nutrients they need. Putting together a menu plan for your child which is both healthy and delicious is a great way to help them along the way.
From about month 10 onward, it's time to start introducing your child to the foods the rest of your family eats — this means transitioning from 5 milk and pureed food meals a day to 3 main meals and 2 smaller in-between meals. The new, and much larger, selection of available foods at this point tends to raise a lot of questions in parents. What can my child eat? Will this be enough? Will they get all the nutrients they need for optimal development? Having your family eat a healthy and varied mix of meals is a good way to introduce your child to being curious about trying new foods. The Dortmund Research Institute for Child Nutrition's food pyramid can help you figure out the details of creating an optimal meal plan for your child.
Simply Good: The optimiX® Food Pyramid
The optimiX (optimal mixed diet) food pyramid, developed by scientists at the Dortmund Research Institute for Child Nutrition, can help parents like you select appropriate foods for a toddler-appropriate meal plan. The pyramid shows which foods should be treated more importantly than others — that is, which foods should end up in your toddler's plate in generous portions, moderate portions or only sparingly. Taking this approach to a mixed diet will give you the confidence of knowing that your child is getting balanced and age-appropriate nutrition and that you are contributing to his or her future health and development.
The base of the pyramid represents the foods that your toddler should be eating a lot of:
- Relative to their bodyweight, toddlers need a lot more water than adults.
- 6 glasses of water at 100 milliliters per glass, ideally spread throughout the day
- Especially good options: Water, unsweetened herbal and fruit tea.
- Fruit juices mixed with mineral water in a ratio of 2:1 (risk of cavities).
- Fruits and vegetables are important sources of vitamins, minerals and secondary plant material and should be included in every meal.
- Use seasonal products, a part of which should be eaten raw (e.g. salad, sandwich topping or by itself as an in-between meal).
- If your child can tolerate peas, lentils and beans, then you should include legumes in your meal plan once a week (e.g. pureed).
Whole Wheat Bread
- The grain products you use should be at least 50% whole wheat. Due to a risk of choking, you should not use breads which contain whole seeds, but only those that use finely ground grains.
Toddlers should only eat moderate amounts of the following foods:
Milk and Diary Products
- 300 to 330 milliliters of milk or diary split into 3 portions per day.
- Milk contains a lot of calcium which is good for maintaining healthy bones.
- Special children's milk contains vitamin D and calcium, each of which are needed for healthy bone growth and development. It also contains iodine, which is important for thyroid hormone functioning.
Fish and Eggs
- Important sources of vitamins and minerals, as well as iodine and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Should be eaten 1 to 2 times per week.
Meat and Sausage
- Contain iron, zinc and B vitamins.
- 2 to 3 times a week, ideally a bit of meat as opposed to a lot of sausage.
- Use a variety of meats, ideally lean varieties.
The tip of the pyramid stands for those foods which should only be consumed sparingly by toddlers:
- Fat contains about twice as much energy as carbohydrates and protein — this means the child's daily needs are met very quickly.
- As little as 1.5 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 20 grams) of oil, margarine or butter can cover your child's total daily requirement.
- However, plant-based fats and oils also contain vitamins and important unsaturated fatty acids.
- You should try to use more plant fats than animal fats in order to take advantage of unsaturated fatty acids.
- Good oils include olive oil, soy oil, sunflower oil and especially rapeseed oil.
Lots of energy, but few nutrients.
Foods that should be completely avoided:
- Foods that can cause your child digestive problems (e.g. legumes), unless your child can tolerate them.
- Foods that are difficult to digest (e.g. fatty meats).
- Small and hard foods (e.g. nuts and raisins) due to the possible choking hazard.
- Salty foods or foods with strong spices.
That's a lot to take in at once. But don't worry — everything will become routine with time. Plus, you don't need to completely change your shopping and eating habits over night. You and your family can take your time. Every child is different and has different eating habits. Be happy about every new food your child discovers. And be proud that you're contributing to your family's nutritional health and the future health of your child.
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