Toddler nutritional needs for healthy growth

Toddler nutritional needs for healthy growth

The Nutrients Your Toddler Needs, some common nutrients that your toddler needs to healthy growth
The Nutrients Your Toddler Needs
Feeding babies and toddlers can often seem like a full time job unto itself. There are
rules, guidelines to follow, and growth charts to consult, and yet when it comes rightdown to it, the biggest deciding factor in our kids diet is what they choose to put into their mouths.

The Nutrients Your Toddler Needs

let's get into some common nutrients that you might have questions about:

  • Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and vegetables provide plenty of valuable vitamins and minerals to help spur a child's growth and development, All over the news and every parenting website; we hear that our kids aren't eating enough produce. The statistics aren't good and fruit juice, potatoes, and French fries are still some of the main sources of fruits and vegetables in our little one's diets. But it may actually be easier than you realize to get your toddler to eat the right amount of produce on most days.

Consider this: The recommended daily intake for toddlers is about 1 cup of whole fruit and 3/4 cup of vegetables. That's for the whole day, spread across 3 meals and 2 snacks. (Adjust that average to account for the fact that 1 year olds may eat less than 3 year olds.) If you regularly serve a fruit and/or a veggie at every meal, chances are good that your toddler will be able to meet that goal most days.

If you are having a hard time making this happen, try serving veggies with snacks, serving a vegetable or fruit as a pre-dinner appetizer or first course, and reducing the amount of "snack" foods that you keep in the house. Adjusting the proportions of the foods you serve away from snack type foods like crackers and pretzels and towards more fresh produce can help a lot.

  • Whole Grains

Grains like brown rice, quinoa, millet, rolled oats, and bulgur are great sources of fiber (which is good for preventing constipation), B vitamins, and energy-providing complex carbohydrates. Quinoa is even a good source of protein. These grains are easy to cook and are incredibly versatile. Whole grain products including multi-grain breads, whole-wheat breads, whole-grain pastas, and more are also good options for feeding your family since they have more nutrients than white flour counterparts.  

  • Fat

While your child is a toddler—especially from when they start solids until they are two—it's crucial that they eat fat. Fat helps the brain develop, contributes to energy levels, and can even help cuts heal faster. *The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that until age two, about 1/3-1/2 of the calories that a toddler eats come from fat. Sources of healthy fats include avocado, low-mercury fish, seeds rich in omega 3's (flax and chia), grass-fed beef, whole-milk dairy products, and heart-healthy oils including olive oil.


  • Calcium

If your toddler drinks milk with meals or has calcium-rich dairy products a few times a day, it's likely that they are getting enough calcium. If a child is lactose intolerant or your family doesn't consume much dairy, talk to your pediatrician about what to look for in nondairy milks to make sure your child is getting enough.

  • Iron

A toddler needs about 15 mg of iron per day from foods such as red meat, leafy greens, and beans. If your family is vegetarian, you may need to talk to your pediatrician about a supplement. And if your toddler drinks a large quantity of milk (more than 4 cups) you also might need to consider a supplement since she'll likely be filling up her belly before she can get the rest of the nutrition and iron that she needs.

  • Vitamin D

The American Academy of Pediatrics** recommends that babies and children get 400 IU of Vitamin D a day, which can be hard to get in a regular diet even when fortified milk is included. Vitamin D, which we get from sunlight, certain oily foods like liver, egg yolks and oily fish, helps ensure that the minerals needed to build strong bones are absorbed. Talk to your doctor about whether you should consider a Vitamin D supplement for your child.

  • Protein

With the upsurge of the Paleo diet, protein seems to be at the forefront of so many diet-related conversations. And while it is important to make sure that your toddler is getting enough protein, they don't need as much as you might think Toddlers only need about 13 grams3, which can be covered in two servings of dairy—so if your toddler drinks milk with their meals and eats other cheese, meat, or eggs during the day, they are getting enough.

If your family doesn't eat dairy or your child is lactose intolerant, do aim for 2 servings of other protein-rich foods like meat, chicken, beans, fish, nuts, nut butter, or even some pastas throughout the day.  


  • DHA

DHA is a fatty acid that is a structural element of the brain and the retina part of the eye. It's a nutrient that we need to get from food since our bodies can't make it. It's most plentiful in fish, though its also found in nuts and seeds including walnuts and flax.

  • Sodium

A recent study that randomly tested packaged toddler foods found that 75% of them had too much sodium. The recommendation from the American Heart Association for toddlers is to have no more than 1000-1500 mg of sodium per day, which can add up fast if you aren't sure what to look for. And since high intake of sodium at an early age can lead to a preference for salty foods and a risk of developing high blood pressure as a child or adult and you have to keep eye to  limit the chances that your toddler is getting too much.

The top sources of sodium in kids diets include pizza, bread, lunch meat hot dogs, sausage, savory snacks (crackers, pretzels, veggie chips, and the like), cheese, chicken nuggets, packaged pasta dishes, packaged Mexican dishes, and packaged soups, so keep an eye on how frequently they are served and choose reduced- or low-sodium versions when you can.

  • Sugar

Sugar is everywhere in our kid's diets but some sugars—like the natural sugars in fruit, some vegetables, plain yogurt, and milk are okay to consume on a daily basis. It's the "added sugars" that you'll want to worry more about. When buying packaged toddler snacks, look at both the amount of sugar in grams on the nutrition label and the ingredient list, Fruit juice concentrate, malt, honey, evaporated cane juice, syrups, maple syrup, brown sugar, and sugar all count as sugar.

Limit fruit juice to 6 ounces or less per day since it usually has less nutrients than whole fruit and can lead to tooth decay and cavities. Reserve candy, cake, cupcakes, and the like to "sometimes" foods that are not as readily available as other foods in your kitchen. When you do offer them, or your child has them at a party or a holiday dinner, try to either serve them alongside other food or a glass of milk to help prevent a future blood sugar crash.

  • Water  

If you've ever wondered about how much water your toddler should be drinking each day, know that it varies by activity level and the weather, but they should be getting about five 8-ounce servings. Of that, about 20%4 should come from the produce they eat. (Think foods like watermelon and cucumbers.)


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