Food variety – the key to toddler nutrition

Having toddlers and getting them to eat well can be a breeze or a battle, and there’s no telling which you’re going to get when you have a babe in arms.  Anyone whose weaned a child knows how sensitive babies food tastes can be. One day they can like something, the next be off it. You crack it with one food, and then they only eat another. One day they like the texture of cheese, the next they will only crunch on carrots. It’s a ‘journey’ indeed, and no matter how many times well-seasoned parents might tell you that is all balances out in time (which is does), when you’re in the thick of it, it feels like you just want mealtimes to disappear.

But there’s good reason to persist.  Variety increases nutrient diversity, and this contributes much better to overall quality of children’s diets. 

We’ve taken the NHS advice about toddlers and food variety, and made it more digestible:

  1. Fruit and veg: Introduce at an early age, and use fresh, canned or dried. Include these in every meal. Dried fruit only at mealtimes. Give raw vegetable snacks. Dilute fruit juices.
  2. Starchy foods provide energy, nutrients and some fibre. Under twos should have a mixture of wholegrain foods, and non-wholegrain. After age two, you can gradually introduce more.
  3. Whole cows milk can be the main drink from the age of 1. Whole milk and full-fat dairy are a good source of calcium for strong bones and teeth. They contain vitamin A, which helps the body resist infections and is good for healthy skin and eyes. From age 2, can use semi-skimmed milk. Rice milk is fine for over 5 year olds.
  4. Cheese. Pasteurised is fine for babies over 6 months. Full fat are recommended up to age 2.
  5. Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins: help provide protein and iron. 1 – 2 portions are recommended from each of these groups each day.
  6. Oily fish: Boys should have no more than 4 portions of oily fish, and girls no more than 2 portions per week (based on low levels of pollutants in fresh fish). (HealthyDoesIt note: fish oil supplements are rigorously quality checked for levels of pollutants. If in doubt, this information will be available to you).
  7. Be diligent with iron intakes. It’s found in meat and fish, and also in plant foods (such as dark green leafy vegetables, broad beans and lentils). You can also increase intakes by using fortified cereals.
  8. Salt. There’s no need to add it to children’s food.


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