Toddler Nutrition

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Once a child reaches his/her first year, s/he graduates from infancy to become a toddler. Also known as the “terrible twos”, this life stage lasts from ages 1 – 3. During this stage toddlers do not grow as quickly as they did when they were infants; they grow 5.5 – 7.5 inches in height and can gain around 9-10 pounds (Tucker, 2010). It’s during this stage in their lives when toddlers learn how to walk and begin to explore the world around them. Toddlers not only learn how to walk, but they also learn to use other large muscle groups to throw a ball, jump up and down, and peddle a tricycle. Toddlers also develop the fine motor skills needed to stack blocks, scribble, and feed themselves (Malley, 1991). With this newfound independence for toddlers comes a new set of challenges for parents. Among these varied challenges for parents is the task of providing for the toddler’s nutritional needs. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the nutritional challenges associated with toddlers, discuss the specific nutrient needs of toddlers, and suggest a diet that meets the needs of toddlers.

The nutritional challenge that toddlers are notorious for is that they are picky eaters. A toddler will insist that a certain food be a part of every meal for a couple of days, and then switch gears on day three and declare a different food her/his favorite. Parents trying to introduce new foods to toddlers may find it difficult to do so, but a little persistence goes a long way. Tucker (2010) offers some tips to help parents with this daunting task: * Portion sizes of food should equal 1 Tbsp. for every year of the child’s age. For instance, a 2 year old’s portion is equal to 2 Tbsp. * New foods should be introduced one at a time so that parents can note any allergic reactions. * Don’t force a toddler to eat when s/he is full. Toddlers should also be discouraged from eating food with little nutritional content.

Teaching a toddler good eating habits now will influence how your child perceives food in the future, and will help your child avoid obesity and eating disorders later on in life. While it is important to discourage toddlers from eating food with little nutritional content, sometimes a toddler decides that s/he wants a specific food item. When this happens, many parents have found that adding nutritious ingredients to a food item with little nutritional content, like adding peas and/or green beans to white rice, will help to overcome a toddler’s objections to eating her/his vegetables.

Not only do parents have to overcome toddler pickiness, but parents also need to be aware of the specific nutrient needs of their toddler. According to the American Heart Association (AHA, 2011), a moderately active one year-old needs to consume around 1,100 kcal a day while a two or three year-old needs to consume about 1,200 kcal a day. Protein, which should not be considered a primary source of energy for a toddler, should equal approximately 4% of a toddler’s kcal consumption per day; this equals 13 grams per day (National Academy of Science, 2011). While adults are urged to reduce fat intake, toddlers need approximately 30-40% of the kcals they consume to be comprised of fat (AHA, 2011). Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for a toddler to explore the world, and the National Academy of Science (2011) recommends that toddlers consume 130 grams of carbs a day; this is equal to around 43% of the toddler’s total kcal consumption. In order to meet those needs, Tucker (2010) advises vegan parents that toddlers are not fully developed enough to follow a strict vegan diet. This is because many vegan diets do not contain enough protein, fiber, Vitamins D & B12, calcium, iron, and zinc to support an active toddler’s growth and development. Also, much of the vegan diet consists of soy, wheat, and nuts; all of these are common food allergens, and may not be well tolerated by some toddlers. The National Academy...
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