Toddlers need all the same nutrients as adults do, but they are growing fast, developing quickly, and typically very active. Certain nutrients standout as either being more critical for this age group or more challenging to get enough of.
One of the key nutrients for toddlers is iron. 9% of toddlers in the United States are iron deficient. Some great sources of iron include meat, poultry, fish, seeds, nuts, and legumes such as soya beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
2. Vitamin D
Another important nutrient, which is needed for proper bone development and a healthy immune system, is vitamin D. Although some foods, such as milk, have vitamin D added, it’s nearly impossible to get enough through food. There’s just not enough of it either naturally occurring in our food or added in.
It is possible to get vitamin D from exposure to the sun, but if you live north of Atlanta, Georgia, the angle of the sun from October through April doesn’t provide strong enough rays to stimulate vitamin D production. For these reasons vitamin D is one of the few nutrients I recommend supplements for.
Calcium is also key for bone growth and bone mineral density. If children are drinking milk and consuming dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, they usually get enough calcium. However, if your family follows a vegan or paleo diet, or if your child just doesn’t like the taste of dairy products, focus on feeding them foods that are high in calcium.
In these cases some good sources of calcium are soy alternatives, chickpeas, sesame seeds, broccoli, kale, and canned fish with bones (for non vegans).
Hydration for children is also incredibly important. A higher percentage of a child’s body weight is composed of water than an adult’s. Children also lose fluids easier since they typically have a high activity level, are more prone to diarrheal viruses, and have a larger body surface area relative to their weight.
Toddlers should be offered water frequently throughout the day, and milk (or suitable alternative) at mealtimes. I recommend limiting juice as a special occasion beverage, since it has more sugar than necessary. Children often fill up on juice and are not hungry for the foods that contain the nutrients they really need.
Remember: Variety is Key
These are simply a few key nutrients during toddlerhood. It’s important to offer children a wide variety of foods from all the food groups to ensure a healthy, balanced diet.
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