Top nutrition mistakes parents of toddlers make
You may have the best intentions, but there are several nutrition mistakes parents of toddlers tend to make.
Feeding toddlers a healthy diet can be overwhelming and challenging. It’s often a time where they become fussy as they gain more independence. You may be worried their diet isn’t varied enough or lacking in particular nutrients.
Encouraging healthy eating behaviours starts from the moment your child is born. Your relationship which food and eating habits greatly influences your child’s behaviours. The firsts foods you introduce to your baby will have an impact on how they eat as a toddler, young child and beyond.
Although we have the best intentions, there are several nutrition mistakes parents of toddlers make that can affect their health now and into the future.
Need help feeding your toddler? Take a look at my latest Ebook ‘Toddler + Preschooler Eats: A nutritionist’s guide to healthy eating for little people’.
Top nutrition mistakes parents of toddlers make
1. Using the terms “good” and “bad” foods
Using language to describe food as “good” or “bad” can lead to unhealthy relationships with food. It can also lead to children rebelling which can result in a power struggle when you’re trying to serve them healthy food.
It’s much more effective to describe to your children what a food does for their body to heal promote healthier choices. Educate your children rather than labelling foods “good” or “bad”. Tell them what the food will do to their bodies. Explain the benefits and negatives of eating particular foods.
2. Offering too many nutrient-poor snacks
Growing toddlers require nutrients to help support their physical and psychological development. Snacks are a great way to add additional nutrients into their diet especially for those who can’t sit still.
It’s recommended toddlers have up to 3 snack per day. Unfortunately, while many parents offer about this about, they’re often nutrient-poor food. Snacks such as biscuits, kids bars and crackers may satisfy their taste preferences but they’re not going to fill them up or support their development.
Before you reach for a pre-packaged kids snack think about a more nutrient-dense option. Choose wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, natural Greek yoghurt or hard-boiled eggs. Prep a dip like hummus or avocado. Make a smoothie, seed crackers or a veggie muffin.
When choosing snacks look for ones that contain protein, healthy fats and fibre to sustain their energy and hunger levels.
3. Following diet trends
Low fat, high carb, keto, paleo are just some of the diet trends you may have heard about. While some of these trends do come with health benefits, you need to take cation when considering them for your toddler.
Toddlers require a broad range of nutrients for their rapid growth and development. Carbohydrates, for example, will help support the formation of their brain and their a readily available fuel for energy. Depriving your child of all carbs can impair their development. Instead, you could choose to opt for complex carbohydrates (whole grains, starchy vegetables, legumes) rather than refined simple carbohydrates (processed foods, candy, soft drink).
If you do want your toddler to adopt a restricted diet including vegan or vegetarian, it’s worth speaking with a qualified nutritionist to ensure it contains all the nutrients required to support their growth and avoid malnutrition.
Not sure what nutrients your toddler requires? Download my latest Ebook: 'Toddler + Preschooler Eats: A nutritionist’s guide to healthy eating for little people’.
4. Not reading food labels
One of the common mistakes parents can make when feeding their toddlers is not reading the food labels on packaged food.
Don’t be fooled by the clever marketing on the front of the box. Health claims on the front of the product such as ‘made with real fruit’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘no added sugar’, ‘high in fibre’ are all there to grab your attention. In some cases, they are also there to deflect your attention from other ingredients such as added sweeteners, thickness, additives, colours and preservatives.
If you’re buying products off a shelf that come in a package, READ THE LABELS! Turn the box, bag or jar over and read the ingredients and nutrition information. If you’re not sure how to decipher all the information, take a look at my earlier post ‘Understanding Basic Food Labels’ Part One and Part Two.
5. Only serving a commercial breakfast
Breakfast is an important meal for busy toddlers. It’s an opportunity to fuel them up for their day ahead and start the day with a nutrient-dense meal. Unfortunately, commercial breakfast options typically contain way too much sugar needed and often lack nutrients such as protein and fat and fibre.
Children aged between 1-3 years old require at least 2.5 serves of vegetables per day and ½ - 1 serve of fruit. Breakfast is a perfect time to start offering fresh produce, particularly vegetables.
Instead of pouring a bowl of refined sugar cereal, consider whipping up some eggs with veggies or baked eggs. Serve up the night’s leftovers, scrambled tofu or make healthy veggie packed muffins. Breakfast does not have to come in the form of cereal or toast.
6. Cooking two meals
Are you finding yourself cooking one meal for your toddler and another for yourselves?
It’s not uncommon for parents to do this and often once they start, they’ll find themselves still cooking two meals well into the future. There are ways you can serve the same meal in age appropriate forms.
Cooking the same meal, using the same ingredients fosters greater variety in your child’s diet and exposes them to different flavours. Cooking different meals on the other hand, fosters fussy eating. Remember, you’re not a restaurant.
7. Ordering off the kids’ menu
Kids’ menus are typically the same: chicken nuggets, pizza, spaghetti Bolognese, fish and chips. How often do you see streamed vegetables, a salad, grilled fish or roast chicken on a kids’ menu?
When you’re eating out, it’s worth looking at the entrées or requesting modifications to the kids menu. If there is a clean protein such as grilled fish, ask to swap the chips out for vegetables. Ask for a half portion of a main, if there is something your child will consume.
If you are going out, it’s worth taking a look at the menu options online prior to dining. If the options are limited, consider taking along some wholefoods to serve alongside or instead of ordering.