Toddlers and nutrition

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You can’t avoid snack attacks with young children – they need to graze pretty much constantly because their tummies are too small to hold a large meal that will keep them going for hours. Trouble is, kids’ bad snacking habits are one of the root causes of our current obesity epidemic. A quick look at the labels of many snack foods will tell you why: fatty, salty and packed with calories.

The average toddler needs around 1000 calories a day to keep him on the move and healthy — but most take in way more — and often it’s via nutritionally empty snacks. Nutritionists recommend that toddlers should have three snacks a day and that preschoolers and older children should have two.

The roots of obesity are thought to take hold between the age of 1 and 5 years old — and the danger is that your snacking toddler will become an overweight child who sits on the sofa eating crisps and biscuits all evening once he finishes his homework. To combat this problem early on-look at our guide to choosing healthy snacks.

Choosing healthy snacks

It’s easy to steer your child towards healthy snacks because healthy foods can be delicious. The younger you start the easier it’ll be.

  • Offer dried fruit such as raisins or apricots – these have the bonus of being high in fiber and iron too.
  • If you’re too busy to prepare fresh fruit, offer mandarins, peach slices or fruit cocktail canned in juice, or defrosted frozen berries.
  • Mash bananas with a little yogurt.
  • Give him apple slices with a yoghurt dip or peanut butter.
  • Mash an avocado and let him spoon it from the skin. 
  • Offer half a cup of sliced peppers, baby carrots, or broccoli florets with cottage cheese or a little fat-free ranch dressing for dipping.
  • Spread hummus on toast fingers or mini wholegrain waffles.
  • Boost his protein intake with low-fat cheese sticks or Babybels.
  • Pop some plain popcorn or give him some wholegrain cereal in a little bowl.
  • Choose the white stuff! Snacks often take the place of milk where young children are concerned. Your toddler or preschooler should be having around 16 ounces of low fat milk each day – it’s easier to give it in four 4 ounce servings. Limit fruit juice to 4-6 ounces a day and ensure it’s 100% juice.

Read labels

Try to ensure that only around 20% of your child’s total calorie intake comes from snacks – for a toddler taking in 1000 calories a day that means daily snacks should account for 200 calories.; an active preschooler, who needs about 1400 calories a day should get around 280 from snacks. Check how many calories are in a serving if giving commercially produced snacks, such as crackers – here’s where 100-calorie snack packs come in useful.

You also need to avoid any snacks containing trans fats (listed as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) and saturated fats (bad fats that can raise cholesterol levels if consumed over the long term) Whole grains are best (wheat flour should be at or near the top of the ingredients list) As a guide-look at how much fiber is in a snack and choose those that list more than just 1 gram. Be aware of the many names for sugar: sucrose, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup.

To chat to other mums about toddlers and nutrition or to get tips, look at our Gurgle chat forum.


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