It’s only natural that parents are concerned about whether their toddler is eating enough, and enough of the right things. Tan Shiling, Senior Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, Mount Alvernia Hospital, shares some healthy nutritional guidelines for little ones.
INGREDIENTS OF A HEALTHY DIET
A healthy, balanced diet for a toddler is similar to that for an older child and adult in that it follows the healthy plate concept, according to Shiling. The main difference is that the serving size should be smaller for a toddler compared to an older child and adult. In addition, it is recommended to include dairy or calcium-enriched food as part of a toddler’s diet.
This table shows the number of serving sizes required for different age groups.
|Food Group/AgeGroup||6-12 Months||1-2 Years||3-6 Years||7-18 Years||Adults|
|Brown Rice and Wholemeal Bread||1-2||2-3||3-4||5-6||5-7|
|Fruits||1/2||1/2 – 1||1||2||2|
|Meat and Others||1/2||1/2||1||2||2-3|
|**Dairy foods or calcium containing foods||1/2 or 750ml milk||1/2 or 750ml milk||1 or 500ml milk||1 or 500ml milk||Not Specified|
For details on what constitutes one serving, please visit https://www.healthhub.sg/programmes/55/my-healthy-plate#:~:text=A%20Half%20plate%20of%20fruit,and%202%20servings%20of%20vegetables.
WHEN TO WEAN
While breast milk provides all the nutrients that your infant requires in the first months of life, solid foods should be introduced at around six months. At this age, a toddler’s protein and micronutrient needs increase as well as their natural curiosity about food. If you let them joyfully explore the different tastes and textures of their food, and offer them a variety of food at regular intervals, their tastes will naturally develop and their nutritional needs should be automatically met. Adopting good nutrition practices early on in life will pave the way for a lifelong healthy relationship with food.
REGULAR MEALTIMES AND SNACK TIMES
Instead of allowing your child to graze at will throughout the day, a structured eating plan with intervals of two to three hours between mealtimes is a better idea, according to Shiling. She suggests aiming for three main meals and two to three snacks in between them.
Ideally, you should let your child eat until they are full rather than force them to eat everything on their plate. Allowing them to follow their hunger and satiety cues helps to reduce picky eating and encourages a positive feeding environment. It also teaches them that if they don’t eat enough, they will get hungry before their next meal. Conversely, forcing them to eat more than they want may lead to coercive feeding methods that could adversely affect their relationship with food.
HOW TO PICK A PICKY EATERS
Many mums and dads fret over their toddlers’ fussy eating habits. However, if there are no growth concerns, Shiling assures us that fussy eating may not be a major issue. You should simply continue to offer your child a variety of food and encourage them to explore new tastes and textures.
Below are some common signs to help you determine if your child is a picky eater.
FUEL FOR HEALTHY GROWTH
Besides monitoring your child’s food intake, you should monitor your child’s weight and height growth. These can be found in their health booklet (given to them at the hospital when the child is born). During each routine check since infancy, the paediatrician will plot the child’s weight, height and head circumference in the respective chart.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Paediatric Nutrition Care Manual, a healthy rate of weight gain for a toddler (aged one to two years old) is 2.5kg per year. For toddlers aged two to three years old, it is 2kg per year.
It is important that your child gains sufficient weight during this intensive period of early physical and mental development. Inadequate nutrition puts them at risk of anaemia, which can affect optimal brain development, and may lead to attention problems, delays in reading ability and consequently poor academic performance. On the other hand, excessive weight gain puts your child at risk of childhood obesity, which in turn may lead to numerous other conditions such as glucose intolerance, dyslipidemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fatty liver disease and hypertension, to name a few.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
If your child stubbornly refuses to eat and routinely spits out a petulant ‘No!’ when offered new types of food, or they are not meeting their developmental milestones, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor or paediatrician. After ruling out possible underlying causes such as gastroesophageal reflux, food intolerance, conditions involving the heart, lungs or endocrinesystem, or any one of a number of eating problems, they may refer you to a dietitian.
Meanwhile, lead by example. When your little one sees mummy and daddy enjoying a variety of wholesome foods, chances are they will follow your healthy lead.
Article contributed by Tan Shiling, Senior Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department at Mount Alvernia Hospital.
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