Creating balanced meals for toddlers can be incredibly stressful! What should you include? How often do they need a certain nutrient? What if they don’t eat it? There are so many things that tend to trip parents up when it comes to meals for their toddlers! But it doesn’t need to be complicated, I promise.
A Balanced Diet for Your Toddler
You have enough to think about. I recommend keeping meal planning as simple as possible!
When it comes to individual meals for your kids, I recommend thinking of a plate in three categories. An iron-rich food, a high-calorie food, and fruits or veggies.
Think of a plate in three categories. An iron-rich food, a high-calorie food, and fruits or veggies.
Include an Iron-Rich Food
Iron is one of those nutrients that is incredibly important for babies and toddlers, and really kids of all ages. It’s vital for brain development among many other things. Iron is found in meat, especially red meat, and many plant foods like lentils and beans.
Why Iron and Not Protein?
Many parents tend to be concerned with protein the most. And I get it. You hear about it a lot. But the thing is, most kids get plenty of protein! Even if they aren’t eating meat. What they don’t get plenty of, is iron.
Most iron-rich foods have protein in them. But not all protein-rich foods have iron in them (think something like dairy here. It’s protein rich, but no iron.) So since we aren’t really concerned with protein, I recommend instead focusing on iron.
Include a High-Calorie Food
Next up for a balanced plate: include at least one to two high-calorie foods. These foods you can think of as carbohydrates/starches and fats. So think dairy, grains, butters and oils. These tend to be the foods that are easy for kids to eat, so 1-2 of them are a good bet on a plate.
Include at Least One Fruit or Vegetable for a Balanced Plate
This shouldn’t be a surprise to you as many dietitians like myself, recommend focusing on fruits or veggies. The difference here is that my focus is on BOTH fruit and veggies. Fruit has gotten a bad rap. People have been told it’s full of sugar or that they should limit it. Or that it will make their kids not want vegetables.
Fruit Is Not Something to Avoid
The truth is, fruit has just as many nutrients as vegetables do! Vegetables tend to be hard for kids to learn to like. Fruits are easy. So while we definitely want to make sure that we’re serving a variety of both fruit and vegetables, there is nothing wrong with serving an abundance of fruit in a healthy meal plan for toddlers!
Fruit helps them to be comfortable with what is at the table, and can be a bridge to help them get in the nutrients they need while they’re learning to like more vegetables. Most adults don’t eat enough fruit, so teaching our kids to eat fruit and enjoy it is not a bad thing.
Focus on What to Offer, Not What They Eat
Now that you’ve got what to put on their plate down, what about the rest of the equation? What do you do if your child doesn’t eat it? Should you be concerned that they aren’t getting enough of the nutrients that they need, like iron? How can you get them to actually eat the food you’re serving?
The answer to this is a mindset shift away from worrying overly about what they’re eating of what we serve. We can’t control how much they eat, we can just serve it! That can be hard to process, and quite frankly scary to give up control over that aspect of their eating.
We can't control how much they eat, we can just serve it!
How to Increase the Odds of Your Toddler Eating Something
With that in mind, there are definitely some tips and tricks we can implement to increase the odds of our children listening to their own hunger cues and eating as much as they need. And there are also some ways that we can ensure we are optimizing their meals to the best of our ability, while still not worrying about it too much.
My new online course, Mastering Mealtimes, takes you through all of this! It will lead you through the exact steps to take to set up a great foundation for them to eat what they need to meet their own needs, and it will give you a clear cut way to meal plan and optimize their nutrition based on your own family’s needs.