It goes unsaid that toddlers need to eat foods that are nutritious and nourishing. They are growing and developing at such a rapid rate and good nutrition is the foundation for good health and wellness.
I have and always will work with my philosophy of making every mouthful count when I feed my kids (and myself). This concept is especially critical for children, as a child has a much greater requirement for nourishment than an adult, yet they have a much smaller capacity to be nourished. That is, there is only so much room in that tiny tummy of theirs which is why making every mouthful count is so essential.
First up, I just want to clarify what I mean when I talk about macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), as these are the pinnacles for making every mouthful count.
Protein includes meat from animal sources, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds etc;
Carbohydrates include grains, fruit and vegetable etc;
Fats are fairly self explanatory, oils, butter, coconut oil etc;
Of course a food is not just one macronutrient, however generally, one nutrient is dominant. For example, meat is mostly protein but also a little carbohydrate and fat. Nuts and seeds contain proteins, carbohydrate and fats. The simple fact though is that we need a range of macronutrients and micronutrients to thrive.
An analogy – macronutrients are the orchestra, micronutrients are the conductor and without a conductor, the song might not sound right. So when I think about the foods that provide the most bang for their buck, I look to foods that are nutrient dense (provide not only a macronutrient but a heap of micronutrients too). Most fresh whole foods do just this. Foods that are refined and processed, maybe, for example a great source of carbohydrate, but they will be lacking the nature given micronutrients lost in the process of refining or processing it.
In my experience, the main area that parents feeding toddlers venture astray, is that they ‘fill’ their tiny tummies with starchy grains which yield energy giving carbohydrate, but few micronutrients. A little whole grain is fine, just don’t overdo it. Grain also contains many anti nutrients which bind and deplete many important minerals.
The reason why vegetables are so good for us is because not only do they provide us with energy giving carbohydrates, they also represent a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and beneficial phyto (plant) chemicals. So next time you reach for bread, crackers, pasta or another grain heavy food for your toddler, perhaps think of choosing little ones vegetables or some protein instead. Remember to add a little fat to the veges also which increases the absorption of important fat soluble vitamins.
Because we don’t want to be calculating and become strung up by the nutritional value of every food you or your toddler are ingesting, I tend to think of food in terms of how close it is to what nature intends. Forget low GI, think more low HI (human intervention) foods. Once again vegetables, meat, fruits, legume, nuts, seeds, dairy etc; Also include as much dietary variety as possible, which is another way to really make sure all of you toddlers nutritional needs are met. By feeding them a range of nutrient dense foods, they will have no room and thus no desire for refined and processed foods.