What Types and Amounts of Food Should My Child Eat?
Parents often ask, “How do I know if my toddler is getting enough to eat and eating the right foods?”. This is a common question, in part because kids eat until they’re full and then stop. This may mean they consume smaller portions than a parent expects.
Fortunately, even “picky” eaters and those with smaller appetites tend to eat enough to sustain their growing bodies. And if the foods offered to them are healthy and nutritious, they generally get the “building blocks” they need to thrive.
What Nutrients Are Most Important for Kids?
While every child has different nutritional needs based on their overall health, size, activity levels, and other factors, here are some general guidelines for key nutrients that should be included in their diet:
- Protein. Protein is crucial for the growth of muscle and other tissue, and also plays a role in supporting the immune system. Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, milk, eggs, and peanut butter.
- Calcium. In order to develop strong bones, kids need plenty of calcium. It’s primarily found in milk and fortified dry cereals. A key to ensuring a child’s body can absorb the calcium they consume is avoiding sodas that contain phosphoric acid, which prevents absorption.
- Vitamin D. Another contributor to bone health, vitamin D isn’t common in foods, but can be found in certain dairy products and cereals. Your doctor may encourage you to give your child a multivitamin that contains vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, however, it’s important to find the right balance, as excessive exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer.
- Healthy fats. While too much fat in the diet can be a problem, the body does need a certain amount, as healthy fats play a role in nerve and brain development. Roughly 30% of a young child’s diet should primarily come from unsaturated fats. Good sources include vegetable oils like olive oil, fish, walnuts, and chicken.
- Iron. Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Lean red meat, leafy green vegetables, beans, eggs, tuna, and iron-fortified cereals are excellent sources.
- Vitamin C. Brain and immune system development require vitamin C. It also helps injuries heal and aids in the absorption of iron. Vitamin C can be found in many fresh fruits and vegetables including oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli.
When to Talk with Your Doctor About Your Child’s Nutrition
It’s important to take your child to regular pediatrician visits on a schedule that’s appropriate for their age. At those visits, your doctor will track your child’s growth and talk with you about nutrition. However, if between visits your child seems to be losing weight, has a noticeable decrease in appetite or you have any other concerns about their eating habits, you should contact your care provider.
Get Answers to Your Parenting Questions from Pediatricians at Baptist Health
Have questions about toddler nutrition or other health concerns? Learn about pediatric care at Baptist Health.