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Tis’ the Season: Resolve to Improve Your Toddler Food Smarts For the New Year
As you begin to think about your resolutions for the New Year, you might consider ways to improve your toddler's nutrition.
When children transition from babies to toddlers, their dietary needs change. The majority of an infant's nutritional needs are met with breast milk and formula, but as toddlers move up to the table, the nutrition that they receive is based on the decisions you make when buying and preparing foods. That's why it's so important to understand what a healthy diet looks like for the one- to four-year-olds in your life.
On average, toddlers need about 50 calories per pound of body weight each day to meet growth and energy needs. Your toddler's appetite may fluctuate from day-to-day, but roughly three meals and two snacks each day should be enough to nourish your little one.
When you are deciding what to feed your toddler, remember that fresh fruits and veggies are great and should be a staple of every toddler's diet. However, the realities of everyday life (work, family, hectic schedules), especially during this season, can sometimes sabotage the good intentions of preparing fresh snacks and meals yourself. A nutritious diet for your toddler doesn't have to be time-consuming; quick, convenient and nutritious options do exist – you simply need to know how to spot them. Products and food selections in the baby food aisle are vast and nutrition labels can seem confusing.
So what are you to do? A few simple tips on how to navigate nutrition labels can guide you successfully down the baby food aisle.
When looking at nutrition labels, remember these tips:
- Dare to compare: Read the labels and compare brands. Pay attention to quality, not marketing. Next time you're cruising down the baby food aisle, pick up your favorite toddler food product and turn it around; you may be surprised by what you discover.
- Understand ingredients: When you look at the ingredients list, remember that the ingredients are listed from largest to smallest by weight - a food contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and the smallest amount of the last ingredient. If you don't know what an ingredient is, be tech-savvy; hop online and look it up.
- Know the facts on fats: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that NATURAL fats in your baby's diet not be restricted until he reaches age two. Fat is a good source of energy for your growing tyke. And, because fat surrounds your baby's budding brain cells, it's important for brain development too. However, trans fats, or man-made fats, should be avoided due to their long-term connection to bad cholesterol, heart disease and cancer. Keep in mind that if 'partially hydrogenated oil' is on the ingredients list, then trans fats are in the food.
- Salt assault: Babies require much less salt (often referred to as sodium) in their diets than adults do, because their kidneys, which regulate salt and water content in the body, are still developing. According to the National Health Service, children 1-3 years should consume 2000 mg of sodium or less per day. Consuming a lot of sodium is not only unhealthy, it also makes toddlers more thirsty and can lead to a greater intake of other unhealthy things, like sugary juices.
You might be surprised to find out just how much sodium can be added to foods, even those made for toddlers. For example, Gerber Graduates Pasta Stars with Chicken and Vegetables Lil' Meal for toddlers has 400 mg of sodium, which is more than a large order of fries at a popular fast food restaurant, while a Beech-Nut Let's Grow! Chicken & Stars with vegetables Mini Meal has 160 mg of sodium. While both meals may seem similar, the label shows a significant difference.
- Limit the added sugar: Sugar can be tricky to spot, because it is disguised by so many names: glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, maltodextrin, malt extract - just to name a few. When it comes to sugar, keep it limited and natural.
- Finding hidden food allergies: If your child has a cow's milk allergy, obviously you won't buy milk. But did you know that prepared lunch meats also may be off limits? Foods can be identified by more than one name. It is important to know the "aliases" of the offending foods. Learn the other names and always read food nutrition labels. Ask your dietitian to help in this type of detective work.
- Pamper picky eaters: Bring your little one with you and make it a grocery store adventure. Toddlers are more apt to eat the food items they help pick out. This will help them assert their independence as well as providing a great bonding experience.
Don't let a busy lifestyle dictate hot dogs and soda for your toddler's meals. You and your toddler deserve something better and more nutritious, and there are plenty of healthy meal and snack options to be found in the baby food aisle that don't have added junk that your child doesn't need. It's true that nutrition labels can be confusing, but remembering these tips makes navigating labels a bit easier and feeding your toddler easier too. In the end, your toddler's health is what matters most – start your resolution early!
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