By the age of one year, milk should be reducing as a proportion of dietary intake. But despite toddlers beginning to take part in family meals, they are still growing rapidly and have high energy and nutrient needs. Toddlers 1-3 years of age need one third of a liter of milk a day. Full fat cow's milk can be given till the age of 2 and semi-skimmed thereafter as long as growth is satisfactory. However, cow's milk contains virtually no iron and specially formulated toddler milks will help ensure all of a toddler's nutrient requirements are being delivered. In a recent survey1 of diets of children under 5, a significant number had intakes of iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C that were below the Reference Nutrient Intake. Very young children tend to be fussy about food but in most cases they grow out of this and parents should be more concerned about what their child eats over a week rather than on any given day.
The following should be considered for inclusion in toddler diets.
Full fat dairy products, nuts, seeds and oils are all carbohydrate-rich foods that are a good source of energy.
Oily fish, liver, whole milk, cheese and butter are all good sources of Vitamin A. Dark green leafy vegetables, and orange colored fruits & vegetables contain carotenes which are converted to retinol. Vitamin A is needed for growth and development, healthy skin & eyes and the immune system.
Good sources of vitamin C include blackcurrants, oranges, mango, kiwi fruit, berries, peppers and broccoli. Vitamin C is required to form collagen, a protein used to make skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels.
Vitamin D can be found in oily fish, liver, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals. Margarine is fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D can also be made by the action of sunlight on the skin but this would not be enough to meet the needs of the growing toddler and infants should not be exposed to too much sun. It is essential for calcium absorption and lack of it can cause rickets and poor bone growth.
Iron is found most readily in red meat. Other sources from which it is less easily absorbed are dried fruit, beans, lentils, chickpeas, broccoli, spinach and iron fortified infant cereals. Giving vitamin C at the same time helps with absorption of iron from these sources. Iron deficiency is very common. Symptoms are lethargy, irritability and loss of appetite.
Zinc can be found in meat, fish, pulses, wholegrain cereals, cheese, eggs and milk. It is essential for growth and development and for the function of the immune system.
Vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D are recommended for babies from 6 months who are breast feeding or drinking less than 500-600ml of infant formula per day as well as all children from 1 – 5 years of age.
1. Gregory JR, Collins DL, Davies PSW, Hughes JM, Clarke PC. 1995. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Children aged 11/2 to 41/2 years. Volume 1. Report of the Diet and Nutrition Survey. London: HMSO.