Top foods to fuel your toddler's appetite for life

It’s the question every parent asks at some point – how to encourage children to eat healthily. Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington is here to prove that eating healthy for kids doesn’t have to be a battle

We all want to give our children the best nutritional head start in life. Yet just when you think you’ve cracked weaning, your toddler learns the word “no!” and suddenly, mealtimes turn into battle times. Which is usually when we end up wondering how to encourage children to eat healthily. Of course, pushing food away (or onto the floor) is all part of growing up – just as fretting over their five-a-day is all part of parenting. So, how can you keep broccoli out of the bin? Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington has the low-down.

Get a healthy balance

Toddlers need a nutrient-packed diet to fuel their appetite for adventure. Keep it simple by thinking 5-5-3-2. That’s five portions of starchy foods a day, five toddler-sized handfuls of fruit and veg, three lots of dairy and two portions of protein (three if your child is a vegetarian). The key is to offer a wide variety of healthy foods. Little children are notoriously picky, so don’t panic if your fusspot has an off-day - focus on the whole week instead. Likewise, don’t stress over portion sizes; there’s no one-size-fits-all, try to follow your child’s lead and trust your judgement – healthy eating will follow naturally. In addition, it’s recommended that children between the ages of six months and five years are given a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D.

Say yes to snacks

Little tums fill up fast, so toddlers need at least two healthy snacks a day to bridge the gaps between meals. This is a great chance to top up those all-important nutrients. Try oatcakes or toast and smooth peanut butter, plain yogurt with chopped fruit, or banana. It helps to keep nibbles stashed in your bag too, so you’re always prepared for the inevitable “I’m hungry”. Toddler-friendly readymade snacks can be a godsend when you’re busy.

Shhh! Don’t let on you’ve got a sweet (or salty) tooth

Hands up if you eat too much sugar and salt… That’s most of us then! However, as early diet is crucial to future health, this is one habit we don’t want to pass on. Rule number one: always check the label. When cooking, use herbs, spices and lemon juice instead of salt, and avoid adding sugar (including syrup and honey) to foods like cereals. Talking of breakfast, many cereals are sweeter than your toddler’s button nose. The best options are plain porridge, wheat biscuits or eggs. That said, don’t feel guilty about the occasional ice-cream or chocolate biscuit (ideally not for breakfast!), just make sure treats don’t become the norm.

Drink up

Toddlers need around six to eight drinks a day, including plenty of water. Milk is still an important part of their diet, too, if it doesn’t replace food – but keep this to no more than one pint a day. Semi-skimmed milk is fine from the age of two if your child is a good eater but avoid skimmed. Diluted fruit juice can be offered at mealtimes.

Make mealtimes fun

Getting a toddler to sit still can be a challenge. Offer food that’s colorful and fun to play with – and ignore the mess! Invite friends for tea, sit down as a family, and involve them in food preparation (no knives, obviously!). And don’t worry about that gargoyle-face – new foods can take 10 or more tries before your gunning cherub learns to like them. Meanwhile, if you do have a fusspot, try sneaking veg into things like soups and Bolognese – they’ll never know. And if you have any concerns, chat to your health visitor.