Whether your baby’s getting his first taste of solids or wolfing down mini portions of your meals, the right food can set him up for life.
‘Because your baby has such a small stomach, every mouthful counts, so pack each meal with lots of nutrients,’ says Sarah Shenker from The Nutrition Society. A good diet lays the foundations of your baby’s body, so prime your baby’s palate with these tasty superfoods.
A few small swaps and switches to your toddler’s weekly menu is all it will take to give them a super-healthy diet. Or, if they’ll only eat a handful of foods right now, make sure it’s these…
Yes, good old apples! Children who eat them are more likely to be healthy, and less likely to develop weight problems, says new research. Apple purée and juice are good, but raw apples are the best. Try offering thin wedges alongside chunks of cheese for a snack, peeling and cutting into matchsticks to serve alongside a sandwich, or grating to make a quick pudding. Try our recipe for Apple And Pear Jardo (Sweet Rice)
Most toddlers are actually happy to eat broccoli, as long as you tell them it’s little trees. If your child’s not already tucking in, adding it to his diet will help him fight off coughs, colds and viruses, because it’s packed with immune-boosting vitamins A and C, and other bug-zapping nutrients. To keep it at its best, steam it until it’s just cooked. Broccoli florets make a perfect finger food, or try finely chopping it and add to pasta and chicken. Try our Jersey Royals, Salmon and Broccoli Bake recipe
Eggs are one of the few foods naturally rich in vitamin D, which is needed for strong bones and teeth. It’s so important, the Department of Health recommends children between six months and five years have a daily vitamin D supplement. If your toddler isn’t a big fan of eggs, cook clever with pancakes, eggy bread and Yorkshire puds. And instead of folding an omelette in half when it’s nearly cooked, sprinkle it lightly with cheese and finish under a medium grill for a crispy feast!
Oats have a low glycaemic index, so give a slow-release energy supply. Toddlers aren’t known for their steady moods, and feeding them high GI foods, such as sugary cereals, which cause a steep rise and fall in energy levels, isn’t going to help! Oats take a long time to digest, so the sugars they contain are released more slowly. Try porridge for breakfast (whole oats are better than instant) or spread an oatcake with cream cheese or peanut butter for a satisfying snack. Try our Perfect Pear And Raspberry Oaty Crumble recipe from Ella's Kitchen
Meat is often a go-to source of iron, but you might struggle to get your toddler to eat enough. He needs iron for growth and brain development, and in the UK, a quarter of children between the ages of one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half years don’t get enough. Breakfast cereals are an easy way to make sure your toddler is getting his quota. Choose a wholegrain cereal, steering clear of any with honey or frosting, as these will deliver a hefty helping of sugar. Go for Weetabix and similar own-brand varieties, and don’t forget that cereal makes a good daytime snack too. Read: 7 brilliant breakfast ideas for toddlers
Can carrots help you see in the dark? Well, they’re rich in beta-Carotene, which helps the eyes adjust in dim light. They are also packed with vitamin A – research shows that almost one in 10 under-fives in the UK don’t get enough of this nutrient, which is vital for vision and the growth of bones, skin and nails. Just a heaped tablespoon of carrot meets the daily needs of a child aged one to three.
Whether it’s tiny sandwiches or toast fingers, most toddlers like bread. If yours prefers white, make the move gradually to wholemeal by switching first to a brand that’s half white and half wholemeal. Wholemeal contains more than three times as much fibre as white bread, which will really help if your toddler is prone to constipation. Wholemeal also provides vitamins and minerals, including iron and zinc. And it’s much easier to make this healthy switch at this age than later.
Can’t imagine your toddler eating lentils? Think again, and add them to soups, stews and pasta sauces, or use them to make mini veggie burgers. They contain a special form of fibre, known as soluble fibre, which helps reduce blood cholesterol levels. You might not think cholesterol needs to register on your radar until middle age, but several studies have found there are high levels among young children. Introduce lentils to your child’s diet now and you can make a big difference. Try our Lentil Stuffed Peppers recipe
We could just call this fish ‘brain food’. Omega 3 fatty acids are so crucial to the development of your child’s brain and nerves that they’re now added to all formula. And salmon is packed full of them! It’s thought that fewer than one in 10 children eat the recommended one to two portions of oily fish a week, so a regular Friday fillet will up the healthiness of his diet. Toddlers generally love it, as it’s not too ‘fishy’, and it couldn’t be easier to cook: drizzle a fillet in olive oil, wrap in foil and bake for 20 minutes at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Ta-dah! Got some leftover salmon? Try our Teriyaki Salmon with Egg Noodles recipe
Healthy teeth and bones need a hefty dose of calcium. Pots of yoghurt often boast of their ability to help build strong bones, but plain milk does the job just as well, without added sugar. Once your baby has reached his first birthday, he should be having 350ml of milk a day, whether this is breastmilk, formula or cow’s milk. Stick with whole milk until he’s two years old, and then switch to semi-skimmed.
‘Citrus fruits are a rich source of vitamin C, which helps wound healing,’ says Sarah. Give fruit rather than juice, which is high in fruit sugars. ‘The potassium in oranges also keeps salt levels in check,’ says Jane Clarke, dietician and author of Nourish (£20, Collins & Brown).
Good quality, lean red meat such as beef is a good diet staple. ‘It contains the richest source of iron,’ says Sarah. ‘But avoid processed red meats like sausages as they’re full of salt.’ Your growing child needs iron to boost energy and development. Aim to give your baby red meat two to three times a week. Try our Cheesy Beef Burgers recipe
‘Oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids for your baby’s brain development,’ says Jane. Offer fish such as salmon or mackerel twice a week. To boost your baby’s omega-3 intake even more, swap olive oil for cold, pressed rapeseed oil, the healthiest form of fat. Try Alex Hollywood’s Smoky Fish Cakes recipe