When it comes to your little one’s health there are always questions. As your child grows and develops, these questions change but parental concern is a constant. One way we can support our child’s health is by ensuring they have the nutrition they need to support the growth and development occurring during these vital stages.
Growing toddlers – physically and mentally
During the toddler years our little ones will build on the astounding growth that occurred during their first year to continue their development from helpless infant to independent person. To help them do that we need to support the rapid growth and development – physical, mental and social – that occurs during these years.
In terms of physical development, growth will slow down compared to the first year, but toddlers will still grow an average of 10 to 12 centimetres between the ages of one and two. They are also incredibly active during this stage, possibly more active than at any other stage in their life, which explains why parents can be so exhausted after a day of trying to keep up with their toddler.
During this time it is their brains that are really developing. In the year before your child turns two, they will be forming a new connection between brain cells every single second. This rapid linkage means that by the time they reach their second birthday, toddlers will have more than 100 trillion synapses, more than they will ever have again in their life. It’s this rapid brain development that fuels their learning at this stage. So it’s no surprise that the right nutrition is important at this stage in order to help support their growth.
Most parents are aware of the nutritional demands all this growth places on toddlers and can become concerned their child will fall behind if they’re not eating properly. Alex Parker is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Founder of The Biting Truth and when she sees parents with toddlers, this one of the main reasons they are seeking help. “Nutritional deficiencies are a big concern and with toddlers there are a lot of questions about fussy eating and worries that they’re missing out on particular nutrients,” she says.
What you need to know about immunity
For many parents, a feature of the toddler years apart from rapid growth and development is a seemingly endless round of coughs, colds and other viruses. It’s therefore important during this time that they get a variety of nutritious foods to help support their immune systems.
The body’s immune system encompasses a range of different mechanisms that help defend it from attack. Most of us are aware of front-line defenders like the white blood cells (made by the body’s bone marrow) that are activated when damaged cells send out an alarm. We also may know about lymphocytes that are able to tap into the body’s memory of previous encounters with a bacteria or virus and produce the right antibodies to defeat the infection.
As well as these fighting forces that spring into action when the body is under attack, there are other clever ways our bodies protect us. For example, our skin, as well as being waterproof, secretes oils with bacteria-killing properties, while our lungs produce mucous to trap particles so that tiny hairs called cilla can move them upwards enabling them to be coughed out.
Of course nutrition plays a part here, too.
One of the keys to a healthy immune system is a healthy gut, and giving young kids the right foods will help nurture that. Alex Parker suggests that fibre-rich foods such as legumes can help support health here. “Legumes, like lentils (which can easily be added to dishes like spaghetti Bolognese without children even noticing), as well as oats, bananas, and berries are all good to include in your child’s diet,” she says.
The right nutrition and feeding fussy eaters
Understanding that our toddlers need to maintain a healthy and varied diet to help support their immune systems, development and overall health is one thing, but sometimes our toddlers seem determined to thwart our attempts to give them a healthy diet. Luckily, there are plenty of options that are generally acceptable even to fussy eaters.
When it comes to overall diet, giving your toddler a wide variety of fresh foods from the five food groups is the common-sense approach. That means a daily offering of fruits, vegetables, grain foods such as bread, dairy from milk, cheese, yoghurt and protein from lean meats, fish and eggs. Remember that you may need to offer your child a new food upwards of 10 times before they try it, but keep trying!
Alex Parker suggests that the key to success when feeding kids is persistence. “When parents are struggling to get children to eat they need to be persistent and confident. Try not to be overly worried if your child doesn’t finish the meal or eat any of it at all, because if you’re anxious that comes out at meal times.”
Remember, too, that a toddler’s appetite will vary quite a lot from day to day depending on what is going on in their little lives. Rather than focus on his intake over a single 24-hour period, instead think about what they eat over an entire week, as this will give you a better sense of what he’s really consuming and help allay those fears that might come from a single day of food refusal.
With so much growth and development happening at this stage of your toddler’s life, it’s important that you do everything you can to help support their nutrition. By offering a variety of healthy foods and knowing that it is your toddler’s job to choose what exactly they eat, you can help your child grow and stay healthy while reducing the worries that can come when you have a fussy eater on your hands.
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