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Healthy Choices for Toddlers

Amy Bontempo, Family Programs Coordinator at Penfield Children’s Center

Teaching good nutrition starts early in life.  Set by example.  A parent who chooses to live a healthy lifestyle will teach his/her child to do the same.  Offer food choices from every food group, a collection of foods that share similar nutritional properties.  How dinner is served and consumed helps build healthy habits as well.  Eat together as a family at the table as often as possible and turn off the TV.

Common food groups:

  • Dairy:                Examples include milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Fruit:                 Examples include apples, oranges, bananas, berries and lemons.
  • Grains:              Examples include wheat, rice, oats, barley, bread and pasta.
  • Meat:                 Examples include chicken, fish, turkey, pork and beef.
  • Sweets:             Examples include candy, soft drinks, cake, pie and ice cream.
  • Vegetables:     Examples include spinach, carrots, onions, peppers and broccoli.

It is important for children to be introduced to a variety of foods when it is age appropriate.  Offer bright colored fresh fruit and vegetables to children.  Fresh foods that are high in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber) are colorful. Try to avoid prepackaged, processed foods, which tend to be high in sugar, salt, and fat. If your child goes to childcare, ask what kinds of snacks are served there. If you don’t approve, consider suggesting a healthier snack menu. If your suggestion isn’t welcomed, send in your own snacks for your child, even if it means a bit of extra planning the night before.

Sometimes nutritious snacks are more work, but not always. There are plenty of healthy, no-hassle snacks out there. Toddlers should be feeding themselves, so think simple, finger-friendly, bite-size foods like:

  • low-sugar breakfast cereals
  • fresh fruit thinly sliced or cut into small pieces
  • whole-grain crackers and mini-muffins
  • cheese cut into thin slices or shredded

Remember that children try to mimic the actions of others.  Go to farmer’s markets together, plant a small vegetable garden, talk about healthy choices, and eat together and practice good nutrition as a family.

Parents are always looking for “fun” new ways to introduce healthy foods to their children.  What are some effective tactics you’ve tried to get your kids to eat healthier?

Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center.  She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator, Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year.  She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.

KidsHealth. Nemours. 14 May 2013. <http://kidshealth.org>

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