For adults and children over five, a healthy, balanced diet usually means eating plenty of bread, breakfast cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice, as well as fruit and vegetables. Children under the age of five need a diet that is higher in fat and lower in fibre than this, but by age five should be eating a diet similar to that recommended for adults.
Some ideas to try to incorporate milk into your child's diet:-
Porridge, hot oat cereal or cornmeal made with full-fat milk
Breakfast cereals with milk
Vermicelli cooked in full fat milk
Rice pudding, custard, bread-and-butter pudding
Dairy ice-cream made with milk
Some ideas to try to incorporate cheese into your child's diet:-
Macaroni cheese, cheese on toast, cheese on vegetables and bakes
Vegetable soup with grated cheese
Chunks of cheese and pieces of fruit
Cottage cheese dips
Some ideas to try to incorporate youghurt and fromage frais into your child's diet:-
Add fruit (fresh, frozen or canned) raw, stewed or baked, to full-fat yoghurt or fromage frais.
Add yoghurt to curry
Your Toddler's Diet
By the age of one, children will be joining in family meals. They will also be more active and using more energy, and will need a varied, energy-rich diet for good health and growth.
We all need energy (calories) and nutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals) to grow, for activity, and for the body to work properly and repair itself. Babies and children under two have small tummies and cant eat large amounts of food all in one go, so they need small meals with healthy snacks in between. Like the rest of the family, your toddler needs to eat a variety of foods from the following five groups. By doing so, your child will almost certainly get all the nutrients he or she needs.
Milk and dairy foods milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais.
Bread, other cereals and potatoes bread, rice, pasta, maize, potatoes, breakfast cereals, etc.
Fruits and vegetables all types of fruits and vegetables.
Meat, fish and alternatives meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, lentils etc.
Foods containing fat and foods containing sugar biscuits, cakes, chocolate, puddings, sweets, ice-cream, fats and oils. Give only limited amounts.
Milk and dairy products
Milk is important for young children. Milk and dairy products are a good source of vitamin A, which helps the body to resist infections and is needed for healthy skin and eyes. After the age of one, a minimum of half a pint of milk a day will provide energy for growth, and calcium for strong bones and teeth. You can continue breastfeeding after the age of one if you wish and full-fat cows milk can now take the place of infant formula and follow-on milk as your babys main drink. If your child doesnt like drinking milk every day, give at least two servings of milk-based dishes, cheese, yoghurt or fromage frais daily.
Use full-fat milk and dairy products until your child is five, although semi-skimmed milk can be introduced from two years of age, provided your child is a good eater and growing well. Children under two need the extra fat and vitamins in full-fat dairy products. Skimmed milk is not suitable for children under five.
Families receiving Income Support or an income-based Jobseekers Allowance with children under five years of age can receive seven pints of milk per week per child, free of charge.
What if I dont want to give my child cows milk?
If your child is allergic to cows milk or is a vegan, you will avoid giving cows milk or its products to your child. However you still need to make sure he or she is getting enough calcium and energy.
Give unsweetened soya drink with added calcium (check the label).
For vegan diets, give soya-based infant formula as a drink. Soya-based infant formula contains added sugar, unlike cows milk, so it needs to be used exactly as stated on the label to protect teeth.
Bread, other cereals and potatoes
Whether it is bread or breakfast cereals, potatoes or yams, rice or couscous, pasta or chappatis, most children dont need much encouragement to eat one or more of the foods from this group.
A portion with each meal will provide energy, various nutrients and some fibre. Let your child try lots of different varieties of starchy foods. Try wholemeal bread and pasta every now and then. However, its not a good idea to give only wholegrain foods because they may fill your child up too quickly to get all the calories they need. Dont add bran to cereals or use bran-enriched cereals as they can interfere with the bodys ability to absorb iron.
Starchy foods form an important part of anyone's diet. But they can be very filling, so make sure small tummies have room for other foods too.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables contain lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre and they liven up meals with a variety of colours, textures and flavours. Try to introduce lots of different types from an early age, whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried.
Try to ensure young children have fruit and vegetables regularly. If you can, try to include some green vegetables (broccoli, cabbage), and some yellow or orange vegetables (swede, carrots, squash) and fruit (apricots, mango, peaches). These contain beta-carotene, the plant form of vitamin A. Also try to include some citrus fruits (satsumas, oranges) and some salad (peppers, tomatoes) for vitamin C, which helps the absorption of iron from other foods. Different fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins and minerals, so the wider the range your toddler eats, the better, but dont worry if your child will only eat one or two types. Allow your child to eat them as often as possible and gradually tempt them with new varieties.
Many children dont eat enough fruit and vegetables and it can be hard work persuading them to even eat a mouthful. Obviously, there will always be something they dont like! Use some of the ideas below to help you.
Many children dont like cooked vegetables but will nibble on them while youre preparing the meal. Be imaginative about serving vegetables, perhaps mashing different types together or arranging them attractively on the plate.
If your child flatly refuses to eat vegetables, keep offering them but also offer more fruit. Make sure you show that you like eating them. Dont make a big fuss if they refuse. Give vitamin drops as a safeguard.
Fat and fibre
Some people wrongly think that small children need a low-fat diet, just like adults. Children under the age of two need fat in their diet to provide energy, and some vitamins are only found in fat.
It is therefore more important to make sure that they eat a variety of foods and get enough calories than to worry about fat. Between the ages of two and five their diet will adapt to be more like that of adults. Make sure that both your child, as they get to be five years old, and the rest of your family aim for a healthy diet based on the balance of good health, which is low in fat, especially saturated fat.
It is also a mistake to give babies and toddlers a high-fibre diet as it is quite bulky and can stop important minerals like calcium and iron from being absorbed. High-fibre foods such as wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice can be introduced gradually, so that by the time children are five they are used to a healthy adult diet.
Some ideas to try:
Breakfast cereals (not sugar-coated)
Popcorn or breadsticks
Toast, bagels, bread buns or potato cakes
Fingers of toasted white bread covered with cheese spread
More substantial meals
Baked potatoes with baked beans and cheese
Pasta with vegetables, meat, fish or cheese sauces
Pitta bread filled with cream cheese, ham or fish
Couscous mixed with peas and flaked fish or cooked minced meat
Noodles or rice mixed with shredded omelette and vegetables
Chapatti with dahl.
Some ideas to try
Top pizza with favourite vegetables or canned pineapple.
Give carrot sticks, slices of pepper and peeled apple for snacks.
Mix chopped or mashed vegetables with rice, mashed potatoes, meat sauces or dahl.
Mix fruit, whether fresh, canned or stewed, with yoghurt or fromage frais for a tasty dessert.
Chop prunes or dried apricots into cereal or yoghurt, or add to a stew.
For more ideas and recipes, ask your local health promotion unit for a copy of the leaflet, Enjoy fruit and veg.
Other leaflets may be available in Northern Ireland.
Meat, fish and alternatives
Protein is needed by young children to grow and develop. Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, pulses (beans, lentils and peas), foods made from pulses (tofu, hummus, soya mince, etc.) and Quorn are excellent sources of protein, so give at least one portion from this group each day. Meat and fish also contain zinc, which is important for healing wounds and making many of the bodys processes function properly. Zinc can be in short supply in toddlers diets.
If you are bringing up your child on a diet without meat (vegetarian) or without any food from an animal (vegan), two portions of vegetable proteins or nuts daily will ensure enough protein. Whole nuts should not be given to children under five years of age, as there is a risk of choking. Grind nuts finely or use smooth nut butter.
Is your child a vegetarian?
There are different types of vegetarians. Vegans eat no food which comes from animals. Lacto-vegetarians eat milk and milk products, and lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat milk, milk products and eggs.
If your child has a vegetarian or vegan diet, take care to provide enough energy, protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. The principles of weaning for the first six months are the same for vegetarian babies as for non-vegetarians. However, as your child gets older, the iron and energy content of such a diet may be low and the fibre content high. To ensure that all of your childs nutritional needs are met, smaller and more frequent main meals, with one or two snacks in between, are best. Vitamin drops are especially important up to five years of age.
A vegan diet may be very bulky, consisting mainly of fruits, vegetables and beans. Young children may have difficulty in eating enough food to provide the energy and nutrients they need for growth and so may become malnourished. Vegan diets are not therefore recommended for young babies. If your child does have a vegan diet, you need to take extra care to ensure he or she has enough of the following nutrients and enough energy. It is also advisable to consult a dietitian or doctor before starting weaning.
Energy starchy foods. These need to be eaten in moderation. For extra energy, add vegetable oils or vegetarian fat spreads to foods. Smooth nut or seed butters can also be used, but you will have to avoid some of these products (e.g. peanut butter, tahini paste*, etc.) if there is a risk of your child being allergic to them.
Protein pulses, foods made from pulses, Quorn, but continue with soya-based infant formula until your child is two years of age to ensure she or he has enough protein.
Iron see Getting enough iron.
Calcium soya mince, soya drink that has been fortified with calcium, tahini paste*, tofu and tempeh.
Vitamin B12 fortified breakfast cereals, some yeast extracts. A supplement of B12 may be needed.
Vitamin D - Fortified fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals, salmon, sardines, taramosolata, herring
* Tahini paste is made from sesame seeds, and these may cause an allergic reaction in a small number of children.
For more information on vegetarian diets, contact: The Vegetarian Society, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 4QG, Tel: 0161 928 0793.
Getting enough iron
Iron is essential for your childs health. A lack of iron can lead to anaemia, which can hold back your childs physical and mental development. Children who are on restricted diets or poor eaters are most at risk. Iron comes in two forms. One is found in foods from animal sources (especially meat), which is easily absorbed by the body. The other is found in plant foods, which is not quite so easy for the body to absorb. If you can, try to give your child a portion of meat or fish every day. Also try to give them kidney or liver once a week.
Even a small portion of meat or fish is useful because it also helps the body to absorb iron from other food sources. If your child doesnt eat meat or fish, make sure that he or she regularly eats plenty of iron-rich alternatives (Examples of such alternatives are shown in the list below).
Its also a good idea to give food or drink that is high in vitamin C at mealtimes, as it helps the absorption of iron from non-meat sources. Dont serve tea or coffee as they can reduce the rate at which the body absorbs iron.
Good sources of iron - plant sources
Fortified breakfast cereals
Dark green vegetables
Beans and lentils
Dried fruit (apricots, figs, prunes)
Good sources of iron - animal sources
Lean beef, lamb or pork
Liver pt, liver or kidney
Chicken or turkey
Canned sardines, pilchards, mackerel or tuna
Fat, sugar and salt
Foods containing fat and sugar are the fifth main food group.
Young children, especially the under twos, need the concentrated energy provided by fat in their diet. That is why foods such as full-fat milk, yoghurt, cheese, and oily fish are so important. Between the ages of two and five you can gradually introduce lower-fat dairy products and cut down on fat in other foods. This way by the time children are five they are eating a healthy low-fat diet like that recommended for adults. Make sure you dont increase the fat in the diet by introducing too many high-fat fast foods, e.g. burgers.
Foods such as crisps, chips, biscuits, cakes and fried foods are also high in fat. However, theyre popular with children and adults alike. They should be limited at all ages to keep your family healthy. Once your child has shown that they are eating foods from the four other main groups, consider the above foods as extras.
As fat is such a concentrated source of energy it is easy to eat too much of it and become overweight. Its a good idea to be aware of the amount of fat contained in foods that are eaten by the whole family and to try to keep it to a minimum. Some ideas for cutting down on fat are shown in the list below.
Try some of these ideas for cutting down fat in family meals (especially saturated fat):-
Grill or bake foods instead of frying.
Skim the fat off meat dishes like mince or curry during cooking.
Buy leaner cuts of meat and lower- fat meat products, such as sausages and burgers showing low-fat labels.
Take the skin off poultry before cooking its the fattiest part.
In stews and casseroles use vegetables or soaked dried beans with just a small amount of meat.
Use lower-fat dairy products, like low-fat spreads and reduced-fat cheeses (e.g. reduced-fat cheddar or edam), rather than full-fat varieties (but not for children under two).
If you use oil for cooking, use as little as possible and choose one that is high in polyunsaturates such as rapeseed, sunflower, soya, corn or olive oil.
Most young children enjoy sweet foods such as biscuits, cakes, sweets, chocolates and sweet drinks. A small amount of sugar in foods at mealtimes is OK. However, when teeth are in frequent contact with sugary foods and drinks, they will decay. You can reduce the amount of sugar you give in the following ways:
Reduce the number of foods and drinks you give which taste sweet, whether from sugar or artificial sweeteners, as they encourage a sweet tooth.
Try not to give sweet foods and drinks to your child every day. Keep them for mealtimes and dont use them as a reward.
Fruit and vegetables contain sugar, but in a form that doesnt damage teeth. However, the sugar in dried fruit and fruit juice can cause decay if consumed frequently.
Encourage your children to choose breakfast cereals that arent sugar coated.
Beware of other forms of sugars on labels sucrose, glucose, honey, dextrose, maltose syrup, or concentrated fruit juice.
Even if diet forms of desserts do not contain these sugars, they are too low in fat for a young child.
Do not add sugar to milk.
Jaggery can cause the same damage to teeth as sugar. Limit foods containing this, e.g. Indian sweetmeats.
There is no need to add salt (sodium chloride) to your childs food because there is enough naturally present in foods. Too much salt can lead to a liking for salty foods and contribute towards high blood pressure in later life. The whole family will benefit if you gradually reduce the amount of salt in your cooking. Keep salt off the table and limit the amount of salty foods (crisps, savoury snacks, Bombay mix, bacon, ham and other salted meats) your child has.