Registered dietician and nutritionist gives her advice.
I am keen to get us eating as a family more. Please could you give me some ideas for family meals that the kids will like and that are good for them?
Fiona Hinton is a registered dietician and nutritionist. With a Master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics and over 15 years of professional experience, Fiona’s expertise covers all aspects of nutrition – from general healthy eating and what (and what not) to feed your toddler, through to medical issues such as lowering cholesterol.
Q. What’s a balanced diet for a toddler?
Eating a balanced diet for a toddler simply means eating appropriate amounts from each food group including fruits and vegetables; breads, other cereals and potatoes; milk and dairy foods; and meat, fish and alternatives.
This ensures that their diet contains all the required nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and protein, their bodies need. This is especially important for young children as they rely on these nutrients to grow and develop properly.
Keeping the diet balanced also means generally choosing foods that are lower in sugar and salt, so eating boiled or baked potatoes rather than salted chips, for example, and choosing breakfast cereals that do not contain a lot of added sugar.
It’s important to note that toddlers cannot cope with a lot of high-fibre grain foods such as wholegrain bread and brown rice. Because these foods are bulkier, they can make young children too full to allow room for other foods their bodies need.
While some 2-year-olds will eat larger portions than others, here is a guide to how often you should offer each food group:
Breads; other cereals such as rice, pasta and cous cous; and potatoes – offer these at each meal and also for some snacks
*Fruits and vegetables – aim to offer five types each day, including them at each meal
*Milk and other dairy foods, such as cheese and yoghurt – serve about three times a day.
*Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and alternatives (such as nuts*, peanut butter*, lentils, beans and tofu) – offer once or twice a day for children who eat meat, fish and poultry, twice or three times for children eating just eggs and/or vegetarian protein sources.
Because toddlers have little stomachs, they often cannot eat enough at mealtimes to take in all the calories and nutrients they need. However, offering a healthy snack rom the food groups listed offers an opportunity to top up energy and nutrient levels.
*Note that children under the age of five should not be offered whole nuts, and that these foods may not be suitable in cases where allergy is a concern.
Q. My 2 year old needs to eat a gluten-free diet. Please can you suggest some recipes?
Whether due to celiac disease or another food intolerance, a medical recommendation to follow a gluten free diet can be stressful for all the family. Because the grains that contain gluten include wheat, rye and barley, the main group of foods affected are the breads and cereal foods such as pasta, couscous and crackers.
Do be aware that many other processed foods, from sausages to soy sauce to soups, also frequently contain gluten – it’s imperative to check labels. Some people also react to oats, and they frequently contain gluten that’s come from other sources.
Rather than focussing on foods that can’t be eaten, look at building meals around the many that can, including rice, potatoes, quinoa and polenta. In addition, there are many gluten-free alternatives to foods such as breads, bread rolls and pastas available at supermarkets and health shops (and on prescription for those with a medical diagnosis of celiac disease). Thus, you can usually make your usual recipes just substituting other options for ingredients that contain gluten.
For example, you could serve:
*Gluten-free sausages with quinoa and roasted vegetables
*Roast chicken, roast potatoes and vegetables – use pure cornflour or another gluten-free flour to thicken gravy
*Gluten-free pasta with bolognaise sauce
*Lentil soup with a gluten-free bread roll
*Baked potato with tuna mayonnaise and salad – check that the mayonnaise is gluten-free
Q. I am keen to get us eating as a family more. Please could you give me some ideas for family meals that the kids will like and that are good for them?
The first step is to check what meals your children would like – you may get ‘takeaway food’ answers like burgers and pizza, but these can easily and healthily be made at home. In fact, pizza is an ideal food for children to get involved in cooking – even young children can help build their own meal given burger and bun or pizza base with a variety of toppings (including vegetables, such as sliced tomato, strips of peppers, or mushrooms). If children have chosen, and especially if they help make, their meals, they’re much more likely to want to eat them. Other simple and appealing options include:
*Pasta sauces with hidden vegetables blitzed into them – make enough for several meals and store it in the freezer
*Chinese fried rice packed with lots of colourful vegetables and seasoned withreduced-salt soya sauce
DIY wraps with lots of toppings put out on the dinner table, or make them up yourself on sunny days and take them out to the garden for an impromptu picnic.
Combine several colours of vegetable with a starchy food from the bread, other cereals and potato food group and a protein-rich food from the meat, fish, eggs and alternatives food group to make a balanced meal.
So you could try a baked potato with baked beans (look for reduced salt and sugar types) with cherry tomatoes and cucumber wheels on the side, home-made chicken nuggets with chunky homemade potato wedges, frozen peas and frozen corn, or a high quality sausage smile with curly pasta hair, carrot nose and courgette eyes.
Often raw vegetables are more popular than cooked, so bowls of chopped peppers, cucumber wheels, carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes can simply be placed on the table as finger foods. If you have a few extra minutes to make food into a face on the plate for younger children, the vegetables will disappear twice as fast.