If you ask a toddler what a “superfood” is, you might end up hearing a lot about macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, chocolate milk, pizza, and pasta. Just like babies, however, toddlers need a healthy and varied diet to fuel their development and keep their energy levels up. Also, while there’s no doubt it can be challenging to introduce a toddler to new foods, this is the age to expose young children to varied flavors and textures and set them on a course for a lifetime of healthy eating.
The following food and food categories are the real superfoods—these nutrient-dense foods can help form the foundation of a healthy diet. Ideally, most experts prefer that toddlers and young children get all their nutrition from food rather than taking supplements, so this list is a good place to start.
- Fruit—Look for brightly colored fruits like grapes, apples, and even mango. The color pigments in fruit are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants that have multiple health benefits, while the fiber in fruit is a critical part of a healthy diet. Smoothies or 100 percent fruit juice can also provide good daily nutrition. Newer, trendy fruits like acai berry have gotten attention for their health virtues, but the truth is that any brightly colored, fresh berries and fruits are loaded with good stuff (don’t forget the blueberries!).
- Vegetables—One of the most common complaints among parents of toddlers is the difficulty in getting their toddler to eat veggies. As with fruit, brightly colored vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Sweet potatoes, spinach (raw or cooked), leafy greens, and broccoli are all healthy, nutrient-dense foods. You can even add them to smoothies. In general, you might have to offer a food over and over for months before your toddler will eat it, but it’s worth the extra effort.
- Grains—Not all grains are considered equal. Processed and “white” grains have less fiber and nutritional value than whole grains. Look for ways to incorporate whole grains, including whole wheat and brown rice, into your toddler’s diet. Quinoa, while a seed, is a very healthy snack, packed with nutrition and used much like a grain.
- Protein—Chicken and ground turkey are your best bet for healthy sources of protein. You can use chicken or ground turkey to replace red meat in many recipes, such as spaghetti sauce, chili or meatloaf. Seafood is also a good source of protein as well as healthy omega-3 fatty acids for brain and immune system development. Beans (kidney, pinto, or lentils) are also great sources of protein.
- Dairy—Toddlers need their dairy. Kids who eat little or no dairy products may become calcium deficient, which is important for bone growth and development. Good sources of calcium include low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt and cheeses.
Don’t overlook snack time as a great way to make healthy food available. Leave healthy fruits sitting out, within easy reach, or keep a “snack drawer” with healthy snacks. The key to getting your toddler eating well is to continuously offer healthy foods, model healthy eating yourself, and allow your toddler to experiment and experience different foods.
- Try brightly colored fruits and vegetables, by themselves or in smoothies, to help your child taste new foods.
- Quinoa, whole wheat, and brown rice are good sources of whole grains.
- Chicken and ground turkey are great protein substitutes for red meat.