How to create a balanced diet for toddlers

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Making sure little kids get all the right nutrients, in the right amounts to fuel their growth + development can feel quite scary. But it doesn’t need to be complicated!

By following these simple steps to building a balanced plate, you’ll soon be a pro at giving your toddler variety + nutritionally balanced meals with whatever ingredients you have to hand! To get the balance right, rather than using fancy calculators + spreadsheets, it's much easier to use a simple food group checklist.

Yes chef! Menu planning

Planning meals each week doesn't just save time + money when it comes to shopping (less waste + impulse buys), it also allows you to do a quick check you’re offering the right balance of food groups. Don’t worry too much if one day isn't perfect. That’s life! It's what your little one eats over days and weeks that matters.

Little kids (+ grown-ups), should try to have the following food groups each day:

  • 5 starchy carb foods (rice, bread, potatoes, pasta and grains like oats + quinoa)
  • 5 fruit or veggies in a rainbow of colours
  • 3 portions of dairy foods or dairy free alternatives depending on your toddler’s dietary requirements (milk, yoghurt, cheese, or fortified/no added sugar alternative milks + yoghurts)
  • 2 portions of protein foods or 3 portions if little ones are vegetarian or vegan (meat, fish, pulses like lentils + beans, eggs, soya products like tofu + meat alternatives)

Tick Tock, it’s munch o’clock! Dinner + lunchtime ideas for toddlers

When you plan a meal, try to include a starchy carb, 1 -2 veg or fruit, a dairy food (or alternative), + a protein food. We’ve put together some tasty examples:

  • Tuna pasta bake with sweetcorn + plain yoghurt with chopped berries (1 starchy carb, 2 fruit and veg, 1 protein food + 1 dairy food)
  • Wholemeal pitta bread, hummus, cucumber sticks + quartered cherry tomatoes with a glass of milk or milk alternative (1 starchy carb, 1 protein food, 2 veggies + 1 dairy food)
  • Omelette muffins (made with cheese + spinach), broccoli florets quartered (Claire??), pasta pieces (1 protein food, 1 dairy food, 2 veg + 1 starchy carb)

Rise + Shine Brekkie ideas for toddlers

When it comes to breakfast, it doesn’t always have to contain a protein or a dairy food, so don’t worry (although it can be a great time to include calcium-rich milk or yoghurt or dairy-free alternatives if you wish)! If you’re offering protein and dairy/alternatives at other points during the day your toddler will get the nutrients they need over the course of the day. It’s best to always offer a starchy food and a fruit or veggie portion though. Breakfast is also a great time to offer healthy fats such as nut butter.

Get little taste buds tingling with these ideas:

  • Porridge or overnight oats using your milk of choice with either defrosted frozen berries, grated carrot + cinnamon, or mashed banana and a spoonful of nut butter. Add a dollop of yoghurt for extra dairy (1 starchy food, 1 fruit or veg, 1 dairy)
  • Wholemeal toast with nut butter + sliced banana (1 starchy food, 1 fruit)
  • Scrambled eggs on toast with chopped cherry tomatoes (1 protein food, 1 starchy carb, I veg)

It’s snack time! Tasty Toddler snack ideas

You can chop and change the snacks you offer to suit your day or what you have available. Add in fruit, veg + dairy foods where possible, in line with the above guidelines but don’t stress about being too strict. Try to include starchy carb at snack time too to keep little kids powered and ready to go go go!

Scrummy snack ideas include:

  • Oatcakes or toast with cream cheese or nut butter + a handful of berries
  • Yoghurt with chopped berries or mashed banana
  • Cucumber sticks + hummus or mint yoghurt dip
  • Homemade trail mix made from broken up mini pretzels, rice cakes, dried apricots and raisins

We know balancing toddler meals when you’re busy can be challenging. If you follow our top tips most of the time, you’ll know your toddler is getting all the good stuff + nutrients they need. It’s totally OK to have days when you’re out + about and you don’t manage to tick all the boxes – that's life! Find more tips on portion sizes for hungry toddlers.

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Claire Baseley

Infant nutritionist / Makes Ella's Good