Friday, December 14, 2012

A Toddler's Nutrient Needs

Interested in nutrition for your growing infant or toddler?  Check out my other nutrition posts here!
 The other day my husband commented, "You've gone dip crazy!"  And, it's true. I make us 1-3 different kinds of dips each week. But, we love eating them, and they are healthy. At least, I have been assuming they were healthy. I realized I hadn't done much research into toddler nutrition in quite awhile.  So, for this Science Friday, I will explore what the nutrient needs of a toddler are, especially working to find out what drives each of these nutrient needs. I did quite a bit of Internet research and discovered that there is not too much information on toddler nutrition, especially for nursing toddlers. In fact, most sources that focus on feeding children ages 1-5 do not mention nursing, despite the fact that the World Health Organization recommends that children continue breastfeeding until at least 2 years old.
    It is true that the USDA has a MyPlate Food Guide for children, and it's also true this guide does not mention breastfeeding.  Additionally, this guide places a pretty high emphasis on a diet rich in grains and dairy products derived from cows' milk. While no one in our family suffers from any wheat or dairy intolerance, we have seen and felt rather dramatic changes by limiting these products. So, I'm a little hesitant to use this as my only guide. The guide I found most helpful in determining a healthful diet for a toddler is published by the World Health Organization and is available here

Here's a rundown of the five most important nutrient needs of a breastfeeding toddler (of course, there are many more nutrients a growing child needs, but these seem to be most important for growth AND are those in which a toddler is most likely deficient):
  1. Protein, about 16g/day:  This is more protein per pound of body weight than an adult requires!  In addition to aiding with all of the growth a toddler is doing, protein helps a toddler maintain muscular strength, maintain health of ligaments, joints, and tendons, and helps maintain immunity by carrying oxygen throughout the blood stream.  Additionally, protein helps maintain brain cells to help with all of the learning that a toddler is doing!  Found in animal products like meat, eggs, and legumes.
  2. Fat, 30-45% of calories should be from fat:  Most adults run from fat, but it's very important for growing toddlers!  Fats surround nerve cells in the brain, helping to protect it. Fats also aid in the development of the brain and central nervous system.  Additionally, fats add in the absorption of other essential nutrients.  Found in breastmilk, dairy products, oils.
  3. Iron, 7mg/day: Toddlers are almost entirely reliant on foods other than milk and breastmilk for their iron needs as milk is not a source of iron.  As such, a study in 2007 found that 2.7 million children are iron deficient.  Iron is used to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.  Toddlers with iron deficiencies are at risk for developmental delays, including retarded growth and learning difficulties.  Found in meat (especially liver), legumes.
  4. Vitamin A: Aids in bone growth and vision development. Protects against illness.  Found in colorful fruits and veggies- carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, spinach, etc. 
  5. Vitamin D: While most people believe that they get enough vitamin D from the sun, new studies are questioning this assumption.  Children especially need vitamin D to help absorb calcium to help build strong bones and teeth.  Found in fish, eggs, and fortified foods.  (Given that we eat very few fortified foods, this is the nutrient that I find is most difficult to ensure Q-ball gets enough of. As such, vitamin D is the one supplement that I give Q-ball.)

With my new knowledge of toddler nutritional needs, I still believe that my dips are a healthy choice for Q-ball!  Here are some of our favorites recipes with a bonus explanation of their nutritional value from yours truly!  (I guess that's the least I could do as I'm clearly borrowing all of these recipes from others.)
  1. Black bean spinach dip: This is a yummy way to get a toddler to eat spinach, a good source of iron.  It's bean-based, so it provides a decent amount of protein and fiber (which, while not mentioned previously, is typically very important for toddlers.) Another added bonus is the salsa- sources of vitamin C, like tomatoes, aid in the absorption of iron.  And, for those of you who are afraid of spinach, I promise you won't notice it!
  2. Chocolate-chip cookie dough: Yes, you read that correctly! And, yes, it's amazing!  High in protein, and with minimal sugar (I typically use 2-3 T of brown sugar for the whole recipe, but I've used less and added stevia drops instead.) Also, a great source of fiber.  And, if you use dark chocolate chips, you'll get the antioxidants in chocolate. 
  3. Sweet Potato Hummus: This combines two amazing foods.  Chickpeas again provide iron, protein, and fiber.  Sweet potatoes add lots of vitamin A and even more fiber.
  4. Avocado-White Bean Dip: Again bean-based, so good for protein and fiber.  The avocado provides extra healthy fats for your growing toddler.
  5. Carrot-Cashew Miso Spread: I found this recipe in the cookbook Clean Start.  The carrots are a great source of vitamin A, while the cashews provide fats.  The miso provides the benefits that come with all fermented foods- high levels of vitamin B and naturally-occurring probiotics. Miso is also high in fiber and antioxidants.  This is also a great way to introduce what might be the acquired taste of fermented foods to newbies. 

10 nutrients that every child needs. (n.d.) Retrieved from
Coleman, E.(n.d.) Very important nutrients during the toddler stage. Retrieved from
World Health Organization. (2009). Infant and young child feeding. Retrieved from


  1. We love dips, too, but seldom look beyond our favorite - hummus! These sound amazing, and I'm going to have to try some.

    I'm also wondering, now that you mention the actual numbers that go along with toddler fat needs, if toddlers eating mouthfuls of straight butter isn't intuitive eating. Annabelle will grab the butter and take a bite if you're not looking, and I can remember sneaking into the fridge to steal bites as a kid, too!

  2. I tend to think that all eating kids this age do is intuitive. (Well, maybe not all- Q-ball is pretty excited about the chocolate in the Advent calendar, and I'm not sure that's a true need.) The other day someone saw how much Q-ball could eat and said something like, "luckily, she's not overweight or you'd have to start limiting her.." I couldn't imagine denying her food on a regular basis!


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