From a nutrition point of view, I believe that meal planning for your children is essential.
Little ones have unique nutritional requirements. They’re not just mini adults, and yet not all parents I meet plan out what food they are going to offer to their children.
Children need to achieve 40 different nutrients every single day, and yet they can refuse foods, poke and prod and generally fuss, sometimes skipping entire meals altogether.
And as a result, It’s very easy to slip into making the same meals and snacks on repeat. But this means that nutrients are limited, and their health can begin to suffer.
Some say that meal planning is a boring task (to be honest, it’s one of my least favourite jobs) but honestly….it’s easy when you follow a few simple steps.
I’m not going to go into exactly how to meal plan as I’ve already done that in this blog here.
This blog is to take that effort away for you. I’ve got a done-for-you 7-day meal plan for you at the end.
But first of all, let’s review what one year olds actually need.
What should my baby eat now they’re one?
Isn’t it frustrating that weaning books stop at 1 year, and yet now is the time when you need information the most?
Knowing the balance of foods your little one should be eating to get their nutrients can be complicated.
There are actually 40 different nutrients children need to get from their diet each and every day.
But to keep it simple, we can divide foods into 4 main food groups and aim for a certain number of portions of each .
These 4 groups are protein foods, starchy carbohydrate foods, fruits and vegetables, and dairy foods.
5 portions a day of starchy carbohydrate foods. This food group provides energy to the body and fuels growth. It includes bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, grains such as oats, and breakfast cereals.
5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Like adults, children should have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, including frozen, tinned, dried, and fresh variations. For this group, remember a serving is tiny, about what fits in the palm of your little one’s hand.
At least 2 portions a day of protein rich foods. Protein foods are essential for growth and so are especially important in children. This group includes meat and fish, beans, eggs, pulses, and nuts.
3 portions of dairy food per day. This group includes milk, yoghurt, milky desserts and cheese. Children should have whole or full-fat versions of these products. This group also happens to be a source of protein and contains calcium, which is needed for bone health.
Variety is key for meals for one year olds
For children, it is important to offer a wide range of foods to ensure that their diets can be nutritionally diverse and as varied as possible.
I recommend eating different meals and snacks every day and trying new foods at least once a week to prevent children from liking only a small range of foods.
But what if they don’t eat it?
Toddlers’ appetites vary enormously. One day they’ll eat well, the next not so much. They can fluctuate throughout the day too. Often it’s down to activity levels.
My suggestion is to offer the above. Make offering the food your aim, and don’t get too hung up on how much they’ve actually eaten.
My specialist area is helping parents of toddlers navigate the fussy eating phase. If you’d like to know more about how we can work together, you’re welcome to take a look at the Happy Healthy Eaters Club here.
Nutrition can be a complicated concept to get your head around, and there are so many vital nutrients in the diet. To keep things simple, there are 5 key nutrients I suggest focusing on in toddlers: iron, calcium, vitamin D, omega 3 and fibre.
This is because children are growing so have high demands for these nutrients, so I suggest thinking about these when planning the food groups discussed above.
Iron is needed for healthy blood, brain development and growth. It can be found in animal foods such as meat and fish (haem iron) and non-meat foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and pulses and fortified cereals (non-haem iron). Non-haem iron should be paired with vitamin C to help absorption, e.g. oranges, peppers or strawberries.
Calcium is needed to build strong bones and teeth. It can be found in fish where you eat the bones, green vegetables such as broccoli, dairy products and fortified plant milk.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, and so it is also important for healthy bones. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, so it is recommended that a 10ug supplement is taken by children.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning the body cannot make it, so we need to get it from our food. It is necessary for brain and eye development and for heart health. It can be found in foods including oily fish like salmon, walnuts, rapeseed oil and tofu.
Fibre is the parts of food that cannot be digested and is important for healthy digestion. Foods high in fibre include fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grain carbohydrates e.g. brown pasta and bread.
What about sugary and salty foods?
Under 2’s shouldn’t have foods that are very sweet. That means avoiding sugary drinks and foods with added sugar such as sweets, chocolate, biscuits and cakes.
Sugar isn’t actually bad for children, if it’s only a small amount. The problems come when they have too much sugar.
Nevertheless, because children have a naturally high desire for sweet foods, they’ll have a preference for these, rejecting many others. So keeping sweet foods to a sensible limit allows room for more nutritious but less sweet alternatives like meat and vegetables.
Likewise, it’s best to keep salty foods to a minimum as well. At age one, their nutritional requirement is only 1g per day and increases to just 2g of salt at age 2.
When cooking for your toddler, it’s best not to add salt to their food, as most foods already contain some salt. Adding salt can make your child have a preference for saltier foods and end up exceeding their requirements.
This can lead to medical conditions such as high blood pressure in later life . Instead, try using herbs and spices to add flavour to your toddler’s food.
How often should your one year old eat?
At the age of one, the main source of nutrition is solid food and not milk. Therefore, it is important to offer lots of opportunities for eating.
However, we don’t want children to develop a preference for grazing. And so, an ‘appetite schedule’ can really help them learn to understand their hunger and fullness cues.
Healthy drinks for toddlers
As a general rule, aim for 6-8 cups or beakers of fluid per day in children .
Water is best.
Smoothies or fruit juices should be limited to 150ml or less and just offered once per day as these have high levels of acids and free sugars in them, which is damaging for teeth.
I would also recommend avoiding squashes under 2 for the same reason as reducing sugary foods – they encourage a preference for sweet things. And definitely no fizzy drinks either.
Due to the caffeine in tea, coffee and hot chocolate, these are not suitable for young children either.
Is my toddler drinking too much milk?
First of all, let’s talk about toddler milks and follow-on formulas. These are absolutely not essential for children. But, as they contain added vitamins and minerals, (and whole cows milk does not) they could be a useful source of nutrients, particularly if you have a picky eater.
However, they should never be given from a bottle. A free flow or open cup is ideal.
If you are breastfeeding, then it’s brilliant if you can continue till your toddler turns 2 .
Standard full fat whole cow’s milk is also fine. Remember, this doesn’t have any vitamins and minerals added, so it’s important your little one gets their supplement in addition. Avoid semi-skimmed or skimmed milk till they’re older and eating a balanced, varied diet.
Still, it’s important to remember that whatever kind of milk you offer your child, be it breastmilk, formula or cow’s milk, it should all be limited to around 300-400ml per day from 12 months.
If your little one is allowed to drink milk without restriction, it can fill them up, putting them off of their meals and it can also affect how some other nutrition is used by the body .
Toddler Portion sizes
Just like babies, all toddlers are different, and their appetite will vary day to day, and even between one meal and the next. It’s not unusual for toddlers to skip meals entirely!
Because of this, exact portion sizes can be difficult to recommend. If your child is growing well, gaining weight, and regularly going to the toilet, they are likely just fine. Also, remember that toddlers portion sizes are smaller than what they ate as babies!
Despite these lovely words of reassurance, the number one question mums come to me with is “how can I tell whether my toddler is eating enough?” and so I have produced some ‘average’ portion size guides which are available to purchase in my shop for £9.99.
How do I know if my toddler is eating enough?
As all toddlers’ appetites are different, it can be hard to tell if your little one is eating enough. The best way to tell is to monitor your child’s growth. If they are gaining weight and height at an appropriate rate, chances are they are eating enough but not too much.
Why is my toddler not eating dinner?
Dinner is often the worst meal of the day for toddlers and it’s linked to tiredness. Often dinner is not long till bedtime and they just don’t have the energy to eat complicated food.
This is why finger food meals are often better received by toddlers than food that requires cutlery. Using cutlery is a skill, and often toddlers just don’t have the energy.
Also from a developmental perspective, dinner foods are perceived as boring, and so toddlers have less interest in them and less incentive to eat them.
They aren’t going to sit at the table for long, eating does not hold the same pleasurable social experience it does for us. Allow 10-15 minutes and then they’re done.
Here is my sample 7 day meal plan for 1 year olds with links to recipes
To bust through the overwhelm (it’s not easy to get this right), here is a list of snacks and meals for one year olds:
Breakfast ideas for one year olds
Monday: Low sugar cereal (eg. oats, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix, Puffed Wheat) with strawberries
Tuesday: Berry baked oats
Wednesday: Veggie Breakfast bake with a slice of toast and glass of milk
Thursday: English Pizza Muffin with a glass of milk
Friday: Scrambled egg and feta hash
Saturday: Smart beans on toast
Sunday: Greek Yoghurt fruit cups with wholemeal toast fingers
Lunch ideas for 1 year olds
Monday: Pea and Potato Frittata
Tuesday: Pizza Omelette
Wednesday: Moroccan Spiced Couscous
Thursday: Hummus rainbow wraps
Friday: Tuna pasta bake
Saturday: Sweet potato falafel wrap
Dinner ideas for one year olds
Monday: Crispy Salmon Tacos
Tuesday: Lamb and chickpea kebabs with pitta and veggies
Wednesday: Spring chicken pot pie with mashed potato and vegetables
Thursday: Chicken Parmigiana with mashed potato and broccoli
Saturday: Veggie Lasagne
Sunday: Cottage pie
Snacks ideas for one year olds
Wednesday: 1 – Yoghurt, apple slices and biscuit. 2 – Rice cake with cashew nut butter and banana
Thursday: 1 – Yoghurt and fruit. 2 – Mashed avocado with tortilla chips and carrot sticks
Friday: 1 – Blueberry and banana smoothie. 2- Scone with chopped strawberries
Saturday: 1 – Crackers, cheese and grapes. 2 – Boiled egg, cherry tomatoes and a glass of milk
Sunday: 1 – Cheese and cherry tomato kebabs. 2- Crackers with avocado and cream cheese
If you have enjoyed this blog and want to learn more about nutrition for toddlers then check out my Happy Healthy Eaters Club, where you’ll learn all the skills you need to raise a happy healthy eater, with no more fussy eating, food refusal and wasted veg!
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