I have found nutrition for children of all ages fascinating, even before kids were on my radar.

Nutrition is one way we can possibly alter the course of our genetic predisposition—maybe even prevent a condition—and hopefully have a great impact on our wellness and that of others. Life is full of uncertainties, especially when it comes to our health, but we normally have control over what we eat. So now that I am a mom, I see even more the significance of setting a good example and nourishing this little person as best I can. It’s both a gift and a huge responsibility.

“This may sound intense…”

When you think of a toddler bouncing around 24/7, just getting them to sit to eat a meal is a feat in itself. But in reality, the habits we form as children influence who we become as young adults and beyond. So I decided my goals as a mom, as far as nutrition goes, are to create a healthy relationship with food for my daughter, provide her with the best possible nutrition (most of the time), make meals about family, and never turn mealtime into a battle.

“To be honest…”

Life is just too short to waste precious time. Are we perfect? No. Life is unpredictable, so I’ve surrendered the idea of perfection, especially with a rambunctious toddler at home. However, I am happy to say that I think we are accomplishing our goals, with tweaks along the way of course, as we approach her two years of life. Is it hard? Yes and not really. First, yes, it is extremely difficult because just like everyone’s, our lives are busy and hurried. But it also isn’t hard because enjoying nutritious foods comes naturally to my husband and me, and our daughter has learned the same. We enjoy cooking and eating whole, real food. However, it is all about priorities and we are committed to this one.

“Where to start…”

So how do you provide the right foods for your toddler or preschooler? It all begins at home. I recently heard a news report that children receive more nutritious meals while at daycare rather than at home. This was eye opening for me and I realized how important it is to talk about nutrition for toddlers since I have the firsthand experience of the struggle and joy. I marvel in amazement at this stage of growth, development, and discovery. Kids make us see the world from new perspectives and with fresh eyes.

So herein lies the opportunity to have them learn nutrition. Expose kids to all types of foods, colors, and textures. My daughter Anjolie eats everything from lentils to steel cut oats. She will choose blueberries or garbanzo beans over any candy. From the start, I made an effort to train her palate and make food fun, and as a result she has developed an appreciation for a variety of real, fresh foods.  

Here are 10 tips to get your toddler (and the whole family) eating healthy:

  1. Be a role model. Set a good example of healthy eating and being physically active. If your kids are like mine, they will want what you have on your plate, so make mindful choices for yourself.
  2. Make mealtime family time, talk and eat together, and avoid other distractions while eating.
  3. Offer a variety of healthy foods and let the child be part of the decision-making process and even the prep if possible.
  4. Practice patience and continue to introduce foods that are initially rejected. New foods and tastes just take time to get accustomed to.
  5. Be consistent with meals and snacks, especially with timing and location.
  6. Allow kids to follow their hunger and fullness cues and not ignore what their body is telling them. Try not to force them to eat what you want, as it can lead to bad relationships with food and may cause weight issues in the future. Try to stray away from the “clean your plate” mentality or even overrestriction of calories. Infants and toddlers are really good at regulating energy intake, and there is a tendency for environmental cues to diminish natural hunger-driven eating behaviors. So trust your kids.
  7. Avoid excessive liquid calories, especially juice. Offer water and reduced fat milk options.
  8. Encourage physical activity and an overall active lifestyle, while limiting screen time.
  9. Plan ahead to avoid derailing from a healthy diet. For instance, prepare the night before to combat a rushed morning to daycare, school, and work. (Check out my latest selfie video this month as I share what our “night before prep” at home looks like.) 
  10. Finally, here is guide to help you with food groups and servings per day for your little ones. Keep in mind a toddler two to three years of age does not need the same of amount of calories as you or I. They need only about 1,000 to 1,200 calories, so keep the portions in check.

 Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information