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Raising healthy toddlers: The nutrients they need and how to ensure they get them

Javeria Adenwalla

Javeria Adenwalla

Javeria is a writer, a yogi and an absolute lover of life. She reports live from the trenches of motherhood, stepping on metaphoric landmines, and sharing her experiences with unwavering optimism as she raises her three musketeers. Whenever life throws her off balance, she swivels back to zen mode with the power of yoga. When she’s not busy mastering the art of parenting,...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 7 mins read
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It’s no secret that we all strive to raise our children into strong, healthy individuals. It can be challenging keeping up with their needs, from keeping them fed and clothed to making sure they don’t swallow anything too dangerous. But let’s face it, in the hopes of becoming the best parent to them, we may lose sight of what our little ones really need, which might not be what they want. And unfortunately, one of the things they might need, and most often not want, is proper nutrition.

Despite our best intentions, we may unknowingly contribute to our toddlers’ nutrient deficiencies by not providing a balanced and varied diet or by relying too heavily on processed foods. We get so caught up in pleasing the picky eaters that we forget they need more variety in their diet. It is easy to succumb to quick and convenient meals, especially when juggling the physical and mental demands of parenting. But what our children eat, or don’t eat, can have long-term effects on their overall health.

Unfortunately, nutrient deficiencies are all too common, and they can have a big impact on our kids’ health and development. So, what is the most common nutrient deficiency in toddlers? Let’s take a look.

Most common deficiency in toddlers

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most common nutrient deficiencies in Australian toddlers (aged 1-3 years) are:

1. Iron

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in toddlers in Australia. It can lead to anemia, which can slow down their growth and development. Without enough iron, toddlers may experience fatigue, weakness, and not to scare you further but even developmental delays.  Luckily, there are plenty of iron-rich foods to choose from like red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, and leafy green vegetables.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is pretty common in toddlers who don’t get enough sunlight exposure. Back in the day, we used to spend more time outside and soak up all those natural rays. But these days, with our busy schedules and concerns about sun exposure, our little ones may not be getting as much sun time as they need.

Here’s the deal, Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and overall health, and our bodies actually produce it in response to sunlight. So, it’s important to make sure our toddlers are getting enough of this vital nutrient. You can find it in fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy products, but a little bit of sunshine never hurts either. Just make sure to use proper sun protection and limit their time in direct sunlight to avoid any harmful effects.

3. Calcium

Calcium is like the building block for strong bones and teeth in our little ones. But here’s the thing, with the rise of alternative milk options and dietary restrictions, some toddlers may not be getting enough calcium in their diets. Calcium-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, fortified foods, and of course, dairy products are the best way to ensure adequate calcium intake.

If you’re concerned about your toddler’s calcium intake, it’s always a good idea to check in with your pediatrician for advice.

4. Iodine

Iodine is a pretty important nutrient for our little ones’ thyroid function and brain development which is something we should keep in mind when planning our family’s meals. Iodized salt is an easy and convenient way to get iodine into our little one’s diet, but we can also find it in seafood and dairy products. It’s important to note that not all salt is iodized, so make sure to read the labels carefully. And if your family doesn’t eat seafood or dairy, you can always talk to your pediatrician about other ways to get iodine in your little one’s diet.

4 simple steps to ensure your child gets the nutrients they need for a healthy life

As a parent, it can be overwhelming to think about all the nutrients our kids need to be healthy. But there are some simple steps we can take to make sure they’re getting what they need.

  1. Offer a variety of foods. Toddlers may be picky, but offering a variety of foods can help ensure they’re getting a range of nutrients.
  1. Include iron-rich foods. Good sources of iron include red meat, beans, and leafy greens. If your child is a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure they’re getting enough iron from plant sources or supplements.
  1. Get outside. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, so make sure your child is spending time outdoors. If your child isn’t getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, talk to your pediatrician about a supplement.
  1. Consider a multivitamin. While it’s best to get nutrients from food, a multivitamin can help fill in any gaps in your child’s diet. Just make sure to choose a children’s multivitamin that doesn’t contain too much of any one nutrient.

It might surprise you to know that deficiencies in kids begin as early as the infant stage.

A study group led by the Medical Journal of Australia found that the most common nutritional deficiency is vitamin D deficiency. Breast milk is a great source of nutrients for babies, but it doesn’t contain enough vitamin D to meet their needs. Vitamin D is important for bone health and immune function, so it’s important to make sure your baby is getting enough. One way to do this is by giving them a vitamin D supplement.

Iron deficiency is actually pretty common in toddlers and we should keep an eye out for it. Here are some of the signs of iron deficiency in a toddler:

  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability

And let’s be real, our little ones can be pretty irritable on a regular basis, so it can be tough to tell if something else is going on. As parents and caregivers, it’s important to be proactive when it comes to our little one’s health by keeping an eye out for these signs and talking to our pediatrician if we have any concerns.

Tricks to sneak fruits and veggies into your toddler’s diet

Did you know that besides iron deficiency, another big issue in early childhood nutrition is not getting enough fruits and veggies? It’s super common for toddlers to be picky eaters and say no to these important sources of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, so finding ways to sneak these foods into their meals can be a great idea.

As a parent, it can be frustrating to try to get your child to eat their greens, but there are some tricks you can try, such as:

  • Pureeing vegetables and adding them as sauces.
  • Making smoothies with fruits and veggies.

Let me tell you a secret. My own child is the pickiest eater you’ll ever meet. I’ve tried everything from bribing him with dessert to hiding veggies in his food like a ninja. But you know what they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. Here are a couple of the things I’ve tried over time, and landed success with so sharing here as they might come in handy:

  • I’ll often mix new foods with foods he already likes.
  • I’ll let him help me cook or prepare the food, which makes him more interested in trying it.
  • Make a plate of similar food for me, eat and then offer him to have a similar plate of his own with the same food.
  • Put a sticker of his favourite character, which happens to be Blippi, on fruits and vegetables I would like him to try.
  • I’ll tell him what superpower is going to be unleashed by eating a particular food. It’s hit-and-miss but totally worth it whenever it works.

We are still a work in progress but, remember, every new tactic you add to your arsenal is like adding a secret ingredient to your recipe for success.

You may not have cooked up the perfect solution yet, but as long as you’re keeping an open mind and experimenting with new approaches, you’re sure to create a feast fit for even the pickiest of eaters. So don’t throw in the towel just yet – keep spicing things up and your persistence will pay off in the end.

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