Feeding Your Littles: Basic Essential Nutrition

Mom’s and Dad’s alike realize that nutrition is important when becoming parents. Babies grow quickly in many ways and the first 3 years of their lives are crucial for brain development.

How can you be sure that the brain develops at it’s best? 

Proper nutrition is key as well as engaging your toddler and allowing him/her to practice his/her skills. From sitting up, to crawling, to his/her first steps, your child is learning and being challenged daily. Once he/she is moving around, he/she begins to realize there are other important things to learn about and begin the world of exploration.

To be sure your baby has what he/she needs to be properly fueled on his/her journey, here are a few tips on what to feed them: 

Nutrition for babies and toddlers is no different than nutrition for adults. The basic concepts are the same. They need the 3 macronutrients and, of course, micronutrients as well.

Let’s start with the macros. 

The best source of food for your baby for their first year of life is breastmilk. It contains all the essential nutrients your baby needs to survive and thrive. If you are unable to provide breastmilk and need to supplement, it is best to start introducing solids as soon as your baby shows signs that he/she is ready. Otherwise, food before one is just for fun! 

1. Protein – Proteins are the amino acids that are the building blocks of our cells. Protein is essential for growth and development, so being sure your babies receive high quality protein sources is crucial.

Some examples of high quality protein are farm fresh eggs, applegate sausages or chicken links and greek yogurt (I prefer Fage and whole milk). It’s best to get these sources from organic, grass-fed farms and it’s even better if you can get them locally.

2. Carbohydrates – These are your baby’s main fuel source and are also essential for growth and development. Complex carbs are the best source as they take longer to digest – and that’s a good thing!

An example of a complex carb is whole grain, such as ezekiel bread, brown rice, quinoa (technically a seed), lentils and beans.

3. Fats – 60% of your brain is composed of fats, so healthy fats should be in a toddler’s everyday meal plan.

Some examples of healthy fats include avocado, coconut oil, whole milk, meats, egg yolk, extra virgin olive oil, flax seed oil, grassfed butter or cream and peanut or almond butter. There are great, easy recipes to make these yourself without all of the extra additives and preservatives as well!

Next we will move on to the essential micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins. Specifically…

1. Iron – Critical for brain development as much as healthy fats. It’s been shown in research that a lack of iron can lead to thought-processing and motor deficiencies. Most pediatricians recommend iron fortified cereals as a baby’s first foods to be sure they are getting enough iron.

If you are like me and see no other nutritional value in cereals though, some good sources of iron rich foods are meat, poultry and fish. Other sources are avocado, baked potato, broccoli, chickpeas, eggs, prunes and spinach.

2. Calcium – Necessary for building strong bones and preventing breaks and fractures, calcium also helps toddlers achieve peak bone mass, which is necessary for building strong bones. Again, pediatricians recommend whole milk at age 1 because it’s filled with calcium. Personally, with the amount of people who are allergic to dairy and don’t know it and the amount of hormones and antibiotics injected into cows these days, I prefer other sources.

Here are some sources that are great for calcium: salmon, broccoli, white beans, tomatoes and oatmeal.

3. Zinc – There are a variety of roles zinc plays in the body, but it’s primary role is to maintain immune function and assure maximum cell growth and repair. It also has a positive effect on cognition and development. If there is a deficiency in zinc in the body, it can cause impaired growth, increase risk of infection or disease and diarrhea.

Good sources of zinc include turkey, beef, fish, eggs, lentils and cheese.

4. Vitamins A, D, E, & K – Vitamins are essential nutrients that the body does not produce on its own, so we need to get them from food or supplementation. Vitamin A improves vision and skin health. Vitamin D increases bone growth and calcium absorption. Vitamin E increases cell growth and helps develop the nervous system. Vitamin K helps regulate normal blood clotting.

Examples of Vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli. Vitamin D is in egg yolk or fish, but you can make this really simple and just be sure your child gets 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight a day. Vitamin E is found in grains and Vitamin K is found in leafy vegetables and fruit.

5. Vitamins B & C – Vitamin C increases iron absorption and helps prevent bruising. Vitamin B increase the immune and nervous system’s effectiveness. It helps maintain healthy muscle and skin tone, promotes cell growth and regulates metabolism.

These can be found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy sources. If your baby is growing well and is getting a wide range of food sources, you don’t have a lot to worry about.

To summarize, a good, balanced meal plan for your growing toddler should include a variety of these foods. A sample day in my 14 month old’s life looks like this (and still includes breastmilk):

Breakfast – Smoothie filled with berries, half a banana, leafy greens, flax seed, chia seed and coconut flakes with almond milk.
Snack – Oatmeal with berries or peanut butter.
Lunch – Turkey sausage, broccoli or peas and fruit.
Snack – Hummus and carrots or cucumbers.
Dinner – Pork, Beef, Chicken or Salmon with beans, asparagus and sweet potatoes.