For tykes, oatmeal brings a whole host of benefits to the table. Oatmeal packs plenty of heart-friendly soluble fiber, protein, key nutrients, complex carbohydrates and antioxidants. Plus, this easy-to-prep food offers a convenient choice for parents. The cereal aisle overflows with choices for toddlers, and there is no definitive “best” oatmeal brand. However, you can keep an eye out for qualities that separate some types of oatmeal from the pack.
What to Look For
To spot the best oatmeal for your tot, check the ingredients first. The first ingredient on the list should always be whole grains. Ideally, any oatmeal you serve to a toddler should contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, according to registered dietitian Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD, of the website Raise Healthy Eaters. For the record, 16 grams equals one whole serving of oatmeal.
What to Avoid
If you choose instant oatmeal, watch out for added sugar. Jacobsen recommends 10 grams or less of sugar per serving of oats. Steer clear of artificial colors and preservatives, which add no nutritional value to the meal. Preservatives such as the common sodium benzoate may lead to hyperactivity and easily distractible behavior in your little one, according to a 2007 study appearing in the British medical journal "The Lancet" and reported by "Time" magazine.
To make healthy oatmeal even better for your toddler, spice it up with some nutritious additions. Fresh or dried fruit bits provide additional energy, nutrients and taste appeal in the morning. Try blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, dates, pear slices or apple slices. Limit slices to about a half-inch long and wide, and monitor your toddler as she eats to prevent choking.
Although you know what's best for them, oatmeal can sometimes be a hard sell for toddlers. If adding her favorite fruit doesn't do the trick, experiment with different consistencies -- some toddlers don't like an overly mushy texture. Set a good example by enjoying a serving of oatmeal alongside your child, or try serving it in a special bowl. Baked oatmeal also serves as an ideal snack for toddlers, especially the picky ones or those who like the independent feeling of chowing on finger foods. Mix 3 1/3 cups of fat-free milk, two eggs, 2 cups of oats, 1/3 cup of sugar and your choice of dried fruit pieces and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes for a healthy, bite-sized treat.