Create a positive atmosphere when it comes to nutrition. Pull up a chair and enjoy the same meal as your toddler.

The Best Toddler Menu

by Ashley K. Alaimo

Children are always excited to try new things. However, when it comes to making meals for your toddler, you may find it difficult to please her ever-changing taste buds. Exposing your child to a variety of different foods is the best way to combat picky eating and introduce healthy choices. Portion control and balance are the key factors in creating a nutritious toddler menu. Educating yourself on choosing the right fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy and grains can help make meal-planning easier. Pair healthy eating with 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and your toddler will continue to grow strong and fast right before your eyes!

1. Breakfast

Breakfast is a fun time for your toddler. She (hopefully) had a good night's sleep and is excited to start her day. Her nutritious breakfast should include 1 ounce of protein food, 1 ounce of grains and a 1/2 cup of dairy. Warm oatmeal, a scrambled egg and a serving of diced soft fruit (such as bananas, cantaloupe or bananas) will give her the right fuel for a day full of play. In addition, top off this yummy meal with a cold 1/2 cup of milk. If she has food allergies, provide an alternative, such as soy milk or a calcium-fortified juice. Since calcium is an important part of child development, try to include it in any way you can.

2. Lunch

The main thing to remember when it comes to toddlers is that they don't need to eat as much as adults, so make sure your toddler's meals are a quarter of what you would normally eat. Sectioned plates are perfect to use for gauging portion-control. For lunch, you should include 1 ounce of protein, 1/4 cup of veggies, 1/2 ounce of grain and 1/2 cup of milk. Keeping this in mind, set out some toddler-sized cubes of meat, cheese, easy-to-chew fruit and veggies with dip. You can serve grains by giving her some crackers, a slice of bread or a pita roll.

3. Dinner

Pull the highchair up next to you at the table -- it's time for dinner! Prepare a meal that your toddler can enjoy alongside the family. Seeing loved ones eat the same things will encourage her to try new experiences. When planning dinner, include 1 ounce of protein, 1/2 cup of veggies, 1/2 cup of dairy and 1/2 ounce of grains. Skip seasonings such as garlic powder and salt on her portions -- this may irritate your toddler's digestive system. If you are having chicken with Alfredo sauce, cut up bits of the chicken before adding it to the dish. You can give her some pieces of whole-grain pasta shells, too. In addition, tender carrots, peas, green beans and potatoes are all nutritious choices. Don't forget that 1/2 glass of milk!

4. Snacks

Snacks should be as nutritious as your toddler's daily meals, not sugary pick-me-ups. A good thing to remember is that snacks should be treated as smaller meals (mid-morning and afternoon.) Finger foods are an ideal choice for snacking, and using her fingers will help develop fine motor skills. Give her some pieces of turkey, cubes of cheese and crackers to munch on. To satisfy a dairy requirement, your toddler may enjoy a fruit parfait, made with slices of peaches and yogurt.

About the Author

Ashley K. Alaimo is a writer, blogger and certified teacher in New York. She has a master's degree in elementary education and early childhood education from Medaille College, as well as a bachelor's degree in music and theater from Buffalo State College. Alaimo has also worked as an education specialist with ages birth to 12 years old, creating classroom and enrichment curriculum for various early childhood centers.

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