Feeding a toddler a healthy diet is a challenge. Toddlers are constantly testing and experimenting, especially at the table. I am lucky enough to have twins with very different diets; one doesn't like fruit and the other doesn't care for vegetables. This article will provide some ideas on how to include healthy food in your child's diet.

Before we go any further it is important to consider what constitutes a healthy diet for a toddler (ages 1-3 years). On average your toddler needs 1000-1300 calories a day, depending on their size. That said, you should not try to count your child's calories, and if fed a healthy diet, children at this age are generally good at monitoring how much they need to eat. For ideas on how to feed the picky toddler, see How to get a Picky Toddler to Eat.

Your child should be eating a range of foods from the different food groups everyday including fruits, veggies, grains, dairy, and meats/proteins. Natural fats are important for your child's diet and brain development. Your child does not need lots of processed foods and is better off with basic, healthy foods. It is helpful to think of your child's diet as a rainbow since natural foods of different colors provide different nutrients. For example, when you are choosing vegetables, it is a good idea to choose one green and one orange vegetable instead of two vegetable of the same color.

Here are some creative ideas on how to get healthy food into your toddler:

  • · Add foods to other favorite foods.

1. Add veggies and beans to quesadillas. These are easy, and you can sauté the veggies before you put them in or not. Try adding peppers, mushrooms, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, avocado, etc.

2. Add veggies, beans and cheese to an omelet. You can add anything to an omlet

3. Add veggies to a grilled cheese

4. Add veggies to pasta sauce, or macaroni and cheese

5. Add veggies and beans to rice

  • · Make soup or add to an existing soup. This is a great thing to freeze and keep around so you already have something ready.
  • · Make a Smoothie - If you are working on getting more protein you can add peanut butter or tofu to a smoothie.
  • · Add Purees to foods to enhance their nutritional value.

1. One of my favorites is to puree spinach and add it to spaghetti sauce. I know people who add spinach to smoothies and they claim it doesn't change the taste, but I've yet to try it.

2. You can puree fruits and add them to yogurt or cottage cheese. You can also put fruit purees on waffles and pancakes.

  • · Put a sauce on veggies

1. A cheese sauce is usually a hit

2. Try a peanut sauce.

3. Guacamole is one of my kids favorite dips

4. Put the sauce in a bowl and let your toddler dip their food.

  • · Change the way you prepare the veggies. If you usually steam, try baking, if you bake, try grilling, etc. Change the way you cut or present your food.

  • · While parents are often careful about what they feed their children at meal times, snacks are often less healthy. Consider snacks a mini-meal and offer healthy food at these times as well.

  • · Spice it up or spice it down.

If you are looking for healthy meal ideas, check out this site: Healthy Meal Ideas for Toddler

What NOT to do

While there are things you can do to feed your toddler a healthy diet, there are also some foods that are commonly given to toddlers that are not healthy.

  • · Juice - Juice in itself is not a horrible thing, but it is high in sugar (even when there is not added sugar) and it lacks many of the things found in regular fruit. You can dilute juice, or limit your child to one cup of juice a day.

  • · Milk - While milk is very important for young children, too much cow milk may detract from some of the other nutrients your child gets from foods. Your child is gradually transitioning from a liquid to a solid diet. Remember your child can get dairy from yogurt and cheese as well as milk.

  • · Fried and Processed Food - If you look on most children's menus, you will see chicken fingers, hot dogs, French fries, etc. While these foods can be a special treat, they should not constitute you toddler's daily diet.

  • · Cookies, cereals, bars, or other food high in sugar. A cookie now and then is no problem but just like fried food, lots of cookies are not a good thing. Check the labels of foods for how many grams of sugar it has. There is no rule for what is high in sugar, but something that has a serving size of 7 grams and has 4 grams of sugar would be high in sugar.

If you have your own ideas, please add comments.