Feeding toddlers ages 1 to 3 can be extremely challenging. These early years continue to be a time of rapid growth and development and brain development occurs up to 2 years of life. Nutritional needs are higher and must be met according to recommended dietary allowances (RDA). Children tend to become picky eaters around this time and start making food choices independently and parents will find it difficult to feed them. They should be encouraged to establish a routine of eating three meals and two snacks per day, which is important to meet nutritional needs. However, many factors can lead to nutritional deficiencies in toddlers.
Besides all the common developmental issues, nutrition survey data and research revealed that due to their parents’ inappropriate lifestyle, screen time, food advertisements, and enriching foods like sweets and food environment will affect the child’s long-term health, growth and development. child, leading to nutritional deficiencies in toddlers.
Signs of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers
There are signs of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers that can affect a child’s development. Here are common signs of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers:
- A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to speech delay.
- Lack of probiotics in foods and poor gut health can lead to hyperactivity.
- A deficiency in essential fatty acids like vitamins A, D, E and K can lead to dry skin and hair.
- Poor gut health and a weakened immune system can cause colds and coughs.
- Lack of protein and high saturated fat, salt and sugar content can also lead to obesity.
- Loss of appetite or lack of interest in eating may be signs of iron deficiency.
Read also: 7 Tips for Dealing with a Picky Eater and Getting Your Child to Eat Healthy
Types of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers and their signs
Many toddlers are prone to colds, coughs and other respiratory infections due to nutritional deficiencies in children. It is important to provide him with a full range of nutrients that will help maintain his immune system. Nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamins A, D, E, K, C and B fiber, probiotics and phytonutrients for antioxidants are important. A diet containing foods from 5 food groups, in the right combination, will automatically provide sufficient amounts of each nutrient.
Here are common nutritional deficiencies and their signs and sources that you should be aware of:
1. Vitamin D
Severe vitamin D deficiency causes rickets and hinders the growth of toddlers. It is caused by vitamin D deficiency in mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding, lack of sun exposure for toddlers, spending more time looking at screens, a vegan diet and specific food intolerances.
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You can prevent vitamin D deficiency by including foods like fish, egg yolks, fortified cow’s milk, breakfast cereals, oils, milk and products. Good exposure to the sun (at least 15 minutes) by letting him play outside would be sufficient.
2. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for blood clotting and the prevention of blood disorders. Common signs of deficiencies are excessive bleeding and delayed clotting time, intestinal problems and irritability. Breast milk is a poor source of vitamin K, it is important to include foods like broccoli, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower and meat products.
3. Vitamin A
An important vitamin for your eyes that helps improve the synthesis of white blood cells, thereby boosting immunity. It also helps prevent night blindness, skin problems and stunted growth. Some of the best sources of vitamin A include carrots, oranges, pumpkin, broccoli, milk and its products, cheese, eggs and bell pepper.
Iron is necessary for the synthesis of red blood cells and helps prevent nutritional anemia in toddlers. Signs of iron deficiency include lack of appetite, irritability, fatigue and dizziness, as well as frequent infections. Some of the food sources rich in iron are green leafy vegetables, ragi, cumin, beets, prunes, nuts and raisins, dried dates, eggs, fish and chicken.
An essential mineral, calcium is necessary for maintaining healthy teeth and bone development. Signs of calcium deficiency cause bowed legs, stunted growth, and sore or weak muscles. Some of the best sources of calcium include milk and dairy products, soy products, black leafy vegetables, millet, eggs, nuts and seeds, poppy seeds, etc.
How to combat nutritional deficiencies in toddlers?
Here are some ways to combat nutritional deficiencies in toddlers:
1. Plan nutrient-dense meals in advance and include your child’s favorite foods.
2. Make sure all 5 food groups are included in their daily diet.
3. Avoid buying packaged and preserved foods when shopping and avoid giving unhealthy treats.
4. Be careful with allergic foods like milk, eggs, peanuts, artificial colors, seafood, etc.
5. Make food more interesting for your children. Change the shape of utensils, the color and texture of foods, try new recipes and mix 2-3 ingredients together.
6. Avoid force-feeding and slowly increase the amount of food. Mandatory 2 small snacks like yogurt, hummus crackers, oatmeal pancakes, sandwiches, paneer bhurji, makhana kheer, milk recipes, vegetable patties, etc.
7. Encourage them to eat while they are hungry and schedule meal times.
Physical activity is essential to stimulate their metabolism and better improve their appetite.
8. Quality sleep for 8 to 9 hours for better nutritional status.