Feeding toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 can be a huge challenge. These early years remain a period of rapid growth and developmental milestones and brain development continues until 2 years of life. Nutritional requirements are higher and must be met based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA). Children tend to become fussy and make food choices independently around this time, and parents will struggle to feed them. They should be encouraged to establish a routine of eating three meals and two snacks per day, which is important for meeting nutritional needs. However, there are many factors that can lead to nutritional deficiencies in toddlers.
Apart from any general developmental issues, evidence from nutritional studies and research shows that due to their parents’ inappropriate lifestyle, screen time, food advertisements and rewarding foods such as sweets and the food environment will affect the parents’ 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 the most common signs of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers:
- Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to delayed speech.
- A lack of probiotics in food and poor gut health can lead to hyperactivity.
- A deficiency of essential fatty acids such as vitamins A, D, E and K can lead to dry skin and hair.
- Poor gut health and a weak immune system can cause colds and coughs.
- A lack of protein and a lot of saturated fat, salt and sugar can also lead to obesity.
- Loss of appetite or lack of interest in food can be signs of an iron deficiency.
Also read: 7 tips to deal with a picky eater and get your child to eat healthily
Types of nutritional deficiencies in toddlers and their symptoms
Many toddlers are prone to colds, coughs and other respiratory infections due to childhood nutritional deficiencies. It is important to provide a full range of nutrients that will help maintain their immune system. Nutrients such as 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, automatically provides sufficient amounts of each nutrient.
Here are the common nutritional deficiencies and their symptoms and sources that you should be aware of:
1. Vitamin D
Severe vitamin D deficiency causes rickets and stunts growth in toddlers. It is caused by vitamin D deficiency in mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding, lack of sunlight exposure in toddlers, increased time spent on screens, a vegan diet and specific food intolerances.
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You can prevent vitamin D deficiency by including foods such as fish, egg yolks, fortified cow’s milk, cereals, oils, milk and produce. Good exposure to sunlight (at least 15 minutes) by letting them play outside would be sufficient.
2. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is necessary for blood clotting and to prevent blood disorders. Common signs of deficiencies include 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 such as broccoli, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower and meat products.
3. Vitamin A
An important vitamin for your eyes that helps improve white blood cell synthesis, thus strengthening immunity. It also helps prevent night blindness, skin problems and growth delays. Some of the best sources of vitamin A include carrots, oranges, squash, broccoli, milk and products, cheese, eggs and peppers.
Iron is necessary for red blood cell synthesis and it helps prevent nutritional anemia in toddlers. Signs of iron deficiency include loss of appetite, irritability, fatigue and dizziness, and frequent infections. Some of the food sources high in iron are green leafy vegetables, ragi, cumin, beetroot, plums, nuts and raisins, dried dates, eggs, fish and chicken.
Calcium, a crucial mineral, is necessary for maintaining healthy teeth and bone development. Signs of calcium deficiency include bow legs, stunted growth and sore or weak muscles. Some of the best sources of calcium are milk and milk products, soy products, dark leafy vegetables, millet, eggs, nuts and seeds, poppy seeds, etc.
How to combat nutritional deficiencies in toddlers?
Here are some ways to address nutritional deficiencies in toddlers:
1. Plan the nutritious meals in advance and include your child’s favorite dishes.
2. Make sure all five food groups are part of their daily diet.
3. When shopping, don’t buy packaged and preserved foods or give unhealthy treats.
4. Be careful with allergic foods such as milk, eggs, peanuts, artificial colors, seafood, etc.
5. Make food more interesting for your children. Change the shape, color and texture of the food, try new recipes and mix 2-3 ingredients.
6. Avoid force-feeding and slowly increase the amount of food. Mandatory 2 small snacks such as yogurt, crackers with hummus, oat pancakes, sandwiches, paneer bhurji, makhana kheer, milk recipes, vegetable patties, etc.
7. Encourage eating while they are hungry and fix the timing of meals.
Physical activity is a must to boost their metabolism and better improve their appetite.
8. Quality sleep for 8-9 hours for better nutritional status.