Food is so much more than fuel for our bodies. We derive pleasure from it and use it as a way to connect with those we love. When we find food we enjoy, we want to share it with those close to us so they can share in that joy. This is one of the things that makes food so special, but it can become an issue when this desire for pleasure leads us to overlook our health. And recent research released by the University of Melbourne suggests we might be overlooking the issue of health for those who need looking out for most.
The research, which tracked the diets of 466 infants from birth to 20 months of age, found that by 18 months, 27 per cent ate sweet biscuits, 28 per cent ate processed meats and 16 per cent ate chocolates and lollies more than twice a week. So what effect was this having on their overall diets? Well one-third of the children aged 12-20 months were not meeting dietary guidelines. This effect is consistent with past research in adults showing an overconsumption of discretionary foods pushing core healthy foods out of the diet.
It’s so important that we give children the best possible start in life. When we fill the diet first with healthy foods like minimally processed vegetables, fruits, legumes, dairy and dairy alternatives, we crowd out discretionary choices, rather than it being the other way around. It’s never too early to start building healthy habits. In fact, we should be more worried about trying to build them too late. There’s a place in every diet for enjoying discretionary foods but not at the expense of health and balance.
Did you know that low fat and fat-reduced dairy and soy milks are not recommended for children under 2 years old? From the age of 12 months, full fat pasteurised dairy and fortified soy milks can help provide energy and nutrients needed for the rapid growth children experience at this age.
"One-third of the children aged 12-20 months were not meeting dietary guidelines."
Great snack ideas for toddlers
Veggie sticks. Slice up sticks of raw carrot, celery, zucchini, capsicum or any other vegetable that catches the eye. Their crunchy texture and bright colours are a fun way to get more veggies in.
Get dipping. If plain veggie sticks are grabbing their attention, give them something healthy to dip them in. Hummus and mashed avocado are two great veggie-based options.
Kid Sushi. A simple sushi roll made with veggies and a little grated cheese can be cut up into a satisfying bite- sized savoury snack.
The original convenience food. Fruit! Buy seasonal fruit to give your child plenty of options through the year. Eat as is or try cutting up into fun shapes and serving with yoghurt for dipping.