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What should you be feeding your toddler?

By: Roma Patel

Determining which foods are considered “healthy” isn’t easy nowadays. I often catch myself in any given aisle googling – “is this healthy?” According to a recent annual Food and Health survey, about eight in 10 survey respondents said they have found conflicting information about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid — and more than half of them said the conflicting information has them second-guessing the choices they make. We recently chatted with Amy Palanjian, the creator of Yummy Toddler Food. She’s a magazine editor and writer, a recipe developer, and mama of two girls and knows a thing or two about nutrition:

As parents, what should we look out for on food labels?

When I look at a label, I first keep in mind the context for the food. If it’s an ingredient for a meal that will be paired with other foods, I don’t stress if there’s not a balanced mix of carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and protein. If it’s a stand-alone snack, I like there to be that balance since it helps to keep the kids fueled and on an even keel a little longer. I keep an eye that added sugars are minimal, especially for food that’s being served for kids under two, but I don’t mind sugars from natural sources like fruit and dairy. And I think the ingredient list often provides more information than the nutrition label—can you identify the ingredients? Do you want your kids to eat them? That tells me a lot more than a set of numbers, which can be arbitrary if your child eats a serving that’s a different size than what’s on the label. (And I’m a big believer in letting the kids decide how hungry they are!)

How do we best make decisions based on the Total Fat, Daily Fat, and Serving Size?

I think we use it as part of the story. They can be helpful to look at so you can aim to serve a range of foods to your kids over the course of a week. Kids under two actually need about half of their calories to come from fat to help their little brains develop, which is why it’s recommended that they eat full-fat dairy products. For serving size, remember that your child may or may not eat or drink the whole thing—and that’s okay. By providing a healthy mix of foods and letting the kids decide how much to eat of it, we’re letting them stay in touch with their own hunger cues which will be so helpful as they grow. (Read more about this feeding approach called Division of Responsibility.)

Are there specific ingredients you suggest parents avoid when buying for their toddlers?

I personally try to avoid excess added sugars and ingredients that we can’t pronounce. The more you are able to read and understand an ingredient list, the more you can know what you’re feeding your kids.

What’s your opinion on organic vs. non-organic? Are their specific foods you suggest purchasing organic?

I find this topic to be so divisive and it so doesn’t have to be! I don’t make broad recommendations to my readers because this is dependent on so many different issues—access, cost, and values. We try to support local farmers when we can. We try to buy locally produced foods when we can. And we try to buy organic to help support that industry and that value set, but we also live in a very small town without great access to all of these things. We look for milk that’s produced without added hormones and often buy organic, but I’m not a stickler about it. Do the best with the circumstances you are in. And when it comes to organic vs conventional produce, in my mind, produce is better than no produce, so buy whatever kind you can afford to enjoy!

About Amy Palanjian:

Amy founded Yummy Toddler Food after realizing feeding toddlers is a huge challenge and it can be so (SO!) stressful—and she loves to offer reassurance, encouragement, easy recipes, and tips that make feeding toddlers feel more manageable. Amanda’s work has appeared in publications including FamilyFun, Parents, Better Homes & Gardens, AllRecipesBon Appetit, Real Simple, and more. Learn more by visiting Yummy Toddler Food.


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