The Top Healthy Food Swaps You Need to Know About for Your Toddler

Figuring out what’s best for your child is sometimes (well, always) difficult to do. Between how parenting was done in the past and how’s it changed so much in the past few years, there are so many ways to raise your babies these days. One thing we always want to make sure we’re doing right is giving our kids the proper nourishment they need. From ditching sugar to incorporating whole grains, there’s are a few ways you can switch up your meals for healthier options. We spoke to Sonia A. Schiess, Amara‘s Chief Nutritionist about the changes you can make today. Keep reading for more!

The Top Healthy Food Swaps for Your Toddler

1) Whole Grains Forever

Say so long to traditional sugary cereals and instant oatmeal packets. Replace them with a pot of cooked whole grains, such as organic rolled oats, or use Amara’s whole grain Oats n’ Berries packet for an easy no added sugar swap. Add fresh fruit for more flavor, color, and vitamins, and stir in milk or yogurt for a boost of protein. It’s available here at Amara for $12.99 and it’s one of our favorites!

According to a FITS study, a notable percentage of young children did not consume a single whole grain on any given day. Historically, whole grains have been the cornerstone of a healthy breakfast. It wasn’t until the industrialized period that companies began marketing processed cereals as an alternative. While boxed cereals can be derived from grains and enriched with synthetic vitamins to mimic whole grains, they are not the same.

Supermarket cereals are often made from refined grains, which means grain, such as an oat, that is stripped of its outer layers, leaving only the germ intact. What is lost in this process is 50-100% of the whole grain’s nutrients and 100% of its fiber.  Not to mention, nearly all packaged cereals contain added sugars and unwelcome additives and preservatives. Stick with a pot of oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, or wheat berries.

healthy food swaps for kids
Image: Courtesy of Amara

2) Stay Away from the Sugar

Ditch the sweetened fruit yogurt cups and tubes. Opt for plain, whole milk yogurt instead. Mix in some seasonal fresh fruit for variety or try freeze-dried fruits or frozen. Pour into popsicle molds for a creamy, cold treat. The less sugar, the better! There’s a world of healthy options out there for you to try, and we love all the swaps you can ditch sugary desserts for.

Cow’s milk and dairy foods, such as yogurt, readily deliver many nutrients growing children need, such as calcium and Vitamin D, for healthy bone growth. Yogurt is also a wonderful source of high-quality protein due to its amino acid profile, as well as being a strong source of Vitamin A, B2, B12, and minerals. Yogurt is an easy sell to toddlers due to its pleasant creamy texture and sweet taste.

Unfortunately, many packaged yogurts targeted at toddlers miss the nutritional mark, being low fat and loaded with sugar. Children at this age should consume whole milk products as the fat helps with the absorption of many key nutrients. Studies reveal children who have whole milk compared with reduced-fat milk, show lower odds of becoming overweight or obese. Also, new dietary recommendations state avoiding all added sugar until 2 years of age, and only 10% of daily calories from added sugar from 2 years on. Sadly, studies find 60% of toddlers exceed this recommendation. Sugar consumption can not only displace important nutrients, but it can also lead to a host of unwanted health and behavioral effects. Toddlerhood is a vital time for developing lifelong food preferences, and early exposure to too much sugar can lead to unhealthy eating habits down the road.

best healthy swaps for kids
Image: Kim Daniels via Unsplash

3) Ditch the Sweet Drinks

Trade in the juice boxes, energy drinks, and sodas for good old-fashioned water. Tired of plain H20? Try infusing water with cucumber, lime, or fresh strawberries. Offer an occasional iced unsweetened herbal tea, such as mint or hibiscus, or serve warm for a cozy drink in the winter. There are so many different issues that come just from drinking soda throughout life, all that sugar is not good for anyone! By taking these recommendations, you could provide the foundation for a healthy life throughout your child’s life.

Bottom line: a toddler’s nutrient needs are robust and leave virtually no room for empty sugars found in sweet beverages. This includes 100% fruit juice. Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruits for infants and toddlers and holds no role in a well-balanced healthy toddler diet. While juice can be easy to offer due to its convenience in to-go sippable containers, as a snack, it replaces more nutrient-rich food choices, and as a form of hydration, it is not as optimal as plain water. Luckily the word is getting out about the harmful effects of sweetened beverages, and most recent surveys have shown a decline in infant and toddler consumption overall.

best healthy food swaps
Image: Claudia Crespo via Unsplash

Amara‘s Chief Nutritionist: Sonia A. Schiess, Ph.D. in Nutrition, specialized in the introduction of solids and liquids to infants. Sonia’s passion started when she was studying nutrition and dietetics in university, completing a post-degree in Human Nutrition. Later on, she completed her Ph.D. as a nutritionist. She did a focus on introducing food in the first year of a baby’s life. Her wide experience gives her a unique perspective, drawing from her time in clinics, hospitals, independent consulting, and university research. She’s authored several papers including “Introduction of complementary feeding”; “Introduction of potentially allergenic foods in the infant’s diet during the first year of life” and “Intake of energy providing liquids during the first year of life” in five European countries. 

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