Nutritionist offers top five tips for boosting the health of toddlers

 With 70 percent of the immune system housed in the gut, a healthy diet is crucial.
With 70 percent of the immune system housed in the gut, a healthy diet is crucial. Photo credit: Getty.

Feeding picky toddlers can sometimes be a battle and you might end up feeling like all they eat is chicken nuggets and the occasional bit of toast. 

Of course, the best food you can give a toddler is anything they'll actually eat. 

But with 70 percent of the immune system housed the gut, a healthy diet is crucial to a toddler's development and mood.

So what should we be including when feeding toddlers and young children? There are several key diet areas they might be missing out on that we all - adults and children alike - could include a little more of.

Gina Rose, mum of four and nutritionist at Kiwi milk drink company Haven, has put together her top five tips on supporting our tiny toddlers' digestive systems. 

She's also included a breakfast recipe that offers the perfect mix of fibre, prebiotics and different flavours we all should be including. 

Haven Expert and Nutritionist Gina Rose with her children.
Haven Expert and Nutritionist Gina Rose with her children. Photo credit: Supplied.

Offer a diet rich in fibre

Constipation is a common problem for toddlers. I have found that it can lead to anxiety around toilet training and influence a child's overall health.  

Gut microbes rely on the fibre in your food for fuel: a low fibre diet leads to a reduction in the diversity of your microbiome. High fibre foods that feed the good bacteria and help to contribute to regular laxation are flaxseeds, vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

Try offering three serves of vegetables per day, a serving of fruit and a serving of grains with each meal, as this will ensure a combination of soluble and insoluble fibre.

Consume probiotics daily

Probiotics are most commonly found in a range of dairy products such as yoghurt and fermented foods sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi. The two most common bacteria you will see used in products are Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. 

Your gut flora performs many important health functions. It manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and some of the B vitamins. Your gut flora is highly sensitive to your diet.

Breastmilk is a source not only of probiotics (milk microbiota) but also prebiotics (HMOs) contributing to the establishment of the infant gut microbiota. 

Prebiotics

Probiotics are often thrown around but prebiotics is equally important. Prebiotics are fuel and food for the beneficial bacteria. They are a type of non-digestible carbohydrate (otherwise known as resistant starch). Foods that contain resistant starch include green bananas, oats, barley, cooked and cooled rice and potato - think potato salad or overnight oats.

Stimulation of the entire intestinal flora with the use of these prebiotics is seen to have a significant impact on gut health, immune response and the reduction of atopic diseases such as allergies.

Eat the rainbow from foods found in nature

Nature really does provide us with a colourful palette, from bright berries to green veggies and orange pumpkins, there are loads of foods high in vitamins and antioxidants. These beautiful bright foods are nutrient-rich and support your child's development. 

Offer a range of flavours

Little ones have a natural fondness for sweet tastes, nonetheless, all other tastes can be learned through exposure and repetition. Just because they refuse something once don't stop offering - sometimes it can take up to 10-15 attempts for a food to be accepted. So, if your toddler is refusing, just try again another day, but keep offering. 

Overnight oats are chock full of fibre and prebiotics.
Overnight oats are chock full of fibre and prebiotics. Photo credit: Getty.

Recipe: Overnight oats

Try this delicious recipe for overnight oats: it ticks all the boxes with fibre, probiotics, resistant starch, colourful antioxidants and a range of flavours. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • ½ cup Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds 

Method: 

  1. Mix all of these ingredients together and soak in the fridge overnight. Soaking rolled oats in milk and yogurt gives them a soft, nutty texture that's ultra-creamy and subtly sweet.
  2. In the morning serve ¼ cup (or portion size that your toddler will eat), with an added sprinkling of ¼ cup berries and chopped nuts. 

This article was updated on April 30 to include the benefits of breastmilk