AN EXPERT GUIDE TO TODDLER NUTRITION FOR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS
Healthcare Professionals play an important part in helping parents of toddlers (1-3 years) establish good food habits, including the tricky topic of treats!
- Occasional treats are acceptable. For treats to be part of a healthy and balanced diet, they must be an occasional part of the diet2. Treats should not get a special emphasis over other food.
- Use a mix of food and non-food treats. Keep treat foods as healthy as possible, and use a mix of food and non-food treats.
- Avoid linking eating habits to emotional situations. Toddlers should eat only because of hunger and for nourishment. Food – whether treats or otherwise – should never be used as a reward, bribe or punishment.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
In Ireland, cakes and biscuits currently provide up to 8% of total energy intake1 in children aged one to four. Therefore, treat foods can be included as part of a healthy meal or snack a couple of times a week, but should not be provided more often than this. The inclusion of treats doesn’t need any fanfare or emphasis; treats should not be singled out or valued above any other part of a meal or snack. Healthy home-prepared meals and snacks which are provided in a relaxed and happy home environment aren’t any better for the addition of treats.
AT A GLANCE: TREATS GIVEN TO TODDLERS BY THEIR PARENTS SHOULD BE…
- As healthy as possible.
- Eaten with a healthy meal or snack and at a table.
- Not heavily restricted.
- Not used for reward.
- Not always food!
IN DEPTH: TREATS GIVEN TO TODDLERS SHOULD BE… AS HEALTHY AS POSSIBLE
Sweet and savoury treat foods can be offered, and as often as possible, treats should have some positive nutritional value. Suitable treats parents can give their toddlers include:
- Small wholemeal scone with a little butter or jam.
- Two to four mini rice cakes spread with smooth peanut or almond butter.
- Seven baked apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon.
- Four dessertspoons of fresh fruit topped with yoghurt.
- Scoop of a simple fruit sorbet.
- Baked pear with custard.
- Two to four dessertspoons of fruit crumble.
QUICK TIP FOR PARENTS
Treats – or any food! – should never be used as a reward, bribe or punishment
IN DEPTH: TREATS GIVEN TO TODDLERS SHOULD BE… PART OF A MEAL OR SNACK
A routine healthy meal or snack can be occasionally accompanied by a treat. Including the treat with other foods helps to:
- Reduce the number of acid attacks on a toddler’s teeth3, which makes it a more tooth-kind practice.
- Including the treat with other foods helps to keep the emphasis on the main meal or snack offered. Treats should not be given a special emphasis over any other part of a meal or snack. Each part of a meal or snack has value, and it’s important not to displace any part of a healthy everyday menu with treats.
- Reduce the quantity of treats eaten4. A toddler’s hunger will be eased by a healthy routine of meals and snacks. This should help to reduce the amount of treats consumed.
IN DEPTH: TREATS GIVEN TO TODDLERS SHOULD BE… NOT HEAVILY RESTRICTED
Parents should avoid overly restricting treat foods, as this increases the desirability of the restricted foods2 and can lead to over-eating when toddlers have access to them. Therefore, parents should avoid labelling foods as ‘bad’ or emphasising the rarity of treat foods. Provided that treats are an occasional part of a healthy diet, they are not a cause for concern.
IN DEPTH: TREATS GIVEN TO TODDLERS SHOULD NOT BE… GIVEN AS A REWARD
Treat foods should never be part of a reward, bribe or punishment2,5. By offering or withholding treat foods in situations of accomplishment, triumph, resistance, defiance, or anger, unhealthy associations can be created between these emotions and eating. Such emotional eating can increase the risk of overweight and disordered eating patterns. Toddlers should only eat for food-related reasons such as hunger and nourishment.
QUICK TIP FOR PARENTS
Use a mix of food and non-food treats. Parents should avoid overly restricting treat foods – it just puts too much focus on them.
IN DEPTH: FOOD TREATS GIVEN TO TODDLERS SHOULD BE… BALANCED WITH OTHER TREATS
Non-food treats should be encouraged alongside healthy food treats4. The value of non-food treats such as one-on-one time between a parent and toddler; trips to a local park, library or play centre; and thoughtful and specific praise, should not be ignored.
Suitable articles for parents on this topic are available at www.toddlebox.ie/nutrition