Toddler nutrition: 5 tips for healthier kids

Most toddlers are consuming unhealthy amounts of salt and sugar. But what's a busy parent to do when preparing meals and snacks?

Parents need to be alert to high levels of salt and sugar

Kathy Burnett prepares a snack for her daughters Claudia, centre, and Sabina right. Cutting up fruit and vegetables makes it easier to snack on the go. (M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)

About 77 per cent of Canadian children aged one to three consume more than the recommended upper limit of 1,500 milligrams per day of sodium, according to the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey.

In the Feb. 2 issue of Pediatrics, researchers suggest pediatricians counsel parents about a healthy diet for children to help prevent obesity, high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

"Toddlers are exposed to foods that have an unnecessarily high content of salt and sugar. This could lead them to develop a desire for these tastes for the rest of their lives," Susan Baker and Robert Baker of the University at Buffalo concluded in a journal commentary.

What's a busy parent to do when toddler foods show such a wide variation in sodium and added sugars?

Here are five suggestions:

  1. Encourage toddlers to eat fruits and vegetables as snacks by cutting them up into appealing morsels.
  2. Don’t assume all prepackaged toddler meals or snacks are low in sodium. Check the nutrition facts label and strive for 210 milligrams of sodium or less per meal (and no more than 250 milligrams per meal) for a toddler, says nutritionist Lianne Phillipson-Webb of Sprout Right in Toronto.
  3. Children under age four consuming 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day on average should limit added sugars to about four teaspoons a day, the American Heart Association recommends.
  4. Look for whole rather than refined grains.
  5. Instead of relying on boxed crackers or bread sticks for snacks, add fruit or melted cheese to plain rice cakes, popcorn or a batch of homemade pancakes.