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Toddlers ‘need varied diet low in sugar’

Cakes, biscuits, sweets and chocolate should not form a regular part of children’s diets, experts say.

New guidance has been issued on healthy eating for children aged one to four (Chris Radburn/PA)
New guidance has been issued on healthy eating for children aged one to four (Chris Radburn/PA)

Nutritionists have issued new guidance on what toddlers should eat to stay healthy, including limiting sugary cereals, salty crisps and fruit juice.

In its updated guide, the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) has kept advice on portion sizes the same but has included new details on sugar as well as vegan and vegetarian diets.

It recommends that children aged one to four have five portions a day of starchy foods such as bread, cereal, potatoes, pasta and bread sticks.

They should also eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables, three portions of dairy foods and two portions of protein such as eggs, chickpeas or dahl (or three if a child is vegetarian).

The new 5532 guide, developed by nutrition scientists and an advisory group of experts in early years nutrition, includes pictures detailing what constitutes a single portion.

One portion of pasta is two to five tablespoons, a slice of bread is one portion, and a portion of dairy is one cheese ball or two to four tablespoons of grated cheddar.

On sugar, parents are urged to limit high-sugar cereals, fizzy and sugary drinks, and to opt for unsweetened dairy foods, such as plain yogurt, where possible.

Cakes, biscuits, sweets and chocolate should not form a regular part of children’s diet, the guide says.

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Sweets and fizzy drinks should be restricted in children’s diets, the BNF says (Anthony Devlin/PA)

On fruit juices, it says the drinks can provide some important vitamins, but are high in sugar and acidic for teeth so should only be consumed at mealtimes and should be diluted.

The guide continues: “Limit the amount of salty foods your child eats.

“Foods such as crisps, ready meals, some breakfast cereals, ham, baked beans, sauces, olives and smoked fish can contain added salt so check the food labels or buy low-salt versions.

“Your child should eat no more than 2g of salt per day. For example, one packet (25g) of crisps contains about 0.3g of salt, one slice of ham contains about 0.3g of salt, 2tbsp of standard baked beans contains about 0.5g of salt.”

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Parents should check the salt content of snacks, the BNF recommends (Lynne Cameron/PA)

It its advice on vegan and vegetarian diets, the BNF recommends children should eat three portions of protein foods in order to get enough iron and zinc.

It added: “While well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy for young children, for those considering a vegan diet, the BNF suggests visiting a GP to ask for advice about supplementation, as it can be difficult for young children to get enough vitamin A and B12, riboflavin, iron, zinc, calcium and iodine.”

Sara Stanner, science director at the BNF, said: “Even when parents know which foods are part of a healthy diet, it can sometimes be difficult to know what sized portion is suitable for a young child, and how often they should be eating from the different food groups each day.

It’s a good idea to check food labels and to look for lower sugar options when choosing foods like breakfast cereals or yogurts. Sara Stanner, BNF

“We know that many parents are very concerned about sugar, and our guide highlights that sugary drinks and sugary treats like biscuits, chocolate and sweets shouldn’t be a regular part of children’s diets.

“It’s a good idea to check food labels and to look for lower sugar options when choosing foods like breakfast cereals or yogurts.

“Likewise, families making the decision to adopt vegetarian or vegan diets need to be aware of how to balance their diet, and use supplements if needed in order to ensure children get all the nutrients they need to be healthy.”

For snacks, the BNF recommends two to three healthy snacks per day such as vegetable sticks, fruit, cheese and crackers or toast fingers with cream cheese.

It adds that most young children can regulate their own appetite, “so encourage them to eat but don’t force them or expect them to eat if they are not hungry”.

It goes on: “Some children eat slowly, but generally will have eaten all they are likely to eat within 20-30 minutes so meals don’t need to be longer than this.”

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Full-fat milk provides calcium and other important nutrients (Yui Mok/PA)

Milk is seen as a “good choice for drinks” as it provides calcium and other important nutrients.

Children under the age of two should have whole milk but can move to semi-skimmed milk after this age if they are eating well, the guide says.

Skimmed or 1% milk is not suitable as a main drink for children under five and children should not be given tea or coffee due to its caffeine content.

The guide also says children should be physically active for at least three hours over the course of a day – this can include rolling and playing on the floor, playing in the park or dancing.

PA

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