When it comes to feeding a toddler, most parents tend to think about fruits and veggies and Goldfish crackers. We think carrot sticks, and apple slices, and grapes carefully sliced in half. We consider milk and maybe some dairy alternatives. But what about meat? How does meat factor into the toddler diet?
Nutrients In Meat For Toddlers
"Meat provides a source of protein, fat, iron, zinc and B12, all of which are essential for growth," Nicole Silber, a dietitian, pediatric nutrition specialist, and mother of two, tells Romper. "However, these nutrients can be found in a combination of other food sources as well, such as fish, dairy, nuts, seeds and others. Meat can be offered in a balanced diet, but it is not an absolute necessity. " Silber is also the creator of Tiny Tasters, a video-based feeding class for parents and caregivers of babies ages 4 to 12 months, so she's learned a thing or two about how families are concerned with feeding their children enough of the nutrients.
So yeah, while meat does have a lot of good stuff a toddler needs, Silber says it doesn't have to have a spot on their Munchkin plate. It is, in fact, safe for toddlers to follow plant-based diets. Even vegan diets, if one chooses. "So long as parents are ensuring they are getting enough calories, fat, protein and some other key nutrients, like iron, B12, zinc and calcium from non meat sources," Silber says.
Best Types Of Meat For Toddlers
But if you would like for your toddler to have some meat in their diet, Silber suggests parents focus on the quality of the meat, and try to choose meats that come from ethically treated animals without use of hormones. "I typically recommend higher fat cuts of meat, which make both for a more moist texture, and more fat for brain development. I like to slow cook beef with flavors like onions and garlic and broth, or make into patties, burgers or meatballs."
She does caution parents against things like grilled steak, or meat that is excessively chewy, as this can be a choking hazard for some kids.
It should be noted that the USDA dietary guidelines for children does encourage a diet that includes meat, to ensure kids get the iron, zinc, and choline they need. But, as Silber says, there are many other foods that also provide these nutrients. The trick, of course, is having a toddler who isn't too fussy to eat them. "For children who are particularly picky and unable to get those nutrients elsewhere, a supplement or a plant-based fortified toddler milk, such as Else Nutrition, may be needed," Silber says.
And as with anything regarding your little one's overall health, it's always a good idea to run ideas or dietary changes by your pediatrician for some added guidance. Now go scrape that dried chicken nugget off the kitchen floor.
Nicole Silber, RD, a dietitian, pediatric nutrition specialist