A well-balanced diet is important for the health and development of a toddler. The best meal plan for young children generally consists of three nutritious meals and two snacks each day. Meals should include protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products. Treats, such as cookies or other sweets, may be given to a toddler on occasion, but these should not be a regular part of a child's diet. Toddlers can be picky about the food that they eat, so a meal plan for toddlers may need to be modified for each child until a combination of nutritious foods that the child will eat is found.
Fruits are an important part of a meal plan for toddlers. They contain many vitamins that are essential for a child's physical development. Foods like bananas, berries, and melons have a pleasing taste that most toddlers enjoy, while also being healthy options for breakfast or a snack. Fruits may be eaten raw or blended with juice and ice to make a nutritious fruit smoothie.
Not all toddlers enjoy eating vegetables, but they should be incorporated into a meal plan for toddlers in any way possible. Raw cucumbers, carrots, and celery are nutritious options that many toddlers will eat, and may be dipped in an appealing low-fat dressing for extra flavor. It is also possible to add vegetables to fruit smoothies without affecting the fruity taste. Vegetables can also be cooked in a variety of ways and served with seasonings or a little butter to encourage youngsters to eat them.
A toddler should consume several servings of whole grains each day. These types of foods can be incorporated into a meal plan for toddlers by serving oatmeal for breakfast, whole wheat crackers as a snack, and whole grain pasta for dinner. Whole grain bread can also be used to make sandwiches. Refined products made with white flour should be avoided, as they generally do not have much nutritional value.
Dairy products contain calcium and other vitamins that help a toddler grow well. Most pediatricians recommend that very young children drink whole milk. Also, yogurt — without added sugar — can be served as part of a breakfast, and cubes of cheese can be served with crackers for a snack. A meal plan for toddlers may have to be modified if a child has an allergy to cow's milk, but other non-dairy, calcium-rich options can be substituted.
Toddlers should eat a few servings of protein each day to ensure proper growth. Most meal plans include lean meats, such as chicken breast or ground turkey, as the main source of a toddler's protein. The healthiest meat preparation options are baking, roasting, or grilling, and fried items should not be served on a regular basis. A meal plan for toddlers can be altered if the child's parents are raising him in a vegetarian or vegan home.