Include these foods in your toddler’s menu to boost their brain development

Since becoming a mom, it is of no surprise that my interest in baby and children nutrition has increased tremendously.

As a mom I realize how important it is to give my baby the right foundation for her to develop healthy eating habits from the beginning. Eating nutritious foods while breastfeeding and proper weaning are both fundamental in successfully installing healthy eating habits in a toddler. Of course, as a mom I also know that there is more to this equation. More and more I am becoming aware of how my emotional state and reactions at mealtime affect my toddler’s eating habits. Most of all though, I realize that in order for our child to make healthy eating choices, we as parents, need to be making the same choices.We are role models to our children, and I cannot stress this enough. The truth is that the way we eat is the first thing we need to fix if we want our child to eat healthy foods and to love variety.

But I get it. It is not always easy. And even if you do eat healthy and offer healthy food to your child, they won’t always accept it. That’s ok; I see this also as a lesson for us to let go of our expectations, and to just accept what is and cultivate patience. Children are very good at teaching us this, aren’t they? 🙂

A few months ago I completed a module in pediatric nutrition and so I wanted to share with you some of things I have learned. Today I’ll specifically focus on the importance of offering the right nutrients for brain development. As babies and toddlers grow, they do have different nutritional requirements than us adults.This is an important point to understand. One of the macronutrients required for brain development is fat.  Fats give your child energy and help build muscle and bone. But not any kind of fat is good.  Hydrogenated and trans fats, contained in processed foods, such as biscuits, cookies and cakes should be avoided. The focus should be rather on some saturated fat, found in coconut oil, ghee and meat (if you choose to offer it to your child) as well as monounsaturated fats, found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil. Plant oils, such as sunflower oil, canola oil etc. are not the healthiest fat choices.

Fat is important for a few reasons:

  1. Fat is needed to provide and improve absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D3 and K2. They are necessary for protein and mineral absorption, normal growth and hormone production.
  2. The omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA play a crucial role in the brain development of a child, and they need to be part of their diet.

Late pregnancy and the first two years of life are the most crucial period for brain development. And there is simply no denying that food plays an important role here.

So what are the best foods you can offer your baby or toddler to boost their brainpower? I’m sharing a few suggestions below.

  1. Healthy fats

As already mentioned healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are crucial for a developing brain. These are most easily found in fatty fish such as wild caught salmon, sardines, and fermented cod liver oil. If you and your child don’t consume fish, it’s advisable to offer a micro-algae oil supplement. Flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of ALA (Alpha Linoleic Acid) but the conversion to DHA and EPA (the forms your baby needs!) is not so efficient and I personally wouldn’t risk it for my baby.

  1. Complex B vitamins

B vitamins are crucial for children in their growing years as they help boost their mental as well as physical health. Vitamin B1 is needed for energy production and it helps convert sugar and other carbohydrates into energy. It also protects the nervous system and helps pass along messages from the brain to different parts of the body. B1 is found in foods, such as nuts, sunflower seeds, beans, whole wheat and wheat germ and others. B6is another important vitamin for a toddler, as it aids in good digestion and immunity development. It is also necessary for the proper functioning of the brain and helps regulate moods. It is found in whole grains, salmon, nuts and seeds, bananas, tofu and avocados. Folate, an important nutrient for pregnant mothers, is also important for babies and toddlers and can be found in leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, beets, broccoli and eggs.

  1. Choline

Choline is another crucial nutrient for brain development. It is needed for the synthesis of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter, as well as lecithin, which helps maintain cell membranes, transmit nerve impulses, process fat and cholesterol and perform other tasks. Choline is found in cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, shiitake mushrooms, and dark leafy greens, but it is particularly abundant in egg yolks. Make sure your eggs are organic and free-range, and if you can, get them from a farm next to you (thankfully there are many in Luxembourg), where you know the hens are treated well, are outside and are fed a healthy diet.

Other foods that are great for a growing baby and toddler, include:

  • Oats(gluten-free if you can) – they provide sustainable energy and fuel for the brain that a child needs first thing in the morning. They also contain B vitamins, potassium and zinc – all-important for a proper brain function.
  • Nut butters– source of healthy fats and protein, as well as vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects the nervous membranes.
  • Berries– contain high levels of antioxidants, especially vitamin C. Blueberries have been shown to help improve memory.
  • Legumes– they are a great food for toddlers because they contain a perfect combination of protein and carbohydrates. This means they will keep energy levels stable and keep their thinking sharp. Additionally kidney and pinto beans, contain some omega-3s in the form of ALA.
  • Seeds such as sesame seeds (tahini) and hemp seeds offer protein and fat, and they are also a good source of plant-based iron.

And to finish, here is a daily menu suggestion you can offer to your toddler. Many of these are foods I offer to my daughter (I’m actually sharing a daily menu of hers), and they are favorites in our house.

Breakfast:

  • Breastmilk
  • Piece of fruit (usually blueberries, mango, or orange slices)
  • Oatmeal with cinnamon, almond butter, hemp seeds and mashed banana for added sweetness.
  • Oat milk

Lunch:

  • Boiled egg
  • roasted cauliflower,
  • raw yellow bell pepper
  • sourdough toast with hummus

Snack:

  • A smoothie with spinach, avocado, banana, blueberries and wheat germ OR
  • fresh fruit and amaranth cracker with avocado and nutritional yeast

Dinner:

  • Baked wild caught salmon with broccoli and sweet potato (usually not on the same day when she eats eggs); OR
  • Black bean chili cooked in coconut oil with veggies, cherry tomatoes and homemade corn bread.
  • Breastmilk

 

Sources:

Sally Fallon: The nourishing traditions book of baby & childcare

Canadian School of Natural Nutrition: Vegetarian diet for pregnancy, breast-feeding, infancy and childhood

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