Healthy Fats for Toddlers:
Why are They Important?
Healthy fats in a toddler’s diet are necessary for growth and development. At this young age, they are undergoing rapid brain and neurodevelopment, however, this can be hindered by inadequate fat intake.
There is so much misinformation in the world! I know it can be confusing to know what information is healthy and how to implement it correctly. With all of the confusion, it is no surprise that parents are also searching for ways to keep their kids healthy—but sometimes are misled with not-so-healthy information.
Over the years, there has been a lot of debate on how much fat to include in our diets. Because of the confusion, and as a registered dietitian, I am here to explain why young children and toddlers should NOT be put on low or no-fat diets. Healthy fats can benefit their growth, development, and overall health.
What is fat?
Fats are 1 of the 3 macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) that make up how we get energy from food. Energy we obtain from food is considered to be its’ calorie content. Fat is the highest energy/calorie-containing macronutrient. It contains 9 calories per gram. Compared to protein and carbohydrates that only contain 4 calories per gram.
What are the benefits of healthy fats for toddlers?
- Fat plays a key role in the rapid brain development that occurs during early childhood.
- Fat promotes nervous system development.
- Fat plays a role in hormone production.
- Fat is a good source of calories if your child has been diagnosed as being underweight by their pediatrician.
- Fat enables the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
- Fat can help kids feel full and stay full after meals and can help prevent overeating.
What are the best sources of healthy fats?
Fats can be found in many foods that toddlers may already eat and enjoy! These may include:
- Dairy- including milk, yogurt, butter, cheese
- Nuts and nut butter – peanuts/peanut butter, almonds/almond butter, walnuts
- Olive oil or other vegetable oils
- Ground flax seeds
- Fish and other meats- Salmon, chicken, pork, beef, turkey
How much fat does a toddler need?
Fat should NOT be restricted in young children and toddlers under the age of two. In general, fat should make up at least 30-40% of your child’s daily calorie intake OR 30-40 grams of fat per 1,000 calories eaten according to the American Academy of Pediatrics
How to incorporate healthy fats into your child’s diet.
- Cook using olive oil or other vegetable oils. Vegetables and meat can be sautéed in a skillet using olive oil. Some vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, asparagus, and broccoli can also be tossed in olive oil and roasted in the oven.
- Serve nuts with yogurt and fruit for a healthy and balanced snack.
- Be creative and add fats to smoothies by including ingredients like milk, yogurt, nut butter and ground flax seed.
- Sprinkle shredded cheese on top of meals as a fun topping.
- Make baked goods including eggs and vegetable oil.
- Serve whole milk until at least 2 years of age.
For a dinner recipe that is packed with healthy fats, try out this Avocado Alfredo Pasta with Chicken recipe! It’s delicious and a meal the whole family will enjoy.
And for a healthy treat loaded with healthy fats, try these Creamy Fudge Pops with Avocado from Yummy Toddler Food! YUM!!