Fat has a bad reputation — and that reputation is misleading. So, let’s get one thing straight: while some fats are definitely bad for you, there are plenty of fats that are great for you.
Your toddler needs all the same things you need, and that includes healthy fats! They just need toddler-sized portions of balanced meals. Healthy fats certainly have a place on your toddler’s puppy-dog-shaped plate, so here’s how parents can serve them up.
What’s the Difference Between a Good Fat and a Bad Fat?
Good fats are the fats your body needs to properly repair tissue and support joint health, brain health, and heart health. Good fats come from natural sources and aren’t processed, meaning many plant-based foods naturally contain good fats.
On the other hand, bad fats are saturated and trans fats, which you’ll find abundantly in processed foods.
Processed fats add calories to your diet without any nutritional benefit, and they may harm heart health and arterial health. These sources of fat may taste good, but they don’t provide anything more than flavor — they’re calorically dense, and may be harmful to your body in large amounts.
What Do Healthy Fats Do for the Body?
Healthy fats can raise levels of good cholesterol, which is a type of beneficial lipid that travels through your circulatory system. Healthy fats may even help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and the hardening of the arteries.
These health consequences almost never happen to toddlers, but it’s never too early to start teaching your children good eating habits. If they know from an early age that eating good fats is a better idea than eating bad fats, you can increase the chances that your child will form healthier lifelong habits.
Healthy fats, like omega-3 fats, work to support brain health. The brain needs omega fats to promote thinking, memory, and motor skills, which is extremely important for toddlers who are constantly learning and growing. Healthy fats play an important role in helping your toddler reach their full potential.
Fat is also necessary for the proper absorption of micronutrients like vitamins A, E, D, and K.
How Much Healthy Fat Does a Toddler Need?
Fat is an important macronutrient, and between 30% and 40% of your toddler’s daily calories should come from healthy fat. In other words, almost half of your toddler’s plate should consist of healthy fats in some form, and the average toddler needs about 40 grams of healthy fat per day to meet the recommended guidelines.
This may seem like a lot of fat, but it helps to consider the source rather than the amount. Some foods pack a big punch of healthy fat in only a modest serving size — if you choose the right foods, it should be easy to help your toddler meet their goals.
What Are Some Delicious Sources of Healthy Fats?
Plenty of foods contain healthy fats, but some of them can be a pretty hard sell for a toddler — especially if you have a particularly picky eater on your hands.
If your toddler has an interest in eating foods like fatty fish, you can certainly serve up more salmon at home. And if your child enjoys salad with dressing, you can try making your own vinaigrette dressing with extra virgin olive oil.
However, if you’re looking for something a little more kid-friendly, these delicious sources of healthy fats are sure to please. It’s easy to serve these foods up every day, and most kids are quick to take a liking to them.
One medium avocado contains a whopping 22 grams of healthy fat, which is more than half of your toddler’s recommended intake. Your child may not be quick to eat a plain sliced avocado, but they may enjoy avocado another way.
Toddlers love to dip almost everything they eat. Dip makes food feel a little more like an arts and crafts project, and you’ve probably gone through a few baby wipes when your toddler decided the best way to eat dip was directly off of their fingers.
Try swapping out your toddler’s favorite dip with a homemade avocado dip. You can make mild guacamole to serve on taco night, for example, or pair mashed avocado with crackers. A homemade avocado ranch can also replace traditional ranch dressing for toddlers who prefer their carrot sticks a little on the messy side.
Nut or Seed Butter
Nuts and seeds are naturally rich in healthy fats. Peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter are great sources of omega fatty acids, and nut or seed butter sandwiches are also one of the easiest foods you can prepare for your child on a busy day. In other words, nut or seed butters just might be a miracle for busy parents who want to make sure their children are getting what they need.
Just be sure to choose a low-sugar nut or seed butter, and spread it on some whole-grain bread for an extra boost of nutrients. Serve it up with some sliced banana and berries, and call it lunch.
If your child can have dairy products, incorporating more of them into your family’s diet is an easy way to add some healthy fats.
Even 2% milk or low-fat yogurt can contribute a significant amount of healthy fats into your toddler’s diet. Fermented dairy foods, like kefir and yogurt, also supply children with the probiotics they need to keep their digestive systems healthy.
Unfortunately, plant-based dairy alternatives tend not to boast the same healthy fats and probiotics that dairy foods do — but not to fear, you can still turn to other sources.
Eggs are very nutritious, and they’re also easy to prepare. Scrambled eggs can be whipped up in a breeze, and they provide children with plenty of much-needed healthy fat and protein.
Most toddlers are eager to gobble up scrambled eggs with a little bit of low-fat cheese, which bumps up the meal’s healthy fat content even further. If your child needs some extra encouragement to finish their eggs, ketchup is usually the magic ingredient that makes everything a little more fun.
How Can I Help My Picky Eater Enjoy Healthy Fats?
It’s usually easy to get a toddler to eat foods we don’t necessarily consider nutritious — they’re quick to gobble up noodles, nuggets, and anything sugary. If your toddler is a picky eater, though, it may be a bit more difficult to win them over when it comes to healthy fats. So, here are a few tips that might help out.
Make Some Compromises
Sometimes, compromise is necessary.
For example, frozen yogurt is still yogurt — it contains healthy dairy fats and live probiotic cultures. A low-sugar variety of frozen yogurt is a great quick dessert, and your toddler probably won’t know the difference between fro-yo and ice cream.
It’s okay if some of your child’s healthy fats come in the form of condiments or are invisible on the plate. You can cook with avocado oil or olive oil instead of vegetable oil, for example, and switching to olive oil mayonnaise instead of traditional mayonnaise on turkey sandwiches is an easy swap that your kid likely won’t even notice.
Give Your Toddler Controlled Choices
Toddlers are generally more inclined to do something when they think it’s their idea. They’re never tired when you tell them it’s nap time, but they’ll probably fall asleep in the middle of their toys when they’ve had enough fun for a while. Let your child think that eating healthy fats is up to them.
Tell them that they can have grilled chicken nuggets with avocado sauce or a side of cottage cheese. Both options contain healthy fats, and one way or another, your child is still getting healthy fat with their meal.
By letting them choose which one they want, they’ll feel a little more empowered.
If your child is very reluctant to eat foods with healthy fats, or if they’re allergic to many foods with healthy fats, you’ll need to provide additional support. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about incorporating supplements into your child’s daily routine, at least until they learn to tolerate new foods.
Your child may benefit from omega fatty acid supplements to replace what they aren’t getting through their normal diet. You can also incorporate daily probiotics and children’s multivitamins to fill other gaps on your youngster’s plate.
The Final Verdict on Healthy Fats
Don’t be afraid of healthy fats. They’re good for your toddlers and can help to support normal growth and development. It’s easy to incorporate more healthy fats into your child’s diet.
You don’t need to become a kitchen wizard or devote a lot of time to cooking complicated meals — healthy fats already exist in many foods your toddler already loves to eat.