You’ve read that butter and margarine aren’t healthful to cook with, so on your next trip to the grocery store, you make your way to the cooking oil aisle. Awaiting you is a dizzying array of oils. Some varieties are perfect for high-heat cooking, while others break down with heat, forming harmful by-products. You want to cook only the healthiest foods for your little one.
Health Benefits of Dietary Fat in Your Toddler’s Diet
Toddlers need a lot of energy to fuel their growing bodies and brains. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fully half the calories a 2-year-old child should consume daily should come from fat. Fat helps your child’s brain develop, helps wounds heal and improves vitamin absorption.
Features and Types of Cooking Oil
Some of the most commonly used cooking oils include canola, coconut, corn, cottonseed, olive, safflower, soybean, sunflower and peanut oil. Many vegetable oils feature a blend of these oils. Oils are made up of four types of fat. Healthier oils such as olive oil and flax seed oil contain more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats and trans fats should be limited. Use butter and lard sparingly because they are common sources of saturated fat. Avoid cooking with hydrogenated vegetable oil, found in shortening and margarine because they contain trans fat. Trans fats are the unhealthful franken-fat of the food industry, and definitely not something you want your toddler to consume.
Choose Healthful Oils With a High Smoke Point for Cooking
Omega-3 and omega-6 are also two components of oil. Omega-6 promotes inflammation at high levels, so it is really important to choose oils that are low in omega-6 and higher in omega-3. Every oil also has a smoke point, or heat level where the oil begins to break down and release free radicals. The safest cooking oil for your child is the one higher in PUFAs and MUFAs, with a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 and a high smoke point. Cooking oils that fit the bill include organic minimally refined canola oil and soybean oil. Extra virgin olive oil can also be used with lower temperature cooking.
Alternatives to Using Cooking Oil
You don’t have to use cooking oil when making food for your little one. Whenever possible, feed your toddler real, whole foods that contain plant-based sources of fat such as avocados, nuts and seeds. This way, your child gets all the benefits of the whole food that are stripped away when the oil is taken out. For cooking, vegetables can be steamed or sauteed in a small amount of water or vegetable broth. Apple sauce, mashed bananas, yogurt and other purees can all be used as oil replacements in baked goods. This is an effective way to get picky toddlers to eat more nutrient-dense foods. You can boost the omega-3 content in your child’s diet by adding healthful organic cold-pressed olive oil or ground flaxseeds to your toddler’s fresh foods.