Although they have a much wider range of food preferences than infants, toddlers still need mom to give them healthy, safe food choices. A balanced diet for a toddler looks much like your balanced diet -- fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meats -- but for a young child's more delicate system, take extra precautions with preparation and serving. Lunch meats are safe for toddlers, but serve them in moderation and only after cooking.
Types of Lunch Meats
Cold cuts vary in their ingredients and preparation methods. Roasted chicken, beef, turkey and pork consist of a single meat cooked with spices and sliced thin. Bologna, olive loaf, salami and mortadella contain meat from numerous sources, along with other ingredients chopped or pureed and pressed together to form a slice-able loaf. Ham and corned beef are also single-meat cold cuts, but they undergo a curing process that introduces other ingredients in the curing brine. The National Institutes of Health recommend feeding toddlers one new food at a time to keep track of any negative reactions, so start with single-meat cold cuts for young toddlers around a year old and progress to other lunch meats as they grow through the toddler years.
Manufacturers take great care with preserving and handling cold cuts, as people typically eat these foods unheated. However, one strain of bacteria, called listeria, can continue to grow in your refrigerator, posing a possible danger to young children and elderly people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend heating foods to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate the risk of listeria contamination. Although listeria is very rare -- it affects only about 1,600 people in the United States each year -- you may choose to heat your toddler's portion of lunch meat in the microwave or on the stove before serving it.
Sodium and Preservatives
Depending on how it's preserved, deli meats can contain high levels of sodium and potassium in the form of sodium or potassium nitrate. Nitrates and nitrites in meats preserve their color and flavor, but they fill a more important role as a preservative, preventing microbial contamination. However, you may not want that much sodium in your little one's meal. If you decide to limit your toddler's sodium intake, choose low-sodium deli meats. Some lunch meats, such as roast beef, turkey and chicken -- which do not undergo a curing process -- have lower amounts of sodium.
Large, flat pieces of lunch meat can potentially pose a choking danger to your toddler. The simplest solution is to cut or tear deli meats into small pieces and supervise while your toddler eats. Younger kids just growing into the toddler stage are at greater risk of choking than older toddlers, but if you start your young child in the habit of eating at the table for meals and snacks, you'll have an easier time supervising meals as your toddler grows.