We all know that a healthy child is a happy child, making healthy eating the top of a mom’s priority list. Did you know that, compared to adults, children need more nutritious foods for their size to support growth, developing bones, building muscle, the energy needed to explore the world, concentration at school, and even healthier sleep patterns? Children must eat a varied diet to ensure their growing bodies get everything they need, including three main food groups – carbs, protein, and fats. We take a look at these three different food groups:
Carbohydrates are the body’s first choice for energy to support growing little bodies. Choose mostly minimally processed carbohydrates for your children, such as wholegrain/ high fibre bread, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, wholewheat couscous, bran, and oats. These foods contain fibre for healthy tummies. Another carbohydrate food is sugar. Sugar has very little nutritional value but is packed with energy, which is why it should be limited to special occasions, whether as sugar added to tea, cereal, or yoghurt, or as part of sugar-rich treats like cakes, soft drinks, and sugary cereals. Fruit and vegetables also fall under the carbohydrate food group. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fibre, all fruit and vegetables are highly nutritious for preventing illness and disease and improving overall health. Make fruit and vegetables part of meals and snacks each day as much as possible. Boost your child’s nutrition intake by blending fruit like berries, mango, and banana with yoghurt and/or milk, make vegetable fritters using pumpkin, corn, or beetroot and add small diced vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, peas, baby marrows, and celery into mince, soup, and stews.
Good to know: Start a vegetable garden with your children and harvest the vegetables to prepare dinner together. Make a fruit and vegetable star chart, place it somewhere visible, and offer your child a reward, such as going to the park or an extra story at night before bed when a goal is reached.
Fish, chicken, lean red meat, eggs, dairy, and legumes such as lentils, beans, and chickpeas are good protein choices. Try a cheesy omelette for breakfast, creamy yoghurt with bone-building calcium as a snack, and meatballs and fish cakes make for great protein-rich finger foods.
Good to know: Providing the building blocks for muscle, growth, and a strong immune system is protein.
Avocado, olive oil, and nut butters (sugar- and salt-free) are examples of healthy fats to include as part of your child’s diet. Fats provide the body with vitamins A, D, E and K, to protect the heart, and improve how the cells of the body function. These fats also provide essential fatty acids for healthy eyes and a healthy brain. Choose mostly healthier fats instead of the less healthy saturated fats like butter, cream, coconut oil, bacon, fatty cuts of meat, and chicken skin.
Good to know: As your child begins to establish a relationship with food, it’s important to set the scene for healthy eating habits at a young age. Your child’s diet daily should include three main meals with two smaller snacks in-between.