Healthy diet for children

Family meal time with a child

Many families today run on busy schedules and many seem to have little or no time for taking care of their kids, making a meal plan and preparing home-made meals for their kids.

Unfortunately, a lack of proper diet and unhealthy meals can negatively affect the children's health, weight, and general state of well-being.

Feeding your children with the proper diet is a huge step toward preventing the onset of chronic diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.

It is important that children learn healthy eating habits early as it would b easier for them to stick with those habits as they grow older.

Benefits of healthy eating for children

There are different reasons why you must feed your children nutritious meals. Some of the benefits of healthful eating for kids include:

  • It keeps them in a good mood.
  • It enhances their minds.
  • It keeps them energized.
  • It helps maintain a healthy weight.
  • It helps prevent the onset of some chronic diseases.
  • It helps prevent mental conditions like anxiety and depression.

Tips for improving kids diet

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Introducing wholesome, nutritious diets into your children's diet makes for a healthy weight and healthy living. But, the problem is that many parents don't know how to go about this.

Being ignorant of the right foods and proper eating habits for kids can pose a challenge in some families.

Here, we will provide you with some tips on how to improve the health, weight and general state of well-being of your kids using well-balanced nutritious meals.

Dump junks for healthy home-made meals

Most times, parents make the mistake of feeding their kids junk, all in the name of "fast food". Fast foods should be seen as a last resort and not a regular meal plan.

Most foods sold as 'fast food' contain a high amount of unhealthy fat, sugar, and calories containing little or no nutrients.

Instead of constantly feeding them such junk, swap the junk with other food alternatives that are still kid-friendly.

For instance, instead of ice cream, offer them yoghurt or fruit smoothies; instead of french fries, go for baked fries with only a light salt; replace potato chips with nuts; dump pastries like doughnuts with other home-baked foods that contain less refined sugar.

Make smart fat choices

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Most times, when people hear the word - "fat", they frown at it because there is that general notion that fats are bad and can cause obesity or weight gain and other diseases.

It is wrong to say fats are bad because some fats are actually good for the health. In fact, kids need plenty of healthy fats in their diets. What you need to avoid are unhealthy fats like triglycerides and saturated fats.

This begs the question, "what are the healthy fats we should consume?"

Healthy fats are unsaturated fats which are of two main types- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats are good for health. They help lower the levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol), help build cell membranes, and help reduce inflammation.

For kids, unsaturated fats help them stay full for a longer period, improve their mood, and help them concentrate better.

Foods that contain monounsaturated fats include avocados, olive oil, peanut butter, peanut oil and sesame oil.

Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as found in flaxseeds, walnuts, soybean, corn oil, sunflower oil, and fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines and herring.

Make smart fat choices by feeding your kids healthy fats while avoiding unhealthy fats. Some examples of foods that contain unhealthy fats include margarine, candies, cookies, vegetable shortenings, baked foods, fried foods, snacks and other processed goods made with 'partially hydrogenated' vegetable oils.

Cut down on sugar and refined carbs

Refined or simple carbohydrates refers to those sugars and refined grains that have been stripped of fibre, bran and nutrients.

Examples of refined or simple carbohydrates include pizza dough, white bread, pasta, white flour, pastries, white rice and cereal meals. These refined carbs can cause an increase in blood sugar levels as well as changes in energy level and mood.

Children (and even adults) do not need much intake of these refined carbs. In fact, a child's body gets all the sugar it needs from naturally occurring sugar in whole or complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are carbs that contain a high amount of fibre and nutrients, e.g. brown rice, whole wheat, high-fibre cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables and beans. These carbs provide longer-lasting energy as the body digests them slowly.

It is better to feed your kids with such complex carbs instead of added or refined sugar, which contains only empty calories and can cause mood disorders, excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes and hyperactivity in kids.

To cut down on sugar and refined carbs, keep in mind that the American Heart Association recommends a limited sugar intake of about 12grams (3 teaspoons) a day for children.

Introduce lots of foods and vegetables

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Also, children who do not skip their breakfasts attain better test scores, concentration, memory, and school behaviour.

Ensure that your kids enjoy breakfast rich in protein foods such as milk, chicken, cheese, egg, fish, and yoghurt, as this can help maintain the appropriate weight, stabilize moods and increase energy level.

We understand that morning can be busy in most homes. However, breakfast need not be time-consuming. You can cook up a fast meal such as scrambled eggs, vegetable sauce, boiled eggs with high-protein, low-sugar cereal, and add some fruits to go.

Kids, just like adults, need lots of fruits and vegetables. Different studies have shown that meals rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of heart diseases, lower blood pressure and risk of digestive problems and prevent certain cancer types.

Remember that fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals, which help build strong immunity. They are also rich in fibre which can help with weight maintenance, reduce the risk of heart diseases and natural detox.

There are up to nine families of vegetables and fruits, each with different dietary constituents that are healthy for kids. Ensure you incorporate different varieties into your kids' meals.

Skip the french fries and potatoes for your kids. Rather try cooking new vegetable recipes and always keep fruits where your kids can see them.

Kids shouldn't skip breakfast

Kids mustn't skip their breakfast as breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is important, especially for the young ones.

A study showed that children who take their breakfast met their total protein and energy requirements to a greater extent than those who skip breakfast. Inadequate energy intake leads to malnutrition in kids.

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How to encourage healthy eating habits amongst your kids

Generally, kids love junk foods. In fact, TV commercials and pressure from peers would increase their cravings for junks, which makes it even harder to get them to eat healthily.

While getting your kids to eat right might be a challenging task, it is not an impossible one. There are things you can do to make adopting healthy eating habits easier for yourself and the children.

Don't ban sweets entirely; make healthy snacks available

It wouldn't sit down well with your children if you cut off snacks entirely from their meal plans. Kids and even adults like snacking at intervals. So what do you do?

Simply swap the unhealthy snacks with healthy ones. For instance, instead of the candies, sweets, cakes, ice creams etc., keep within their reach plenty of fruits and healthy beverages, e.g. natural fruit juice, smoothies, water and milk.

Also, your kids might protest against you one day if you ban those sweet foods entirely. Thus, once in a while, you might want to allow them to take a snack so they don't overindulge their cravings anytime they see a chance to.

Don't force new foods on them

If you are making a switch from unhealthy meals to healthy ones for your kids, you need to take it easy on them. It takes a while for kids, especially the picky eaters, to ease into new food.

Don't introduce many new foods at a time; introduce one new food at a time. While at it, make it fun.

Serve those new foods with their favourite to make acceptance easier. Offer the new foods, especially when they are hungry as they will tend t eat more.

Make the foods more appealing

Children would likely not find fruits and vegetables as appealing as junk foods, but you can always give your recipes a makeover to make them taste as good as those junks, even with less sugar.

When next you are going grocery shopping, you can take your kids along; allow them to pick the fruits and vegetables themselves. Encourage them to pick their favourite fruits.

Also, you don't have to make the whole meal solely vegetable. Kids hardly like vegetables!

Rather, sneaking vegetables into other foods might make it more appealing to them. Cut vegetables into stews, make a vegetable sauce with tomatoes and chicken shreds, Cut in carrots into your rice meal.

Make mealtimes fun times

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Mealtimes shouldn't be gloomy; it shouldn't seem like a punishment to the kids. When a family sits down to eat together, it provides the kids with some degree of comfort and enhances appetite.

You can make mealtimes a great time to catch up with the events of the day. Have your kids tell you how their day went without distractions like the internet, TV or computers.

Interacting with your kids doing mealtime can help relieve them of stress and boost their self-esteem. Also, it can be a great moment to monitor their eating habits.

Be a good role model

Children always tend to imitate what their parents, teachers, older ones or even peers do. The point is that childhood is a period when many habits, including eating habits, are formed, and children learn these habits easily from people they look up to.

You must know that your kids look up to you and one of the ways to encourage them to eat healthily is by being a good role model.

You can't ban your kids from eating sweets and be found snacking on some candies. Your kids won't take you seriously and will definitely feel cheated if you offer them vegetables while you munch on potato chips and meat pie.

Kids' diet and weight management

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When planning meals for your kids, their Body mass index (BMI) should be taken into consideration as well. BMI is the standard metric for measuring body size by measuring weight and height.

Calculate your kid's Body mass index to determine whether they are overweight, underweight or in the average weight.

If your child is underweight, your meal goal should involve adopting food strategies that will help the child gain some weight. On the other hand, if your child is overweight, your focus should be on healthy food habits that will help with weight loss.

If your kid is within the normal weight range, you would want to maintain that. You still have to feed the kid healthy, nutritious meals to avoid excessive weight loss or weight gain. There are different ways to avoid obesity, and eliminating junks is one of such ways.

Obesity and underweight both have risk factors associated with it. By encouraging healthy eating habits amongst your kids, you are reducing their risk of developing some health problems in adulthood.

Healthy foods children love

Feeding children, especially with healthy diets, can be one of the most stressful things for parents. Thus, we will help you with a list of healthy food items kids love.

You can always experiment, tweak and recreate something new out of this food list.

  • Proteins: Lean meat, poultry, eggs, beef, black beans, seafood, peas, beans, soy milk, unsalted nuts, seeds, lentils, almonds, kiwi, kidney beans,
  • Vegetables and fruits: Oranges, apples, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, mango, cucumber, watermelon, pineapple, figs, grapes, banana, avocadoes, beans and peas, cabbage, carrots, corns, peas, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach
  • Carbohydrates: Yam, sweet potatoes, rice, corn, parsnip, pumpkin, crackers, wheat bread
  • Fats: Peanut butter, sunflower seeds, fish, cashew nut butter, coconut and coconut milk, olives
  • Grains: Whole wheat bread, popcorn, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, barley
  • Cereals: Shredded wheat, cheerios, multi-grain cheerios, Wheaties, total raisin bran, oatmeal, millet
  • Dairy: Yoghurt, milk, fortified soy beverages, cheese
  • Snacks: Dried fruits, nut butter, yoghurt, chickpea puffs, carrot and celery sticks, homemade banana bread, kid-friendly salad, fresh fruit juice, smoothies, popcorn, nuts, sliced pears, cottage cheese, banana oat cookies, baked sweet potato, energy balls, whole grain crackers, frozen fruit popsicles, fruit salad