A healthy diet for children has enough nutrients for them to grow and have energy. The nutrients children need include protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The amount of nutrients your child needs changes as he grows. His nutrient needs also depend on the amount of physical activity he does every day. A healthy diet also limits unhealthy foods that are high in fat and sugar.
Nutrition for kids is in some ways similar to nutrition for adults. Everyone, regardless of age, needs the same types of nutrients — such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals — just in different amounts. Children differ from adults in that they have periods of rapid growth and development.
Get children involved at mealtimes – younger children in particular are far more likely to eat something they’ve made themselves so let them help you cook healthy meals such as fishcakes, homemade burgers, fruit muffins, whole meal scones, smoothies and sandwiches. Meanwhile, encourage teenagers to eat with the family.
Take a look at what the whole families are eating – kids rarely have bad eating habits on their own so if your child is gaining too much weight, it’s unlikely the rest of the family is having a healthy diet. If this is the case, encourage a healthy, balanced diet for everyone.
Limit fat intake by avoiding deep-fried foods and choosing healthier cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming. Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
The foods that make up the widest part of the pyramid’s base–breads, cereals, rice and pasta–should be the biggest part of your diet, followed by several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. And as you ‘climb’ up the pyramid you get to dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt) and meat, fish, beans, nuts and eggs. And finally, fats, oils, and sweets are at the very top of the pyramid–which means that you should eat very little of these foods!
If a snack is providing 25 percent of a child’s total calories, parents should aim for no more than 600 mg of sodium and between 10 and 15 grams of fat per snack. Sugar is tough because nutrition labels don’t distinguish between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. You don’t want to restrict sugar from whole fruits, veggies or skim or low-fat milk. For sugar, scan the ingredient list and steer clear of snacks with high fructose corn syrup in the first few ingredients.
Infant formula is the only alternative to breast milk. Cow’s milk is not suitable as a main drink in the first year. Infant formula at reduced prices is available for babies under one year old in families on a low income. It is recommended that you breastfeed your baby for the first six months of their life, after which they will start to need more than just milk. This is the time to begin gradually introducing non-milk foods, a process called ‘weaning’.
Keep healthy food at hand. Children will eat what’s readily available. Keep fruit in a bowl on the counter, not buried in the crisper section of your fridge. And have an apple for your own snack. “Your actions scream louder than anything you will ever tell them,” says Sothern. Remember, your child can only choose foods that you stock in the house.