Making children eat can be quite challenging at times, especially when they are in their younger years. However, there is no gainsaying that the only way for children to grow stronger and develop properly is by eating. Healthy food is the gateway to proper child growth and development. Not eating healthy food can cause problems like malnutrition and obesity in children. According to the UNICEF, nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition; undernutrition puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, increases the frequency and severity of such infections, and delays recovery. The interaction between undernutrition and infection can create a potentially lethal cycle of worsening illness and deteriorating nutritional status. Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life can also lead to stunted growth, which is associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance. Approximately more than one in five (about 149.2 million children) under 5 were stunted in 2020, and 45.4 million suffered from wasting. Meanwhile, the number of children under 5 affected by overweight worldwide has increased from 33.3 million in 2000 to 38.9 million in 2020. Stunting and wasting are results of undernutrition. While the number of children suffering from issues of undernutrition are reducing, more children are beginning to have issues related to poor and unhealthy feeding like obesity. The key to proper growth of a child lies in a balanced and healthy diet.
What are the benefits of healthy eating for children?
According to the WHO, opting for a balanced, adequate and varied diet is an important step towards a happy and healthy lifestyle for children. Vitamins and minerals in the diet are vital to boost immunity and healthy development. A healthy diet can protect the human body against certain types of diseases, in particular non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer and skeletal conditions. A healthy diet can also contribute to an adequate body weight and healthy eating is a good opportunity to enrich life by experimenting with different foods from different cultures, origins and with different ways to prepare food.
Additionally, healthy eating can stabilize the energy, improve the minds, and even out the mood, while preventing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
What is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet is a diet that contains differing kinds of foods in certain quantities and proportions so that the requirement for calories, proteins, minerals, vitamins and alternative nutrients is adequate. It is a diet consisting of a variety of different types of food and providing adequate amounts of the nutrients necessary for good health.
What does a balanced diet for children contain?
A balanced diet for school-age children includes a wide variety of fresh foods from the five food groups of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, minerals, and vitamins. This is a food mixed with a blend of vegetables, fruit, grain foods, reduced-fat dairy, and protein.
Children need a balanced diet with food from all these food groups: vegetables and fruit, whole grain products, and protein foods. They need three meals a day and one to three snacks (morning, afternoon and possibly before bed). Healthy snacks are just as important as the food you serve at meals.
The best foods are whole, fresh and unprocessed—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and meats; and home-cooked meals.
Tips for healthy diet for optimal growth of children.
Giving a child balanced diet can be very challenging. Knowing how to combine and introduce the food to the children can often be a huge task for parents who want to ensure their children are not just eating, but eating healthy.
- Breakfast can be a tough time for children as everyone is often rushing to go off for the day. Eating a balanced breakfast with protein is a great way for your child to start their day. Try adding food like egg sandwich on whole-wheat bread., Greek yogurt., peanut butter on whole-grain toast, hard boiled eggs, toast, and an apple. These will provide them with protein which can help them stay fuller longer.
- Encourage your child to choose fruit and vegetables at every meal and for snacks. This includes fruit and vegetables of different colors, textures and tastes, both fresh and cooked. For example, you can add chopped bananas to their cereal or toast at breakfast, include a bowl of salad or vegetable soup with their lunch, giving them healthy snacks like a bowl of raw carrots and cucumbers mid-afternoon. Getting children to eat vegetables can be very difficult, the best way is to try the following tips:
- Make meal time a family affair. Eat at the dining table with your children, and use the opportunity to bond with them. Let them look forward to meal times with you.
- The best way to make children eat vegetables is by setting a good example and eating them yourself. Children tend to imitate adults a lot.
- Also try to choose fruits and vegetables of different colors and make the vegetable plate look appetizing and not green and dull which will discourage most children.
- Limit the treats for children. These foods can be high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, and low in fiber. Regularly eating them can increase the risk of health conditions like childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes. They include fast food, takeaway and junk food like hot chips, potato chips, dim sims, pies, burgers and takeaway pizza. They also include cakes, chocolate, lolly pops, biscuits, doughnuts and pastries. Limiting these will make more space for your children to fill up with healthy food.
- Also limit your child’s sweet drinks. This includes fruit juice, cordials, sports drinks, flavored waters, soft drinks and flavored milks. Sweet drinks are high in sugar and low in nutrients and may lead to tooth decay.
- Don’t forget to offer water when your child is thirsty and not fruit juice and soda, especially between meals and snacks. Also limit the water they drink just before meals to avoid them being full during meal times.
Healthy eating tips for toddlers.
Depending on their specific age, activity levels, and gender, it is suggested that toddlers have around 3-5 ounces of grains per day. One ounce roughly translates to 1 piece of bread, ½ cup of rice or oatmeal, or one small (4 inch) pancake. In terms of vegetables, toddlers should be having between 1-2 cups of vegetables per day. Considering some toddlers are just starting to adopt table foods, it is advisable to offer soft and cooked vegetables cut into very small pieces. This not only helps toddlers chew and swallow vegetables but also reduces any choking hazards. Toddlers should also be consuming fruit every day. This could breakdown into ½ of a banana for breakfast, ½ of an apple for a snack, 8 sliced grapes, ½ cup cooked broccoli, and ½ cup peas and carrots. If your toddler rejects your food, do not be discouraged, keep on introducing variety of meals to them in small quantities, they usually get used to it and gradually adapt to their meals.
Healthy eating may be daunting at first, especially for first time parents, however, if you make it a habit, gradually both you and your children will get used to it and you will be glad you did when they begin to grow up not just fast, but healthy too.