A healthy and balanced diet is a very important one for all of us, but particularly for growing children especially in those baby and toddler years i.e. under 5 years. Children need to receive all the necessary nutrients for proper growth and development, therefore a healthy diet is key to achieving this.
As tasking as it can be, especially with the introduction of solid food, not having enough information or baby recipes to try, dealing with picky eaters, getting your food rejected and more, we can’t give up settling and imbibing a good food routine for our children.
Imbibing a healthy eating habit from childhood is important because a child tends to carry these habits into their growing years, teen and adulthood. It creates a good path to living a healthier lifestyle and therefore, with the addition of physical activities, eating healthy helps children to:
- be active and alert
- maintain a healthy weight
- develop strong bones
- grow healthily and happily too
- have a lot more concentration and excel in school
- lower significant adulthood health risks like type 2 diabetes, being overweight or obese, cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and the likes.
A balanced diet is made up of five food groups and knowing these food groups is the first step to ensuring you are making the most them and incorporating them into your child’s daily meals and snacks. I remember we were taught these in school then, so i bet you know them too or probably have forgotten, so let’s refresh.
During the first six months of life, breast milk or infant formula is where the baby gets all the nutrition required. At six months (some babies do start at four months), milk is complemented with foods from the food groups below in order to maintain a balanced diet.
A source of carbohydrate should be the main part of a meal, as it provides energy, nutrients and fibre. Wholegrain options are good, where possible because they are higher in fibre. Examples of carbohydrates are bread, rice, potato, corn, oats, breakfast cereals, spaghetti and pastas etc. Remember that foods that are high in fibre can fill your child up quickly that they may not eat from other groups to get the required nutrients. So, try not to fill them up with just high fibre foods.
Some carbohydrate food sources are:
Proteins are the building blocks of life. They are very important for growth and repair of the body cells and most of the foods that contain protein also contains iron and other vitamins and minerals. The most important for growth are the animal proteins which are found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and dairy foods.
Other important source of protein are the plant proteins found in legumes and pulses like beans, lentils, soya beans and the likes. Plant proteins are not complete proteins like animal proteins, therefore you will need to complement it with the other to get the full essential amino acid benefits derived from eating proteins.
Recipes with protein;
Milk & Dairy
This food group equally contains protein and are found in milk, cheese and yogurt. In addition to the protein benefits of milk and dairy, they also pack more than a punchful of calcium, minerals and vitamins like vitamins B12, vitamin D and vitamin A. They help in the development of strong bones and teeth, as well as keeping them healthy. The calcium in milk and other dairy foods is also easily absorbed by the body.
Recipes that have milk and dairy are
Fruits and Vegetables
It is always good to start introducing this important food group to your kids as they are filled with fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep them healthy. Try and incorporate them into their meals at an early stage, so that they can start getting used to their flavours. If they are not so keen on eating them, you can hide them in other foods to ensure the get the nutritional benefits. Start babies with pureed fruit and vegetables, then chop fruits into bite sizes to serve as a finger food for toddlers to encourage self-feeding and motor movement.
Fat & Sugar
Fat and sugar is a good source of energy for growing children but too much of it is always not good. They provide lots of energy but less nutrients to the body hence the need to balance it and ensure the right kind of nutrients outweigh the proportion of fat in a child’s diet.
Fat and sugar are found in butter, margarine, cooking oils, pastries, cakes, juices, sugary drinks and chocolates. Things like buns, puffpuff, meatpie, cakes, crisps should be limited for toddlers and be given once in a while, probably on special occasions. Fats, sugar and salts are one of the factors that contribute to obesity in children.
In addition to these food groups, water should also form an important part of a child’s nutrition. Though, not a food group, it is as important as they are, especially for active kids who need to be hydrated at all times. Fruit juices and smoothies are good but can be high in sugar, so it is always better to make juices yourself. That way you at least regulate the sugar content.
Some homemade drinks are;
Please note that water is still the best drink for kids and should not be compensated with by giving other liquids and juices. Read my post on why water is still your child’s best drink.