If you feel challenged by thinking about a healthier diet for your child, you are not alone. This is a point of stress for so many parents but let’s take this step-by-step! You can start with one step in the right direction and if that’s all that works for your family then you are not a failure! Building up to a healthier lifestyle will take some time and getting used to for a child. Here are a few basics on what a healthy diet for children looks like.
Fruits and Veggies- This is probably the toughest food group to introduce to children if they aren’t used to eating fruit and vegetables regularly. A good way to go about introducing these items would be to cut up one veggie and one fruit that they recognize and serve them with other food items they are comfortable and familiar with. As they taste the new fruit or vegetable and decide if they like them or not, you can serve them more regularly and start introducing other fruits and veggies as you’d like. It’s always okay to use canned or frozen fruits and vegetables as well! Just look for added sugar or sodium content on the label.
Protein- Protein is very important for the health of a growing child. It is vital for muscle growth, keeping them feeling fuller longer, and providing high energy levels for a happy, active life. If your child isn’t a fan of meats try other protein options: beans, nut butters, nuts, chickpeas (hummus), and eggs.
Dairy- Dairy items are fortified with Vitamin D, provide protein, full of calcium, and most kids love them! These are one of the easier items to keep in check with a child’s diet. The key here is to make sure you are not over serving dairy items due to fat content and when it comes to items like yogurt, make sure to check for sugar content.
Grains- Most grains now are fortified with iron and folic acid, which are essentials for proper growth. Grains also contain healthy amounts of fiber and B vitamins.
The hardest part about creating a healthy diet for you child is limiting processed foods and snacks. I know that is a lot easier said than done. Kids are drawn to these items thanks to ease of consumption as well as colorful marketing and media. Limit snack items to two a day, one snack after breakfast and another after lunch. This will ensure that your child is hungry at mealtime and has plenty of room to fill their bellies with nutrients that will help keep them healthy and happy.
Fast food should be limited in a child’s diet. It is filling but it offers very little nutrients and children may become malnourished if consuming only fast food.
Sugary drinks should also be a limited item in a child’s diet. Fruit juices are never a replacement for actual fruit but are a much better alternative to soda. Water and milk are best for babies and toddlers. Water daily is essential for growth and aids against dehydration. Proper hydration helps with digestion, which can affect energy levels.
When it comes to sticking with healthier diets for children a few other rules of thumb are; always start their day with a wholesome breakfast, try and encourage them to sit away from a screen at mealtime, and try and explore new foods and ways to cook them, together. This will help children maintain a healthier lifestyle for the long haul, which will promote clearer minds and better moods.
The buzz around children’s health isn’t to shame parents into thinking they’re doing an inadequate job with the time they’ve been given, it’s to remember that we are all trying to prevent prevalent diseases and keep your children their happiest and brightest selves. This all starts with a few conscious changes to a normal routine. We would love to hear your questions on this topic if you have them!
—– Jade Mitchell, Nutrition Educator