A healthy, balanced diet for children provides essential vitamins, minerals and other nutritional goodies that kids need for healthy growth and development. Vitamins and minerals are vital for our bodies to function properly and each one plays a specific role in the body.
The importance of balanced diet for children is:
- Develop strong bones
- Grow healthily
- Concentrate at school
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stay active and alert
What do your child need?:
There are several food groups and it’s important that your child gets the right amounts of each in their diet. Below I outline what is recommended.
Fruit and veg
You should look to include at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Portion sizes will differ depending on age, size and physical activity. As a rough guide a portion of fruit and veg should be the size of your child’s palm.
Children should have a source of carbohydrate within every meal. Choose whole grain varieties as these provide more fibre and nutrients. They also provide slow energy release which will keep children fuller and more energised for longer.
Protein is always important, but is even more so during childhood. Protein encourages healthy bones, growth and brain development. You can get protein from animal products like lean meat, fish, milk, eggs, yoghurt and cheese. These contain all 9 essential amino acids. You can also get protein from plant-based foods like beans and pulses. Aim to include two portions of fish a week (one portion being oily, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines), which can be fresh, frozen or canned.
Dairy products like cheese, milk and yoghurt give children a great deal of nourishment. They provide calcium, vitamins A and B12 as well as being a source of protein. If possible, avoid too many flavoured yoghurts as these can be high in sugar – opt for natural or Greek varieties instead.
Fat and sugar
Fats are important for children, but in moderation. The beneficial fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated and can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish. Some of the saturated fats found in pastries, animal fats and baked goods are often poor quality and come alongside sugar and salt. These types of foods should be kept as occasional treats. Too much sugar disrupts children’s energy levels, damages teeth and can lead to weight gain.
As adults, we shouldn’t exceed 6 grams a day; children should have even less. As a general guide, kids aged 4-11 should have between 3-6 grams a day. Start looking at food labels and keep in mind that many pre-packaged foods contain lots of salt.
Between meals, the best drinks to opt for are milk and water as these are kind to teeth. Drinks containing sugar (fruit juice, squash, carbonated drinks etc.) should be enjoyed as an occasional treat and with meals to limit damage to teeth.
Healthy snacks for kids
Including nutritious snacks is important to help keep your child’s energy levels consistent and their appetite satisfied! Below are some sweet and savoury options recommended by Samantha Paget:
- slices of fruit with unsweetened nut butter
- natural yoghurt with mango or papaya
- Nakd bars.
- unsweetened oatcakes with hummus or unsweetened nut butter
- vegetable crisps with hummus
- raw vegetables (broccoli, carrots, peppers and sugar snap peas) with homemade guacamole.
How to help fussy eaters
If your child is a picky eater, it can be difficult to know how to keep their meals healthy, balanced and nutritious. One thing to bear in mind is that it doesn’t often last forever, though for now, we have a few tips to help you.
If your child is a fussy eater, getting them involved with the process can help. Ask them to choose what goes into their lunchbox and then let them help you prepare it. Rewarding them when they try something new can also help to encourage them to be more adventurous – why not make a food reward chart, where they receive a gold star every time they try a new food?
Sometimes it is the amount of food that can be daunting. Children like to feel the food, so preparing snacks that are quite ‘hands on’ may encourage them further. Perhaps look to downsize the main meal and increase the number of snacks they have.
It is common for children to stick to what they know – if they like two types of food, it is likely they will ask for that every day. But don’t eliminate it completely, try to incorporate it with other foods in their meal. For more inspiration, please see our lunchbox ideas page.
What can I do if my children won’t eat the foods they need for growing bodies?
Sometimes it is just not possible to get kids to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods every day, which is why a good, quality children’s multivitamin might be beneficial. A good multivitamin for kids with nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, vitamin C, iodine and zinc, may help top up your child’s diet and help fill any nutritional gaps to support growing bodies.