Nutrition for children works the same as nutrition for adults. Their daily diet also needs proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Although an ideal balanced diet for children may differ based on age, activity levels, and other characteristics – implementing positive food habits is essential.
School-going children need a balanced and nutritious diet encompassing all five food groups. Read on to learn about the five food groups and how they make up optimal nutrition for a vibrant and active childhood.
What Are the Five Food Groups?
Nutritionists recommend understanding your food by dividing it into five essential food groups. Each group consists of various food items with similar nutritional makeup, allowing you to make variations in your child’s daily meals while ensuring they eat a balanced diet.
Some food groups are broken into sub-groups to emphasize foods especially rich in vitamins and minerals.
Fruit is a food group packed with indispensable nutrients, fiber, and taste – making it imperative in your child’s diet. All essential vitamins, minerals, and fibers are packed in fruits. They also have natural sugar that gives children energy to lead an active childhood.
Encourage your children to eat bananas, apples, berries, and citrus fruits daily. Babies can benefit by eating fruit pulp or juice extracted at home.
The third food group is carbohydrates. They are an indispensable source of energy for children and adults alike. All meals consist of bread to fulfil the daily intake of carbohydrates.
Insist on whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, millets to supply carbohydrates to your family’s diet. If your child is gluten intolerant or has gluten sensitivity – choose gluten-free grain options such as quinoa, jowar, or bajra. Gluten free roti flours can be used to make rotis which can be include in everyday diet.
Vegetables are rich in minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Regularly consuming vegetables helps incorporate high nutritional content into your child’s diet. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, cilantro, and parsley are rich in iron, potassium, and vitamins.
Colorful vegetables like carrots, bell peppers and sweet potatoes also offer a wide range of nutrients in your daily diet. To ensure your child gets enough fruits and vegetables, fill half their plates with them at mealtimes. Make a balance between raw and cooked vegetables for variety.
Vegetarian children can eat lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts, and tofu to get adequate protein. Plant-based proteins like soy and tofu are increasingly popular among vegans and vegetarians worldwide. Foods rich in protein supply our bodies with amino acids – a unique protein essential for growth and muscle repair.
Proteins are a vital food group and should be a part of your child’s diet from growth to maturity.
Dairy & Fat –
Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, buttermilk and cream are another significant food group in children’s nutrition. Dairy products are rich in calcium, vitamin D, and healthy fats.
They help growing children maintain strong bones and teeth. You can opt for low-fat milk or low-fat yoghurt sometimes to regulate the quantity of dairy fat your child consumes.
The richest healthy fat sources are nuts, avocados, olive oil, and mustard seeds. Please include them in children’s diets to give them good cholesterol and nutritional fat.
Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Children
Everyone wants their children to eat healthy and get the nutrition they need. However, developing good eating habits in children can be an uphill battle. At a young age, it is harder for children to resist temptation and make healthy food choices.
Parents should set a good example by making the appropriate food choices and encouraging their children to do the same. Here are some helpful tips –
Setting a Positive Food Environment –
Do your best to make mealtimes a positive experience for children. If your child is reluctant to eat something, counter it with positivity and patience. Keep a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and healthy food for children to choose healthy snacks and meal options. Limit the presence of processed foods in your house.
Meal Prepping & Involving Children –
Plan and prep your meals ahead of time to ensure a balanced diet for your whole family. Include modern recipes incorporating traditional grains such as brown rice, oats, and whole wheat.
Involve your children in the meal planning and allow them to choose within recommended food groups. It will enable children to experience a sense of ownership towards their food choices and learn more about food.
Balance Occasional Treats with Regular Nutrition –
Teach children about moderation and balance through food choices. Treat them to indulgent delicacies and processed foods like ice creams, cakes, and cold drinks whenever appropriate. But emphasize the importance of eating nutritious and balanced meals the rest of the time to maintain good health and immunity.
Foods and Drinks to Limit
It is best to identify the food items that are not nutritious or harmful to your child’s health and avoid including them in your child’s diet frequently. Occasional treats are acceptable, but indulging in unhealthy, processed, or sugary foods can harm a child’s health. Look at the list below and avoid including these food items in your child’s diet.
Beverages with artificial sweeteners, like soda and fruit juices, are unhealthy for children. These drinks have high sugar content and lack nutrition. Encourage your children to drink water when thirsty and make homemade juices instead of fizzy drinks.
Processed snacks such as chips, cakes, and cookies have large quantities of sugar, salt, saturated fats, and sodium. Make homemade snacks like air-popped popcorn; trail mixes with dry fruits and nuts, or you can try some traditional Indian snacks like chivda or nutritious laddus.
Fast food such as pizzas, burgers, and fries have high fat, sodium, and preservatives. Such food can be unhealthy and may even lead to indigestion if consumed by children regularly. Choose home-cooked meals using fresh ingredients and incorporate various food groups in your daily cooking.
Sugary Cereals and Desserts:
If your child craves sweets, avoid giving them sugary cereals and processed desserts. Choose whole grain cereals for breakfast and make desserts at home every once in a while.
A balanced nutrition plan for school-age kids involves incorporating the five food groups into their daily diet, encouraging healthy eating for kids, and limiting the consumption of processed and sugary foods. By prioritizing nutrient-rich choices, parents and caregivers can provide the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits and overall well-being.
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