The early years of children are an important basis for their future health. Children’s preferences and eating habits are also formed at the beginning of life with consequences for a number of results for health and development in later life.
That is why it is important the food provided in the early years, to provide adequate amounts of energy and nutrients and to support the development of healthy eating habits in young children and to provide each child with the best start in life.
Nutrition for children is one of the most discussed and current topics for parents. How to form proper eating habits of preschool children and what to include in the children’s menu?
What is considered good nutrition?
The basic principles of healthy and proper nutrition are the following:
- Food should provide the body with all the necessary substances and contain: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- The diet must be balanced, which means a high content of vitamins and minerals, which will help the body grow, develop and stay healthy.
- Moderation – the correspondence of the calorie content in the food with how much the child consumes and how actively he moves. The child should be fed and satisfy hunger, but not overeat. It is important to follow a diet from an early age.
- The child should eat at the same time.
- Variety – every day the child should eat foods from different food groups – proteins, carbohydrates, dairy products, fats, fruits and vegetables.
Children need 3 meals a day and 1 to 3 snacks (morning, afternoon and possibly before bed). Healthy snacks are just as important as the food you serve during a meal.
The best foods are whole, fresh and unprocessed – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and meat; and home-cooked meals. Cook more meals at home.
Restaurants and eateries have more added sugar and unhealthy fats, so cooking at home can have a huge impact on your children’s health.
Sugar and sugar substitutes
Offer foods without added sugar or sugar substitutes. Limit refined sugars (sucrose, glucose-fructose, white sugar) honey, molasses, syrups and brown sugar. They all have a similar number of calories and also contribute to tooth decay.
Sugar substitutes, such as aspartame and sucralose, do not add calories or cause tooth decay, but they are much sweeter than sugar and have no nutritional value. They can lead to the habit of liking only sweet foods and make it difficult for your child to adapt to fruits and vegetables. It is good to limit them in the diet of your child.
Juice and water
- Offer water when your child is thirsty, especially between meals and snacks.
- Limit the juice to one serving (125 ml) of 100% unsweetened juice per day.
- Serving fruit instead of fruit juice adds healthy fiber to your child’s diet.
Sometimes children drink too much during meals or between meals, which makes them feel full.
Sodium is a mineral that maintains the right fluids in your body. It is also necessary for nerve and muscle function. But eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease. Sodium is usually called salt.
Offer your child healthy foods low in sodium as often as possible. Processed and pre-packaged foods usually contain large amounts of sodium. Too much sodium in childhood can lead to a preference for salty foods, which is associated with obesity and / or disease later in life.
What about fat?
Healthy fats contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, which cannot be produced in the body and must come from food. Limit processed meats that are high in fat, sodium (salt) and nitrates (food preservatives).
The menu for the week of the child should include:
every day – vegetables, fruits, cereals and milk;
- 1-2 times a week – fish;
- once a week – red meat,
- 1-2 times a week – legumes;
- 2-3 times – eggs;
- 2-3 times – cottage cheese and cheese;
- White meat.
For proper nutrition for children, the sample daily menu should offer:
- Breakfast – the main and mandatory meal, which should provide the young person with a supply of energy for several hours. A little secret to overcoming the reluctance to eat in the morning: feed your child only when his body is fully awake. Waking up takes 20 to 40 minutes. Breakfast may include: porridge (with butter or milk), pasta, mashed potatoes; eggs, cheese; meat or fish; cocoa, tea, natural juice, compote or milk.
As a second breakfast, you can offer: fruit (apple, banana, pear); cheese or boiled fillet sandwich; cookies or muffins, home-made, nuts or dried fruits; drink juice, kefir, still water, fruit drink). Dairy products, pastries and fruits should be consumed separately. Children should drink water as they need 30 ml per 1 kg of body weight per day.
- Lunch is the main meal, during which it is important for the child to receive first, second and dessert.
The first is hot liquid dish: a small portion of meat, fish or vegetable soup.
The second is garnish (porridge, pasta, potatoes) with the addition of boiled or stewed meat or fish, stewed or fresh vegetables.
Dessert is a sweet with a moderate sugar content.
It is important to explain to your child that no sandwich is as healthy as a plate of hot soup.
- Between lunch and dinner it is recommended to have a small breakfast, but the largest amount of food should be eaten in the morning, during breakfast and lunch.
- Dinner is light, preferably including hot food. It is recommended to have dinner at least 2 hours before bedtime. What to offer your child for dinner: scrambled eggs or omelet; cottage cheese; stewed vegetables or fish; boiled meat; vegetable salad; rice or oatmeal; legumes with fresh vegetables, etc.
Remember to combine foods properly:
- it is good to give raw vegetables and salads to the child before meals, then they are better absorbed and stimulate digestion well;
- do not combine proteins or fats of different origins in one dish. For example, do not serve meat with milk, preferably with vegetables;
- cereals, pasta, potatoes contain complex carbohydrates, so it is better to alternate them for a variety of dishes.
Products that are good to give up: chips, snacks; sausages and smoked meats; all kinds of semi-finished and fast food; spicy products; canned food, spices and lots of salt; all carbonated drinks without exception.
As a parent, your job is to:
- Set a regular meal and breakfast time that works for the whole family. Share meals and eat with your children.
- Offer balance and variety of foods from all food groups during meals.
- Offer food in ways they can easily handle. For example, cut into pieces or mash food to prevent choking in younger children.
- Help your children learn to use a spoon or cup so they can feed themselves.
- Involve your child in age-appropriate food preparation and table setting.
- Avoid using dessert as a bribe. Serve a healthy choice of dessert, such as a cup of fruit or yogurt.
- Avoiding fast food restaurants shows your children how important it is to enjoy family meals while eating healthy homemade meals.
What if the child is picky?
- Do not stress too much, if the child refuses food or food. Refrain from giving them anything else between meals just to eat. They will eat better at the next meal.
- Don’t worry too much if your child doesn’t seem to be eating enough. If their weight and size are normal, they probably get what they need. Just be sure to offer your child a variety of foods from all food groups to make sure they are getting the right nutrients.
- Your child’s doctor will monitor your growth and let you know if there are any problems. Children’s appetites change from day to day or even from meal to meal. Because they have small stomachs, children need to eat small amounts often throughout the day. Children know how much food they need and will eat the amount their body needs.
- Peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make your children eat unhealthily. Also, the hectic parenting schedule is a factor in so many children’s diets being built around comfort and food for the home.
- But switching to a healthy diet can have a profound effect on children’s health, helping to maintain a healthy weight, avoid certain health problems, stabilize their moods and sharpen their minds. Therefore, a healthy diet can have a profound effect on a child’s sense of mental and emotional well-being, helping to prevent conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and more.
- Be a role model The child’s impulse is strong, so don’t ask your child to eat vegetables while enjoying potato chips.
- Involve children in grocery shopping and cooking. You can teach them about different foods and how to read food labels.
- Make healthy snacks Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables and healthy drinks (water, milk, pure fruit juice) on hand so that children avoid unhealthy snacks such as fizzy drinks, chips and cookies.
- Limit portion sizes Do not insist on the child to eat everything on a plate and never use food as a reward or bribe.
It is normal for young children to refuse to eat new foods, to change their minds about foods they have eaten before, or to want the same food every day. Continue to serve food and snacks at the same time each day and include a variety of foods.