Benefits Of Healthy Eating For Children

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The benefits of healthy eating for children are many and varied. With 21st-century lifestyles, many of us go through our days with poor diets, and several hours of sedentary time spent in front of TV or computer screens. This is bad news for your children. But it doesn’t have to be this way – there are simple changes you can make at home that will make a big difference to your children’s health and wellbeing in the future.

Enjoying a well-rounded, nutritionally sound diet may sound daunting, but it really is simple, once you know how to choose foods that provide the most efficient and healthy fuel for your body. The tips and advice in this article can empower you to create your own healthy eating plan that meets your nutritional needs.

Healthy eating helps children be more alert and self-confident. It also boosts their physical energy and improves their self-esteem. Healthy eating also teaches children the value of a balanced diet and the importance of nutrition in maintaining good health. Being encouraged to make healthy food choices helps children grow up to be more in tune with their bodies, know what foods help them stay healthy or feel better, and eat a variety of foods in order to get all of the nutrients that are needed for good health.

What Is Healthy Eating?

To stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight, children need to be physically active and eat the right amount of nutrients to balance the energy they use.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend children should enjoy a wide variety of foods from these 5 food groups:

  • fruit
  • vegetables, legumes and beans
  • cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
  • lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives (children under 2 should have full-fat milk, but older children and adolescents can have reduced-fat varieties)

Benefits Of Healthy Eating For Children

Nutrient Health Benefit Found In
Vitamin A Healthy eyes and skin; protects from infection Apricots, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Grapefruit, Greens, Leaf and Romaine Lettuce, Mangos, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Watermelon
Vitamin C Healthy teeth and gums; helps heal cuts and wounds Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Cauliflower, Grapefruit, Oranges, Pineapple, Strawberries, Tomatoes
Calcium Healthy teeth and bones Greens, Kale, Okra, Rhubarb, Spinach
Fiber Healthy digestive system; Reduced risk of heart disease Apples, Bananas, Beans, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Lentils, Peaches, Pears, Raspberries, Spinach
Folate Wound healing; normal cell division Asparagus, Broccoli, Peas, Beans, Greens, Spinach, Strawberries
Iron Healthy blood; learning ability Beans, Lentils, Spinach
Magnesium Healthy bones Beans, Spinach
Potassium Healthy blood pressure Bananas, Beans, Broccoli, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes

How much food does my child need?

Children need to eat more as they grow. As a guide, your child should eat these foods every day:

  • 2 to 3 years: 1 serve of fruit; 2½ serves of vegetables; 4 serves of grains; 1 serve of meat/poultry; 1½ serves of dairy
  • 4 to 8 years: 1½ serves of fruit; 4½ serves of vegetables; 4 serves of grains; 1 ½ serves of meat/poultry; 1½ to 2 serves of dairy
  • 9 to 11 years: 2 serves of fruit; 5 serves of vegetables; 4 to 5 serves of grains; 2½ serves of meat/poultry; 2½ to 3 serves of dairy
  • 12 to 13 years: 2 serves of fruit; 5 to 5 ½ serves of vegetables; 5 to 6 serves of grains; 2 ½ serves meat/poultry; 3 ½ serves dairy

Tips to encourage healthy eating habits

Teaching your child how to eat healthily now means they will be more likely to make their own healthy choices as they get older.

  • make meal time family time, without any screens
  • make healthy foods fun, for example by cutting fruit or sandwiches into interesting shapes
  • encourage your children to sit with you at the table
  • eat a healthy breakfast every day
  • try out new foods and show your children where food comes from; let them help you buy food from the shops
  • cook and try new recipes together
  • don’t keep junk food in the house
  • keep a bowl of fruit handy for a snack
  • wash your hands and make sure food is prepared and stored safely

illustration of food groups

Other Strategies To Encourage Healthy Eating In Child Care

Children should limit their intake of foods that contain saturated fat, added salt or added sugar. They should also be encouraged to choose water to drink.

Limit the amount of juice and soda that are consumed in your household. While juice does contain some vitamins, it is not a good substitute for eating the whole fruit with the skin. Soda is basically flavored, carbonated water that costs a lot of money. For optimum health you should spend your calories on healthy foods, not on liquid.

Eat a Mediterranean-style diet to help prevent heart disease. This includes lots of healthy fats like olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, beans and seafood. Eating these foods keep your weight and blood pressure down, while supplying your body with fiber and other nutrients it needs to be healthy.

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it’s very important to make sure that you take a vitamin B12 supplement. Diets that are low in animal products are often low in this vitamin, and it’s not found in many vegetables. A B12 deficiency can cause some serious health issues, so be safe and take a supplement regularly.

If you are dealing with a picky eater, try to give them smaller portions at each meal. By doing this, they won’t feel overwhelmed with the amount of food in front of them and if they are hungry, they will be more inclined to eat their entire meal since it is not a huge serving size.

Dairy products are a great source of calcium and vitamin D, which help to build bone mass. Additionally, studies have shown that 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, can help you lose weight, particularly around your midsection. Low-fat yogurt is highly versatile and can be used as a substitute for sour cream, mayonnaise and even cheese.

A great nutrition tip is to be mindful of what you put into your oatmeal. Oatmeal is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, but if you start adding ingredients to it, it can become an unhealthy meal. Avoid putting ingredients such as brown sugar or dried fruit into your oatmeal.

If you want to add to the amount of vegetables that your child gets in his or her diet, find ways to incorporated them in favorite dishes like macaroni and cheese. This is a great way to get them to try something new, and then they will be more likely to try the foods on their own later.

Many people love a good sandwich. That is fine unless they put mayonnaise on it. All mayonnaise contains is fat that will hinder the weight loss process. Try using mustard instead. Mustard packs a lot of flavor and has zero calories in it. You will still love your sandwich and it won’t contain so many calories.

Divide your plate by an invisible line. On one half of the plate, fill it up with vegetables. You can use raw or steamed veggies. Be sure to not add butter or cheese. On the other half of the plate, fill have of it with whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta or wild rice, and fill the other half with your serving of meat.

When you are looking for a meal that is easy to make and still gives you a lot of nutrition, try a baked potato. They offer a lot of fiber, and if you leave off the sour cream and butter, you will have a lower calorie meal with less fat.

When eating salad at a restaurant, always ask for the dressing in a little cup, not directly on your salad. This way you can know exactly how much you use, and you won’t load up on empty calories. This will prevent you from eating too much salad dressing without realizing it.

If one talks to a professional nutritionist they can gain insightful information on how they can best maintain their own nutrition. One can schedule an appointment or even find one over the internet to talk to. However one chooses to go about it talking to a nutritionist will give one the knowledge to maintain good nutrition.

You can get the proper nutrition for keeping your hair healthy by looking for foods that provide folic acid, lean protein, and zinc. Hair contains keratin which is a part of protein. The folic acid and zinc also helps add shine to your hair and keep it smooth. Zinc and folic acid can also be found in avocados, legumes and some seafood.

A healthy diet will help to boost your immune system. By boosting your body’s immune system your body will be able to fight against the impurities that cause skin problems. Just keeping track of what you are putting in your body and making sure that what you put in your body boosts the immune system.

WHY IS A BALANCED DIET IMPORTANT?

By giving your child a healthy balanced diet, you are ensuring that they are getting all the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that children need for healthy growth and development. Certain nutrients are required for a variety of reasons. Some nutrients worth noting are:

This is just a small list of important nutrients and their uses in the body. You can see that children will need foods that give them all these nutrients for their growth and development.

  1. Calcium and Vitamin D: Essential for the normal growth and development of bones in children.
  2. Iron: Supports normal cognitive development in children.
  3. Vitamin D: Helps support the immune system.
  4. Omega-3 DHA supports normal brain function.

This is just a small list of important nutrients and their uses in the body. You can see that children will need foods that give them all these nutrients for their growth and development.

WHAT IS A BALANCED DIET?

To get a balanced diet, you need to ensure that your child is eating a wide variety of nutritious foods from all the different food groups. As a general guide, children should eat:

  1. Lots of fruit and vegetables (more veg than fruit)
  2. Wholegrains (such as brown rice, whole grain bread and whole grain pasta)
  3. Beans and lentils
  4. Lean meat and fish (especially oily fish)
  5. Nuts and seeds

HOW CAN I ENCOURAGE MY CHILD TO EAT A BALANCED DIET?

The best way is to make food fun – it shouldn’t be something you are forcing them to do or eat.

Here are 5 top tips for you to make eating a balanced diet fun!

  1. Remember that different colours of fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of nutrients. Think about a rainbow of colour with your food. Try to put as many different colours of food on your child’s plate to ensure a huge variety of nutrients. Think of foods with the colours – green, white, yellow, orange, blue, purple, red. Make this a game with your child – can you think of a food which is this colour? How many different colours can we get on the plate of your meal?
  2. Be a role model yourself. As a parent, it`s important to show by example. Eat all these healthy foods yourself. Show your child how enjoyable they can be.
  3. Get creative in the kitchen – make food fun. Cut food into funny shapes, make faces out of the food and enjoy the process of making the meal. Let the children experiment with the different flavours and textures of food.
  4. Let them choose what they want to eat for their meal from a chosen group of foods. Children love to be involved in decision making!
  5. You can also get the children involved in the food shopping. Discuss where the fruits and vegetables came from. Let your child make healthy food choices themselves at the shops.

Foods to limit

Some foods are not essential in children’s diets. These are called ‘discretionary foods’ and are generally high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars or added salt.

It’s OK to eat small amounts of discretionary foods now and then as part of a balanced diet. But you should try to limit these foods in your child’s daily diet since they can lead to children becoming overweight or developing diseases in later life.

Examples of foods to limit are:

  • sweet biscuits, cakes and desserts
  • processed meats and sausages
  • ice-cream, confectionery and chocolate
  • meat pies and other pastries
  • commercial burgers, pizza, hot chips, and fried foods
  • crisps and other fatty and/or salty snacks
  • cream and butter
  • sugar-sweetened cordials and soft drinks

Here are some tips to help you limit foods for children:

  • Instead of using a lot of butter, cooking margarine, cream or coconut or palm oil, choose vegetable oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado.
  • Read labels and always choose low-salt options.
  • Don’t add salt to foods during cooking or at the table.
  • Offer water rather than sugary soft drinks, cordial, energy drinks or sports drinks.

WHAT CAN I DO IF MY CHILD WON’T EAT THE FOODS THEY NEED FOR GROWING?

First of all don’t worry! The majority of children go through phases with their eating, but their habits also change over time. Something they would never eat before will suddenly become a favourite! Sometimes it’s just not possible to get children to eat food containing important nutrients. This is why a good quality children’s multivitamin and mineral can be beneficial. A good quality children’s multi vitamin and mineral will contain the nutrients required for your child’s health and can help top up your child’s diet and help fill any gaps to support their growth.

Recommended Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh produce provides vitamins, nutrients, fibers, and minerals that are essential in keeping your child healthy. It is recommended that children consume five or more servings per day. Therefore, most of your child’s plate should be covered with colorful fruits and veggies. The more variety of colors and nutrients you add to your meals, the better.

Fresh produce is available in grocery stores, local farmer’s markets, food pantries / meal assistance programs, and even subscription boxes.

How to Create Healthy Mealtimes

As a parent, I know that mealtimes can sometimes seem daunting because of busy schedules and having the necessary resources. Creating and maintaining a stable routine in your diet will help you, and it will help your child look forward to mealtime. Here are ways to help create healthy mealtimes.

  • Plan weekly meals together, so you can talk about healthy food options.
  • Take your child to the grocery store so they can see healthy options and talk about them. Have them pick produce from each different nutrient to consume throughout the week.
  • Read the labels for nutritious facts together.
  • Cook meals together to show them that what they are eating matters.
  • Challenge your child to fill their plate with as many different colors as they can – eat the rainbow! Need ways to incorporate vegetables?
  • Make a contest by having your child try a new produce they have never tried before. Maybe they will end up loving it!
  • Sometimes the battle is making sure your child is consuming the foods they need to reap the health benefits that these foods provide. Show them the value of eating balanced diets using the chart below. Teach your child the importance of each nutrient and in which foods it can be found. Many times, children do not want to eat something, but when it has a benefit or “superpower” that they can understand, they may be more willing to try.

One tool that you should always have in your nutrition arsenal is a kitchen scale. Many people think that they are good at eyeballing portion size, but research has shown time and again that most people are actually horrible at estimating accurately. A small kitchen scale can avoid this problem completely.

Most bad habits are psychological and this is equally true for nutrition. All of the battles are actually inside your mind. One example of this is removing the reward system that you have set up with yourself. You want to try to remove the associations between food and happiness. Food is fuel, not happiness.

Try to avoid all prepackaged food. There is very little food that comes in this form that is healthy at all. They also include high amounts of preservatives and are typically junk food in the first place. Normally you will be able to find a healthier alternative that fits your life better anyway.

Proper nutrition is truly essential, no matter your age, lifestyle or level of activity. Armed with these tips for making nutritious dietary choices, you are well on your way to maintaining a balanced diet that provides you with the energy that you need to face the day.

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