Healthy diet plan for kid should comprise of foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. You must provide your child with a balanced diet that gives him or her sufficient amount of proteins, fats and carbohydrates to keep them healthy.
A HEALTHY MEAL PLAN FOR KIDS ANY PARENT CAN MAKE
A healthy meal plan for kids is important to the health of all children. Make a plan for the food groups you want to include at meals and snacks to help your child meet his nutritional needs.
Children who eat a healthy, balanced diet tend to be healthier. In this article, I’ll take you through my step-by-step approach to ensure you offer a child meal plan that will help your kid grow and be healthy.
Here, I’ll help you take a more effective approach in planning balanced meals and feeding your child. I will cover how to make healthy kid meals, why it matters, specific food groups to include as part of a balanced diet, as well as portion sizes for kids and timing of meals and snacks.
- How to balance the major food groups
- Effective timing of eating
- Proper portions for children
- Why a kids healthy meal plan matters
As a childhood nutrition expert, I see many parents get tripped up with meal time. They focus on one or two healthy foods in the meal, instead of an overall balanced diet.
Or, they worry more about what to take away from their child’s diet, rather than what to include in it.
Is this you?
What are Healthy Kid Meals?
You may be striving for a balanced, healthy meal plan, but if you don’t have the basics in mind, you may question yourself. Let’s get the concept of what healthy meals for kids mean.
A healthy meal plan for a child includes:
nutritious, wholesome food
a balance of all food groups
strategic timing of meals and snacks
helpful ways to incorporate sweets and treats
Together, a balanced diet and optimal meal timing creates a healthy meal plan for kids.
Why Does Healthy Kid Food Matter?
There are several reasons why this is important for growing children.
First, offering a balanced diet of different foods ensures your child will receive the vast majority of his nutritional requirements for growth.
Secondly, the timing of meals and snacks help cover your child’s hunger and appetite so that she’s better able to regulate her eating.
In the end, healthy meal plans for kids helps them meet nutrient requirements while eating in a more intuitive and mindful manner.
That means eating for hunger rather than boredom, emotions, or other outside triggers.
Food Groups in a Kids Meal Plan
Food groups are the categories of food that target important, specific nutrients. There are five main food groups, which I will describe below.
Fats are an additional food group, but many foods already have fat included, so I generally don’t ask you to work this in, unless I feel there isn’t enough in your child’s usual eating patterns.
Fun Foods are a group I add to the mix so that you can explore the right balance of nutritious foods and indulgent foods.
5 Food Categories in a Meal Plan for Kids:
The fruit group and vegetable group (for brevity, placed together) target potassium, vitamins A and C, and fiber, among other nutrients.
The protein group covers iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and more.
The dairy group covers calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.
The grains group offer other important nutrients such as B vitamins and fiber.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
Plan a Healthy Meal for Children with a Strategy
The more food groups you include in a meal, the better chance your child gets an optimal variety of nutrients. Here’s how to do this strategically:
Step One: Choose Protein Foods
I teach my families to set up healthy meal plans using the five basic food groups, starting with protein first.
Protein is important for growth in children and for appetite control, so I like to see it take a starring role on the meal plan.
The protein food can be beef, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, soy, or it can be something from the dairy group (also a good source of protein) like milk or yogurt.
Step Two: Pick Fruits & Veggies
Second, pick fruit and vegetables. Yes, I like to see fruit on the table at all major meals.
Fruit takes the pressure off of eating veggies if you have a hesitant eater.
It’s also a great source of nutrients, and if your child has a sweet tooth, is a good stand in for dessert.
Step Three: Round Out with Whole Grains
Lastly, fill in the meal plan with (whole) grains and dairy (if it hasn’t been added yet).
Include all the food groups for a balanced nutrition plan and a healthy diet for your child.
[Need Recipe Inspiration? I’ve got my favorites in Dinner Ideas for Athletes!
What about Portion Sizes for Kids?
I believe that the table is where kids learn about portion sizes. I also believe that children should be allowed to eat to satisfy their appetite.
These two goals: learning about portions and eating to satisfaction (instead of fullness) can clash at the family table.
You never want portion sizes to become a restrictive way to feed your child.
That’s why I like to use the concept of starter portions.
Instead of focusing on portion control, the sentiment of a “starter portion” allows kids to reflect on their hunger and appetite.
These are the age-appropriate portion sizes for your child.
They help your child understand a good place to start with how much food to eat, while also understanding that more food, if hungry, is okay to have.
Let me repeat: Your child should be allowed to eat an array of food groups at mealtime, in amounts that satisfy her appetite.
Starter portions are simply a place to begin with food amounts.
Starter portions teach a point of reference for kids. Think of them as a visual learning tool.
Without them, kids may not understand what a normal portion size looks like, or may over-serve (or be over-served) food portions.
As kids grow, the starter portions change to accommodate their bigger bodies and growth requirements.
I like to see kids experimenting with measuring cups and spoons and other simple tools to help them learn.
Who says your child can’t use a half-cup measure to serve up rice at the table?
What is the Best Eating Schedule for Meals?
The timing of meals is key, too. In fact, this can work for your child, or against him.
Get the timing right, and he will be satisfied after eating and less likely to ask for more food afterward.
If you get the timing wrong, your child may be hungry, asking for snacks, and potentially grazing with or without your permission.
I base my meal timing recommendations on basic physiology.
A child’s tummy is smaller. Because of the smaller size, children eat smaller volumes of food more frequently.
Meal Timing for Toddlers
For instance, a toddler has a very little tummy, so I recommend setting up meal timing every 2 to 3 hours.
Translated: a meal or snack should be scheduled every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day. This will help to meet nutritional needs while covering hunger and appetite.
Meal Timing for School-Age Kids & Teens
The school-age child should have a meal plan that reflects a 3 to 4 hour window between meals and snacks.
Teens do well with meal timing scheduled every 3 to 5 hours, depending on growth spurt, activities and overall daily life events.
I think meal timing is critical to helping your child regulate his eating. In other words, helping him eat the right amount of foods to satisfy his appetite.
I see kids go too long without eating and experience the sensation of being overly hungry. You know where that can lead.
Or, I see the child who is eating frequently throughout the day and getting too much food, and never really experiencing hunger and appetite.
Meal timing (and the supportive kitchen boundaries you need to back you up) can help tame these eating extremes.
A Healthy Menu for Kids: Putting It All Together
A healthy, balanced meal plan for your child will include a variety of food groups, starter portions, and optimal meal timing based on your child’s age.
This three prong approach will help you create a healthy framework, while teaching your child how to balance food and self-regulate his eating.
How do you create balanced meals for your family?
Need More Help with Your Kid’s Nutrition?
If you’ve got a sneaky suspicion you’re missing food groups or nutrients in your child’s diet, my e-book, The Essential Nutrients for Kids can help you sort this out.
In this guide, you’ll get my Top 7 Nutrients you need to watch for, along with nutrient sources of foods, substitutions if you need them, and guidelines on when to bring a multivitamin on board.
Additionally, check out my parent education website, The Nourished Child, where I have workshops, classes and guidebooks to help you along the way to nourishing and nurturing your child to good health.
Sample Meal Plan for Feeding Your Toddler (Ages 1 to 3)
- Many dietitians offer services virtually and they are covered by most employee health benefit plans. Find a dietitian here.
Need some ideas to feed your toddler? Use these sample meal plans and tips on healthy eating to help you feed your little one.
What should I feed my toddler?
Toddlers aged 1 to 3 are able to eat a variety of healthy foods. Offer your toddler the same foods that the rest of the family eats. Offer foods with different tastes, textures and colours according to Canada’s Food Guide.
How much should my toddler eat?
Let your toddler decide how much to eat from the foods you offer. Do not force your toddler to eat or restrict the amount of food you allow them to eat. Some days they might eat more. Some days they might eat less. A toddler’s appetite can change from day to day. Use the sample meals below as general guidelines only. Start with small serving sizes and give more if your toddler is still hungry.
Sample Meals for Feeding Toddlers (1 to 3 years old)
Sample Menu 1
|Breakfast||Mini oatmeal pancakes with sliced bananas and nut butter|
Breastmilk or milk in a cup
|Morning Snack||Ripe melon pieces|
Plain, vanilla or fruit yogurt
|Lunch||Meatballs (cut into small pieces)|
Plain macaroni or penne pasta
Cooked sweet potato
Breastmilk or milk in a cup
|Afternoon Snack||100% whole wheat unsalted crackers|
|Dinner||Baked risotto with salmon|
Carrots and parsnips
Breastmilk or water
|Bedtime Snack||Fruity Tutti muffins with applesauce|
Breastmilk or milk in a cup
Sample Menu 2
|Breakfast||Mini mushroom omelette|
Berries with plain yogurt
Breastmilk or milk in a cup
|Morning Snack||Apple slices with nut butter|
|Lunch||Tofu Vegetable Soup|
Ripe pear slices
Breastmilk or milk in a cup
|Afternoon Snack||Hummus with 100% whole wheat pita|
Cherry tomatoes (cut into quarters)
|Dinner||Turkey or vegetarian chili|
100% whole grain bun or roll
|Bedtime Snack||Banana yogurt wrap|
Breastmilk or milk in a cup
Tips for feeding your toddler (1 to 3 years)
- Continue to breastfeed your toddler until the age of two and beyond.
- If your toddler uses a bottle, wean them to a regular cup. Bottles also make it easy for your toddler to drink too much. This may leave less room for other healthy foods.
- Serve full fat milk (3.25%) milk until age two. You can offer cow’s milk in an open cup. After age two, you can switch to skim, 1% or 2% milk or fortified, unflavoured soy beverage.
- Fortified soy, rice, almond or coconut beverages do not contain the same amount of nutrients as cow’s milk. Do not use them instead of breastmilk or cow’s milk before 2 years of age.
- Offer water between meals. Sipping on milk or juice between meals can decrease appetite. If you give your toddler juice, offer 100% fruit juice and limit it to 125-175 mL (4-6 oz) a day.
- Offer meals and snacks at the same time each day. Offer a variety of familiar foods as well new foods at each meal.
- Let your toddler decide what and how much to eat when introducing solid foods. It is normal for toddlers to refuse to eat new foods, change their minds about foods they ate before, or want the same food every day.
- Eat meals and snacks prepared at home more often. Prepare healthy homemade recipes such as cheesy chicken crunchie quesadillas, mini pizza sandwiches, hummus and pita and mac and “squeese”
- Always supervise your toddler while eating. Cut foods into bite size pieces to avoid choking.
Food Items To Limit
- Microwave popcorn
- Processed meats
- Canned Tomatoes
- Kid’s Yogurt
- Sugary Cereals
- Apple Juice
- Boxed Mac ‘n’ Cheese
- Fruit Snacks
- Sports Drinks
- Flash-Fried Frozen Finger Foods
- Raw Milk
Do’s And Dont’s
Do’s & Dont’s
- Do set a good example for your child to copy. Share mealtimes and eat the same healthy foods.
- Do discourage snacking on sweets and fatty foods. Keep plenty of healthy foods, such as fruits, raw vegetables, low-fat crackers, and yogurt, around for children to eat between meals.
- Do allow children to follow their natural appetites when deciding how much to eat.
- Do encourage children to enjoy fruits and vegetables by giving them a variety from an early age.
- Don’t give skim or 1-percent-fat milk to children under the age of 5 unless your doctor prescribes it; at this stage, children need the extra calories in whole milk.
- Do ask children to help prepare meals. If parents rely mostly on convenience foods, children may not learn to enjoy cooking.
- Don’t add unnecessary sugar to drinks and foods.
- Don’t accustom children to extra salt by adding it to food or placing the shaker on the table.
- Don’t give whole nuts to children under the age of 5, who may choke on them. Peanut butter and chopped nuts are fine as long as the child is not allergic to them.
- Don’t force children to eat more than they want.
- Don’t use food as a bribe.
- Don’t make children feel guilty about eating any type of food.
Food Items You Can Easily Consume
- Eggs : A fantastic source of protein, eggs are also one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D.
- Dairy : Milk and milk products are important source of carbohydrates, protein and essential vitamins (A, B12, riboflavin and niacin) and minerals, such as – calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.
- Oatmeal : Not only is oatmeal a rich source of protein, it has low fat content!
- Blueberries : It has been known to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and improve brain function.
- Nuts : An assortment of nuts can be a great source of vegetable protein, fiber, vitamins and ‘good’ fats that are important for the growth and development of your child.
- Fish : Fish is a great source of vitamin D & Omega 3 Fatty Acids, which are super important for the proper functioning of your child’s brain and can also reduce the risk of many major diseases.
- All The Greens : Leafy vegetables are high in dietary fibre, folic acid, vitamin C and potassium, and can thus speed up digestion, improve bone health and reduce the risk of major diseases.