Healthy Eating Advice for Children

Eating healthily is important for children. They need large amounts of calories and nutrients to meet their energy needs, for repair and to fuel their growth. Developing good eating habits in children early on will mean they are more likely to eat healthily as they grow older and this can reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease and other illnesses in later life.

However, healthy eating for children is not the same as adults. Children have smaller stomachs than adults, so they need smaller, more regular meals and they also need concentrated forms of energy and nutrients to make up their nutrient requirements. The following guidelines should help in the planning of your child’s daily diet.

Encourage children to enjoy a variety of foods
The early, impressionable years are a great time to help children form positive attitudes towards different foods and to develop sound eating habits. It is also well documented that implementing healthy eating habits early can reduce the risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases later in life. Expose your children to as many different foods as possible, even if you persuade them to just have a taste.

Make starchy foods the basis of a child’s main meals
Starchy foods such as breads, potato, pasta, rice and other grains should form the basis of the child’s meals, as they provide glucose for energy and they are generally a good source of the B vitamins. The more unrefined, fibre-rich carbohydrates are recommended for sustained energy release, such as oats, wholewheat bread, bran-rich cereals and brown rice. Why not get the children to assist you in baking banana or bran muffins or mini carrot cakes and use these as healthy, delicious additions to their lunchboxes

Children need plenty or fruits and vegetables every day
Different fruits and vegetables will contain a multitude of various micronutrients - brightly coloured fruits and vegetables will be rich in vitamin A, while the citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables will boost your child’s vitamin C intake. For this reason, ensure variety in this food group and keep them interested with some exciting meal and snack ideas! Vegetable or fruit kebabs can be fun or make a fruity smoothie by mixing yoghurt with their favourite fruit.

Plan meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, soya or peanut butter with each meal
These foods are an important source of protein and planning them into each meal will provide your child with B vitamins, and sustained energy and concentration levels. Dried beans, peas and lentils provide a healthy source of fibre in addition to protein - the canned varieties can be added to soups, mince and stews, or simply prepare baked beans on toast with a little grated cheese to delight their appetite. Hard boiled eggs in their shell, cheese fingers rolled in polony, cold sausages, viennas and chicken drumsticks con also make a welcome addition of protein to a child’s lunch box.

Children need to have dairy products every day
Both full cream and reduced fat dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are rich in calcium which is a vital mineral for the development of strong bones in growing children. Fingers of hard cheese are a welcome addition to a finger lunch and a tub of fruit yoghurt or a carton of drinking yoghurt is a sure way to boost your child’s daily calcium intake.

Fats and sugars
While children shouldn’t have a very low fat diet, the balance of fats should be the same as recommended for adults - a restriction of saturated fats (animal fats) in favour of the increased use of unsaturated fats such as olive oil, sunflower oil, tub margarines, avocado peanut butter and nuts. Sugar can also be part of a balanced eating plan, but in moderation. Children’s teeth are most at risk for tooth decay, and lengthy exposure of their teeth to sticky or chewy sweets can aggravate dental health - try to restrict sweets and chocolates to after meals. Dilute pure fruit juices to protect their teeth and give them milk and fizzy water to drink as alternatives to sugar-sweetened soft drinks. Just as fruits and vegetables can be fun, desserts can be healthy - serve youngsters fruit yoghurts and sorbets, fruit-enriched muffins or jelly made with fresh fruit.

Some valuable tips:
• Set an example by eating the right foods and having regular meal times together as a family.
• Encourage your child to get involved in the planning and preparation of meals and make it fun.
• Give your children their favourite fruit for snacks instead of sweet treats.
• Nuts and raisins make ideal snacks for school lunch boxes
• Be creative and try to make their plate of food attractive by using colour.
• Cut lunchbox sandwiches into shapes with a cookie cutter.
• Try not to reward with food - use inedible rewards instead, such as a star chart or a promise of an outing
• Make the TV-room ‘no- food’ zone - researchers have linked overweight children to TV, not only because of the tack of activity, but because of the high calorie snacks that they tend to eat while watching.