How your child eats today has an enormous impact on the rest of their life. Eating nutrient rich foods is essential in a child’s development – both mentally and physically. Unicef (2019) shockingly found that in the UK, 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school, with those living in poorer areas twice as likely to be obese. Unfortunately, in the UK, we live in a society that makes unhealthy food more convenient and attractive than healthier foods. Whilst a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates and white meats is usually cheaper than a diet made up of ready meals, sugary drinks and fast food, Brits tend to opt for convenience over nutritional benefit. Education is needed from a young age to create positive habits that will continue into adulthood, whilst information on what makes a healthy diet should be readily accessible for children and their families, whether this is at school, in the workplace or online.
Children need regular meals and snacks to ensure they are getting enough calories and nutrients to fuel their development and to fight off illness. A child’s plate should always be filled with half vegetables (the more the better) and fruit, and the other half split between whole grains and healthy protein. Fruit and vegetables provide children with the vitamins and minerals which are key in fighting off illness, and the necessary fibre for a healthy digestive system. Aiming for at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day is a good start.
Protein is an important part of a child’s diet as it helps to boost energy levels, builds muscles and aids in growth and injury repair. For example, lean meats, fish, tofu, eggs, cheese and nuts and seeds are all good sources of protein and can be easily incorporated into a child’s diet. Ensure you’re choosing high-quality and healthy sources of protein – not all sources of protein are equal.
Children should be eating plenty of starchy carbohydrates which give slow-release energy - potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. Wholegrains are always best – they have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin than refined grains.
Dairy foods provide children with calcium, which is crucial for healthy bone and teeth development. Milk, yoghurt and cheese are great options – aim for three calcium-rich foods a day. Soya products which are enriched with calcium are good alternatives for those who do not wish to eat, or cannot stomach, dairy products.
It is also important not to forget that fats are a vital part of a child’s diet and should not be excessively limited or banned. In young children, fat and cholesterol play an important role in brain development. We should choose foods with healthy unsaturated fats, like fish and nuts, whilst using healthy oils from plants, such as extra virgin olive oil and sunflower oil.
Kids love snacking. This can help to boost nutrition, keep hunger at bay in between meals and maintain energy levels. However, it’s important not to just think of a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar as a satisfactory snack. Keep snacks nutritious with low sugar and high fibre content, and make sure to always check food labels to make healthier choices for the whole family. Healthy Nibbles always ensure that our snacks are nutritious AND delicious, with no nasty additives. Perfect for a lunchbox, post-school snack, or an on-the-go nibble.
The main takeaway here is to focus on diet quality. Steer clear of sugary drinks, sweets and junk food – these should only ever be eaten on rare occasion, if ever. Additionally, whilst a varied diet is extremely important, so is having a healthy relationship with food, encouraging appropriate portion sizes and staying active through physical activity.