As parents, we are always concerned about our children’s calorie intake and often feel guilty for not being able to provide them the best diet. Here are some nutrition tips that will ensure greater health for your little ones and improved confidence for parents:
Give first priority to the first meal of the day
Make sure your child has a good start to her day by eating a healthy breakfast before going to school. Studies reveal that children who have breakfast are healthier than the rest as it improves their mood, classroom focus, memory power and learning. An ideal breakfast would be a combination of carbohydrates and protein. Some of the options can be: a glass of milk with a banana, breakfast cereal in milk with fruits or nuts, or egg with toast. Nuts like almonds are a natural source of many essential nutrients, including protein and healthy fats.
Think before you pack each meal
It is said that about one third of the child’s daily nutritional needs are met while at school. It is always a good idea to pack a fruit along with the tiffin. The benefits of balanced, fresh, and traditional food cannot be replaced. The next step is to identify food that is high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS food) as they are unhealthy for children. HFSS food include junk food like chips, fried food, sweetened carbonated beverages, sugar-sweetened non-carbonated beverages, ready-to-eat noodles, pizza, burgers, potato fries and confectionery items.
Prioritise healthy snacking and timely meals
Snacking is yet another key aspect in your child’s health. Children should be encouraged to eat small and frequent meals with the distribution of three main meals and two to three snacking slots. In India, snacks are the main culprits when it comes to unhealthy eating. Plan healthy snacks like fruit salad, sprouts and a handful of nuts like almonds. Not only are nuts easy to carry, they can be flavoured with spices. Furthermore, a handful of almonds may have satiating properties that promote a feeling of fullness, which may keep hunger at bay between meals. They also lower the blood sugar impact of carbohydrates.
Don’t hesitate to hydrate
Hydration is key to good health. Children don’t usually drink water or fluids unless they are very thirsty. Hence, it is necessary to inculcate in them the habit of drinking fluids regularly. Water is the best option, but there are other refreshing and healthy liquids like fresh lime water, fresh juice, lassi and milkshakes. Say a strict no to aerated drinks, high sugar juices and calorie-dense drinks. Keep an eye out for symptoms of dehydration: headache or light headedness, fatigue or sleepiness, less frequent urination or decreased urine output, dark yellow or amber-coloured urine and constipation.
Ingredients to healthy nutrition in children
The important nutrients for children include calcium, protein, vitamin C and iron. Iron, along with key nutrients like protein and vitamin C, are crucial to your child being alert and active. Lean meats and fish are rich sources of iron and protein. A combination of 15 nutrients including protein and dietary fibre can be found in almonds. Pulses, green vegetables and fortified cereals are also good sources of iron. Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, so having fruit juice with an iron-rich meal will increase iron absorption. Citrus fruits, tomatoes and guavas are all good sources of vitamin C.
Deficiency of iron leads to growth impairment, compromised immunity, learning problems and behavioural issues in children. Calcium is needed for healthy bones and is found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables and nuts. Vitamin D assists in the absorption of calcium for stronger bone health. Vitamin D is best synthesised in the skin when exposed to sunlight, but can be found in dietary sources such as egg yolk, fortified milk, oily fish and mushrooms. Carbonated drinks contain high levels of phosphorus that leach out calcium from the bones, leading to poor bone health.
Clean up the diet
Remove unnecessary and harmful food such as refined food, sugar, salt, caffeine and junk food.
Refined food: Reduce your child’s consumption of overly processed, refined products such as white bread, buns, pastries and biscuits. These are empty calories with zero nutrients.
Sugar: Refined sugar is a major contributor to children’s health and behavioural problems. Research shows that sugar can cause a rapid rise in crankiness and hyperactivity in children. It also plays a big role in lowering immunity, promoting weight gain and causing anxiety in children.
Salt: Excess salt causes hypertension and puts a load on the kidneys to eliminate it. Junk food is a major source of salt.
Boost your child’s immunity
Incorporate food that can help build your child’s immunity. Proteins are first in the list. Good quality proteins come from pulses, nuts and seeds, egg, lean meats and dairy. Antioxidants found naturally in fruits, vegetables and nuts and seeds clean the system of all toxins. Probiotics are friendly bacteria found in our intestines that help to fight infections and disease. They help your child’s immunity to develop. Top up probiotic levels with fermented food such as yogurt or probiotic supplements. Lastly, water is important for immunity, as it flushes out toxins from the body.
Be on the move, constantly
For children and teens to grow up healthy, it is important that they are physically active every day. Daily physical activity for 30 to 60 minutes coupled with adequate calcium intake increases bone mass by an average of 2 to 3 per cent. The current guidelines recommend that kids above two years should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on all days of the week. Physical activity helps kids keep their heart and lungs strong and healthy develop strong bones, maintain a healthy body weight, improve their mood and self-esteem, and make them more alert.
Lastly, the most efficient way to keeping kids of all ages healthy is by taking a family approach. The key principle is to practise what you preach.