To lead a healthy life, a person has to eat or drink an appropriate amount of nutrients. This intake of healthy food starts from childhood, as that is when you begin to taste food and enjoy new flavors. This is where the parents come in as it is their job to make sure their child is eating a healthy and balanced diet.
The food you eat in your childhood lays the foundation of your future eating habits, which, of course, are open to change as you move along in your life. If it is too late for you, you can at least make sure your child is eating right. Although it depends on your child’s age and size, a child generally requires an intake of between 1000-1400 calories per day.
Why is childhood nutrition important?
These days, there has been an increase in two aspects of a child’s development; 1) childhood obesity and 2) type 2 diabetes in children. Both of these situations lead to an unhealthy lifestyle in the future as well as complications in health. Therefore, your child needs to be given a fresh and balanced diet from the get-go, to avoid future complications.
This does not mean to say that fast food or unhealthy food is entirely out of the equation. Every diet has cheat days, and if balanced properly, your child can enjoy oily fried chicken or French fries once in a while.
Common unhealthy eating habits that children develop
1. Lack of fruits and vegetables
Instead of turning to fruits and vegetables as snacks, parents often provide their children with cookies, French fries, nuggets, and so on. In this fast-paced world, parents tend to turn to easier and faster options, such as letting their children eat from school cafeterias or giving them unhealthy things for lunch.
2. Skipping breakfast
It is not an uncommon habit to skip breakfast for adults and children alike. However, skipping breakfast leads to eating at irregular hours or overeating at lunchtime.
3. Eating without chewing
In this day and age, with hectic schedules, there is a limited amount of family mealtimes. Everyone has to rush to work or school or other activities. This means that the food is being eaten quickly without chewing. This results in eating more than required since eating slow fills up the stomach quicker than eating quickly.
4. Surviving on outside food
Outside food does not necessarily have to be unhealthy food, but eating take-away or deliveries all the time can lead to obesity. Children tend to copy their parents’ habits, and if they are exposed to outside food all the time in their childhood, it will be the same for the rest of their lives.
5. Lack of water
Just like adults, children also require an appropriate amount of water consumption. Instead of serving juices at mealtimes, water is the best option, or milk.
Guidelines for healthy eating
When children grow up, their bodies are continuously changing, their muscles are stretching, and their bones are growing. These are the years to overload on calcium, vitamins, and minerals.
1. Daily dose of milk
Milk is the best source of calcium. It helps keep bones strong and healthy and is a factor that helps fight childhood obesity. Moreover, milk provides hydration to the body and helps in keeping teeth healthy. Drinking milk is highly recommended for children as well as for adults.
2. Intake of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are also the best sources of vitamins and minerals. They provide natural sugar for the body, which maintains normal sugar levels. You can also introduce the concept of fresh juices to your child in case they don’t like to eat the fruits. But remember, juices that come in boxes are usually processed and have extra sugar and other ingredients. You can take out some time to squeeze fresh juice out of oranges, pomegranates, apples, or make a banana and mango shake for your child during the day.
Similarly, vegetables also keep you healthy and strong. If made with interesting sauces, vegetables can be liked by children. It is always a task to get your child to eat the greens, but there are still different ways to include vegetables in your child’s diet.
3. Don’t skip breakfast
If there is a meal in the day that should not be skipped, it’s breakfast. It can be a little challenging to include breakfast in your hectic daily routine, but as mentioned above, children tend to copy the role models that are in front of them. Even having fruits, milk, and nuts are considered a wholesome meal and a good breakfast if you are not in the mood to make eggs or sandwiches.
4. Intake of proteins
Chicken is a favorite among children. You can grill chicken or boil it to make sandwiches, or incorporate many other ways to include chicken in your child’s diet. Except for fried chicken, which is only okay sometimes. Fish and eggs are also good sources of protein. You can make eggs interesting for the child by frying them sunny side up or letting them decorate the outer layer of the hard-boiled egg before peeling them.
5. Size of portions
All food is good, even fat, but in small amounts. It is good to introduce your child to all flavors, so their taste buds develop overtime appropriately. However, the portion needs to be small. For example, a child should not have 20 nuggets in one sitting, but maybe 5 as well as some cucumbers and fruits as dessert. A good and balanced diet keeps the child happy as well as the parents.
6. Reduce television time during meal times
Feeding children or getting them excited for healthy food can be a task, and most parents compromise by switching on the television for mealtimes. While this is a good tactic, it is not the perfect solution. Engage them in cooking the meals and encourage their participation in setting up the table, which will provide them a good opportunity to know what they are eating. Children don’t enter the world disliking vegetables or loving fried food automatically; they tend to copy their role models or follow what they’re given as meals.
7. Stick to proper meal times
One of the most common ways to increase weight is to eat at odd times, which means having snacks at least three times a day, especially midnight snacks. This is a very unhealthy eating habit, and usually, parents give their children junk food to tide them over. If your child feels hungry between meals, introduce them to fruits or give them a glass of milk with some nuts. Midnight snacks should not be part of the routine as dinner should be eaten well before bedtime for it to digest before you fall asleep.
8. Decrease the amount of sugar in their diet
Juices that come in boxes taste quite well, and that is because they have processed and refined sugar mixed in them along with other ingredients. This is extremely unhealthy if drunk on a daily basis. Hence parents should find alternatives such as freshly squeezing juices out themselves or giving pure fruits. Shakes such as banana or mango shakes can be considered as an alternative for eatable snacks as well.
9. Make it easier for the child to eat
As parents, you shouldn’t hand a whole apple to your child as a snack; they might consider eating it an inconvenience during their playtime. Instead, cut it into slices. The same goes for bananas and other fruits. You can also mash the potatoes or vegetables together or mix them in soups and brews to avoid any tantrums regarding green food.
It’s not easy to force your child to eat their vegetables or drink milk. It’s definitely not easy running after them during a hectic day to make sure they’re eating the right things. But at the end of the day, parents need to be aware that a healthy eating habit starts at an early age. In order to avoid future health problems, a good diet from the start prevents many problems such as sugar, diabetes, obesity, and many more. It is okay if there is an up and down in the intake of daily calories, but as long as there is a balance of all the nutrients, your child is good to go.
Schools can play a bigger role in advocating a healthy diet in children by only providing healthy snacks at mealtimes or encouraging them to eat healthy via fun activities. For example, the children can be given a chart and whoever has had the most amount of vegetables by the end of the week gets an additional star on their sticker sheet.
In case your child is not eating properly and refuses to eat anything, refer to a pediatrician or a child nutritionist for a daily diet plan or ways to include healthy food in your child’s diet. By following the tips above, you can easily keep your child healthy.