Children have different nutritional needs to adults and as their bodies develop, these needs change. It is extremely important that the diets of young children are planned to be age appropriate to ensure they have the fuel to grow, learn and play.
Having a tasty, varied, and nutritional diet from the outset helps develop a child’s palate, creating healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
So, what makes up a healthy diet?
- The more colour the better – fruit and vegetables are low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre. It's advisable to provide a 40g portion of fruit or vegetables at each meal. This can include 1/2 a large piece of fruit such as half an apple or pear, or 3-4 tablespoons of peas.
- Fuel for growth - diets rich in calcium, protein and iron support growth, brain development, and healthy bones and teeth. Dairy products are a rich source of calcium, and protein, while kidney beans, beef and lentils are excellent sources of iron.
- Leave out the salt and sugar – There is enough salt and sugar naturally occurring in foods, so it’s best not to add any. Too much can cause high blood pressure, tooth decay, kidney failure and dehydration in young children, not to mention unhealthy eating habits. For a naturally sweet treat, provide fruit in early years diets.
- Super snacks – Children require more regular meals than adults, so provide them with regular snacks and fruit o support energy levels and concentration. Opt for vegetable sticks with low fat, sugar, and salt dips such as hummus, and mineral filled bread such as wholemeal pitta.
- Choice is great - Choice allows children to experience different foods and develop a varied taste palate. This means that they’ll find it easier to choose and enjoy well-balanced foods for a healthy diet.
Don’t be scared of natural sugars - they can be included as part of a healthy diet
While natural sugars should not be over consumed by any age group due to the energy dense nature of the foods (nutrient dense but also calorie dense), they are safe to be included in early years diets, even though they are sugars. Naturally occurring sugars occur in whole foods, such as fruit. Within that food there is also a lot of fibre, water content, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which have a wide variety of health benefits.