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Children who are fed healthy foods grow up loving healthy foods. As parents, we make sure we do the best under our capacity for the wellbeing of our child. And when it comes to foods, we will try to always provide the most nutritious meals. A healthy eating pattern is the same for a child as it is for adults although some nutrients differ in quantities.
Remember to start by setting a good example at home with your own eating habits. Because children follow what they see and not what they are told.
Many children are incredibly fussy and will refuse food many times before they will eat and enjoy it, so do not be discouraged - keep offering healthy meals with a lot of variety. A child needs strong bones and teeth, healthy digestion, oxygen-rich blood, and healthy nutritional habits that they can carry on till adulthood and further. Investing in early childhood nutrition has incredibly high returns .
Boldsky's nutritionist Mahima Setia provides an insight into the topic of nutrition for school-aged children. Listed below are some nutrients the children need in a good amount.
Dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds, meat, fish, lentils and legumes are all protein-rich foods. Have a variety of lentils and legumes in rotation to get all amino acids for better protein assimilation. Dairy, nuts and seeds should be a staple every day.
Milk and milk products are a good source of dairy. However, some children are averse to them and its completely fine. Ragi, amaranth puffs/flour, Fox nuts are a good source of calcium. All nuts have a good amount of calcium. Include green leafy vegetables at least 3 times a week. Chia, sesame and sunflower seeds are also rich in calcium.
For a balanced diet, try rotating iron sources and encourage toddlers to eat a wide variety of foods. Nuts and dried fruits are good sources of iron. Include figs, dates, prunes, apricots, cashews, pasta and almonds. All lentils, beans, eggs and fish have a high content of iron.
Remember to team the iron-rich foods sources with a vitamin C rich food to enhance the absorption of iron.
Eg: always squeeze lemon over lentils, legumes and have an orange, kiwi, melons with nuts.
These should be part of the children's diet to help them fight the toxins they invite inside their bodies through free plays, touching unclean surfaces, being exposed to viruses and bacteria's constantly. Including seasonal and fresh fruits and vegetables is the best way to ensure they get their daily dose of antioxidants.
Fibre And Water
Lastly, all health is made in the gut. Thus, a clean gut is of utmost importance if we need that all the above nutrients to be absorbed and used by the body. Children tend to drink less water; hence we can include lemonade's, coconut water, Raw mango drink, buttermilk and plain water. For good fibre, include small portions of salads in their meals and whole grains and lentils.
Ghee or coconut oil (cooking medium)
It is best to use ghee or coconut oil as a cooking medium for children. They help in raising the child's immunity .
Sweets/fried/excess salt/refined foods
It is best not to store these foods in the house. It is detrimental to everyone's health and highly addictive in nature. Indulging in such foods once a month as a treat or change is fine but it shouldn't become a habit.
As parents, we should strive to provide a lot of variety rather than quantity. Small portions of food multiple times will ensure that the child gets a diverse set of micronutrients and absorbs them efficiently.
An Ideal Meal Plan Sample
An ideal (sample) food plan for children would be :
- Waking up - Milk/any fruit/nuts and seeds (presoaked)
- Breakfast - Whole grain-based like poha/upma / idli dosa sambhar/parantha
- Mid noon - Veg juice/coconut water/fruit
- Lunch - Roti + green veg + dal/sprout + curd + small portion salad
- Evening - Milk/nuts and seeds(presoaked)/dhokla /cheela
- Dinner - Rice + dal + salad + veg
- Bedtime - Haldi milk with cardamom