It is important for kids to get enough calories and the right amount of nutrients (substances in food that our bodies process and use) so that they can perform at their best. The amount of calories and nutrients that kids need depends on their age, sex and activity level. Older kids need more energy than younger kids; males generally need more than females; and the more active your kids are, the more energy they need.
Nowadays there are so many nutrient poor foods available. These foods contain a lot of energy, but not much nutrition. To ensure that your kids eat healthy, focus on the following food groups when planning your kid’s meals and snacks:
Dairy is one of the best sources of calcium, which is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Calcium is one of the nutrients that kids often don’t get enough of. It is important that your kids get enough calcium from their diet during the growing years as they cannot make up for an inadequate intake later in life. Other sources of calcium include spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, and tinned fish with bones crushed into the meat.
Fruit provides fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that help your body stay healthy. Make sure your kids get eat a variety of different ones.
- Wholegrain Foods
Wholegrain foods are high in fibre. This is important as it creates satiety, prevents you from getting hungry too quickly, and keeps your energy levels more constant. Wholegrain foods include wholegrain breads (the best being rye and seedloaf), brown rice, wholegrain pasta and couscous, and oats.
- Fish, Chicken, Lean Meats, Tofu, Nuts and Seeds
Protein is essential for the building, maintenance and repair of the tissues (such as muscles, organs etc.) in our body. Kids need more protein (per kilogram body weight) than adults as they are still growing.
- Vegetables and Legumes
Kids generally also don’t eat enough vegetables. Vegetables are essential for good health. An easy way to get extra vegetables into your kid’s diet is to serve one serving of vegetable at each meal and snack. Vegetables are a great food as the fibre will help them feel satisfied – they will stop eating when they feel full. Junk food on the other hand contains addictive ingredients (salt and sugar being just 2 of them) making the kids (and adults for that matter) continue eating and never feeling satisfied. The key with vegetables is variety, encourage your kids to eat all of the colours of the rainbow so that they can get all the nutrition that they require.
Fluid is an important nutrient to stay alive. Although fluid comes in many forms, encourage your children to drink water from an early age, as this is always the best fluid. Sugary drinks such as flavoured water, cool drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks only contain sugar and therefore have little nutritional value. Fruit juice, although more nutritious does not contain fibre, and is therefore not as good as the fruit. Diluted fruit juice and milk are healthy alternatives to water.
When you pack your kid’s lunchbox (or teach them to pack their own lunchbox) ensure that you have some foods from all the above food groups. The healthy lunchbox could look something like this:
- Small yoghurt and kiddies banana (from the dairy and fruit group)
- A seedloaf sandwich with leftover chicken mixed with hummus (from the wholegrain and protein group)
- Baby carrots and cherry tomatoes (from the veggie group)
- A bottle of water
By teaching your kids early in life to enjoy these healthy foods they will go into adulthood without any food and body issues. Lead and teach them by example.