Making sure that children eat a balanced and nutritious combination of food is an essential part of their development. Children are constantly growing, and they need the right nutrients to help them maintain a healthy weight, recover quickly from illness, build up strong bones and muscles, and keep up their energy levels. Poor nutrition can cause a range of health problems such as obesity, asthma, high cholesterol and heart disease, as well as learning difficulties and low self-esteem.
What should children be eating?
Children need to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups every day. This means:
- plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
- wholegrain breads, cereals, rice and pasta
- healthy sources of protein such as lean fish, eggs, nuts and poultry
- milk, yoghurt and cheese
Children also need to stay well hydrated, so only offer water rather than soft drinks or fruit juice. Junk food and takeaway should be consumed only as an occasional treat.
How to establish healthy habits
You can encourage good nutrition by offering your children plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable options every day. If they don’t like raw vegetables, you can try steaming or grilling them to make them more appetising. Frozen fruits can also be provided if you’re running low on fresh fruit or in hot weather as a substitute for highly sweetened icy poles or ice-cream. Be a good role model for your child by making sure that you always make healthy choices, and get the whole family involved in healthy eating. Make breakfast part of the morning routine, eat meals together at the table, and avoid using junk food as a reward or a comfort.
Children need a calcium-rich diet to support bone development and reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life. The best way to make sure children get their recommended calcium intake is to give them three serves of dairy food every day. Each serve could be a glass of milk, a tub of yoghurt, or two slices of cheese. Making sure children get enough calcium will ensure their bones reach their optimal strength.
Tooth decay is still a common health problem for many children in Australia. It’s important to establish good dental hygiene routines as early as possible, but good nutrition and eating habits can also help prevent gum problems like gingivitis. Dairy foods play an important role in maintaining good dental health as they provide children with calcium, phosphorus and the milk protein “casein”.
Proper nutrition should be supported by a healthy, active lifestyle. Encourage children to be active and find physical activities that they enjoy. Playing outside for an hour every day can help children maintain a healthy weight and general wellbeing. Try to limit your child’s screen time and encourage more physical forms of play.