Healthy eating: What young children need - Wholesome Life Journal

Healthy eating: What young children need

As a parent, the nutritional needs of your baby or toddler are obviously a priority, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of differing information out there. The food a child eats in their early years can influence their dietary habits later in life, so it’s important to instil good habits and a healthy relationship with food from an early age. Once your child is eating solid foods, you’re likely to find that some of the meals you so lovingly created are rejected. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal, but it is wise to try to get into a good routine as soon as possible.

Ensure your child’s nutrient requirements are met by aiming for three balanced meals a day, each containing something a food from each food group with up to two healthy snacks. Get into the habit of trying different types of protein with each meal and a couple of different vegetables.

Babies and milk

In the first six months, babies receive all their nutritional requirements from a milk-based diet. Infant formula is the only alternative to breastfeeding for feeding babies below six months of age.  Cow’s milk is not recommended as a main drink for infants until 12 months of age. However, from six months, children enter the stage of transitional feeding, and progress from a milk only diet towards a varied, balanced diet of complementary foods from the four main food groups. The food groups that make up this balanced diet are protein foods like fish, meat and eggs, starchy foods supplying carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables and milk and dairy foods.

Why protein is important

Proteins are essential for a number of important functions including growth, brain development and healthy bones. Of the 20 amino acids – or building blocks that make proteins, children need to get 9 ‘essential amino acids’ from their food.

How to get protein into your child’s diet

Animal proteins such as lean meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese contain all 9 essential amino acids and are considered the most important for growth. Plant proteins such as beans and pulses are incomplete proteins and need to be combined to achieve the full spectrum of amino acids. Aim to include fish twice a week, with one being an oily variety like salmon, trout or mackerel. Fresh, frozen or canned are fine but remember smoked and canned products tend to be higher in salt.

Starchy foods supplying carbohydrates

Children need a source of carbohydrate in each meal. However, young children under 13 months may struggle to digest wholegrain varieties, and too much fibre can fill them up too quickly and compromise their appetite and their absorption of important minerals such as calcium and iron.

How to get carbohydrates into your child’s diet

Beyond 13 months children can usually tuck into wholegrain breads, muesli and pasta. Some children manage this better than others, so it’s just a matter of seeing how your child responds. Whole nuts and seeds are good sources of fibre as well as important healthy fats, however, they should be avoided until your child is 5 years old or over because of the risk of choking.

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