Healthy Nutrition Overview
Healthy Nutrition (i.e. a Healthy Diet) is vital for a child's mental and physical health. This includes regular hydration, see our article here on 'HYDRATION'. It is well known that a poor diet can lead to children being unhappy, overweight or even obese. If your child is obese it can lead to a lifetime of problems and certainly a shorter life expectancy so read our article here on 'CHILD OBESITY'.
Children who consume a healthy diet will normally have less health problems, live longer and perform better at sports and also academically.
It is understandable that in recent times our diet has become much less healthy. People are working longer than ever before just to pay off the household bills and many two parent families have both parents working. We are also trying to do more for our children and more with our social lives meaning there is less and less time for preparing wholesome food from scratch. Families are increasingly living on packaged, pre-prepared foods or worse still fast convenience foods that are downright unhealthy. However, there is no reason why a solution cannot be found.
Some parents/guardians are not only tending to feed their children on nutritionally poor food but it is not uncommon for them to be overweight themselves which gives children the wrong role model.
Some parents are often misguided when it comes to eating healthily. This could be due to information on weight loss or dieting which is misleading just to make money. Crash diets are especially bad and should never be done by adults never mind children. You've all heard of meal replacement diets (shakes), Atkins diet (low carb), high protein diet etc, vegetable diets. FORGET THEM!!! You don't need diet books and certainly not ones that cut out essential carbohydrates or proteins or fats. Just eat healthy food the vast majority of the time and exercise daily! Just read this article and you'll know how to lose weight naturally for yourself and your children.
So what is a Healthy Diet?
You need to eat a healthy balance of macro-nutrients : protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. You also need micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals) and fibre. Read our 'VITAMINS AND MINERALS' and 'FIBER' articles here. And of course, plenty of water to keep the urine clear (if your child will not have water then keep trying but if not then semi-skimmed milk or very dilute unsweetened cordial is fine)! A rule of thumb is "if it is unprocessed and 100% natural and likely to go off, even in the fridge, then it probably good". There are obvious exceptions to this but this should be the starting point.
Protein : Lean Meats (e.g. chicken, seafood or lean red meat with any fat trimmed off). Read our 'PROTEINS' article here.
Carbohydrates: Medium to Low Glycemic Index (G.I) carbohydrates [e.g. porridge oats, pasta, rice, vegetables]. Read our 'CARBOHYDRATES' article here.
Good Fats : Poly-unsaturated and Mono-unsaturated fats are good fats. Trans-fats and saturated fats are bad. These are usually provided by the fish, meats and carbohydrate sources you eat although a small amount of olive oil has been suggested as beneficial in some circumstances. Read our 'FATS' article here.
Vitamins & Minerals : These are normally provided by milk, fruit and vegetables and whole grains naturally in a healthy diet. Read our 'VITAMINS AND MINERALS', 'MILK AND DAIRY', 'FIVE A DAY FRUIT AND VEGETABLES' and , 'GRAINS' articles here.
Fiber / Fibre : A healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains will provide plenty of fibre naturally. Read our 'FIBER' article here.
A rule of thumb is, if it is processed, tinned, in a packet with lots of ingredients, pre-made or unlikely to go off for a long time then it generally bad. There are obvious exceptions to this but this should be the starting point.
Protein from Fatty non-lean meats : meats with lots of obvious fat on it is a poor choice on an ongoing basis. Always trim fat off but some meats have got lots of obvious fat all over and difficult to trim. Read our 'PROTEINS' article here.
High GI carbs : Anything really high in processed sugar (including sugar itself) is bad. Candy, chocolate, many breakfast cereals, low fat yoghurts, orange juice, sweetened juices and fizzy drinks or sports drinks are all full of sugar and are not healthy. See our articles on 'REFINED SUGARS' here. Alcohol is also bad but children should not drink this anyway! White bread has a relatively high GI too and has much less fibre than wholemeal bread so minimise this. About half of all this processed sugar will be converted by your child's body to fat depending on exercise levels. Read our 'CARBOHYDRATES' article here.
Bad Fats : Trans-fats or saturated fats are bad news for the body and should be avoided. Always read labels of foods before buying. Avoid fast foods and takeaways as much as possible
Caffeine : Kids don't generally have lots of tea and coffee but again too much of this isn't great for the body.
How Much and When to Eat
You must fuel your child's body with essential macro and micro-nutrients throughout the day and your child should NEVER feel starving except when they wake up otherwise they have gone too long without food . One of the bigger meals of the day should be breakfast. Keep it healthy. Children, just like adults, should eat enough so they feel full but not overly so. They should be peckish without being starving mid-morning and a piece of fruit and a small whole-wheat cracker might be appropriate, depending on age and size.
Lunch time should be another reasonable meal and make your child full without being too much. If at school, a healthy balanced meal is better than a packed lunch (read our 'SCHOOL MEALS' article here) and make sure there is some protein in the meal. Again a mid afternoon healthy snack (e.g. another piece of fruit) should be available. Evening meal should ideally be healthy, home cooked, balanced but a small portion a couple of hours prior to bedtime.
A healthy snack in between meals means your child is less likely to want to overeat at meal times too and this also keeps up the body's metabolism.
A healthy diet for children is essential to their physical and mental wellbeing and ultimately their happiness and longevity in life. Ignore this simple fact at your peril. Prioritise nutrition. It is one of the most important things in life and must be given proper attention. Resist the urge to exist off pre-prepared meals and fast foods. Get children involved in the growing or cooking if they are interested and try to make mealtimes a good and healthy family time.