A child’s growing body depends on the nutrients in the food she eats for health and vitality, so it’s not surprising that parents worry about food so much. Proteins, minerals, vitamins, fiber fats, carbohydrates . . . there are so many things to remember to include – and in the right amounts – that working out what your child should and shouldn't be chomping on can be a minefield. It’s easy to get lost in all the recommended guidelines, but the good news is that you don’t need a degree in nutrition science to feed your child a healthy diet.
Healthy eating means a lot more than balancing a list of desirable nutrients. Eating’s a social activity and a focal point of family life, and providing food is a way of expressing care and love, so mealtimes must be enjoyable for your child.
Meeting Your Child’s Nutritional Needs
Believe it or not, making sure your child eats well can be relatively simple. After weaning, a healthy diet for your baby is basically the same as a healthy diet for you. Before the age of 2 years, fats should not be restricted – so use full-fat milk and yoghurts, for example – but from then on there’s no reason to cook special meals for your child – as long as you don’t live off takeaways and chips-with-everything.
Food contains calories, which supply the energy needed for growth and exercise and stop your child feeling hungry. Food also contains crucial vitamins and minerals. Among their many roles, vitamins help the body absorb other nutrients, aid growth and development, assist the body in fighting infection, and ensure organs and cells function normally.
Making sense of food groups
Your child cannot live off bread alone. Or carrots. Or chips. Or any other single food. She needs a varied diet in order to get all the essential nutrients her body needs to be healthy and function efficiently. There are five main food groups that are crucial for your child’s health:
- Carbohydrates, found in bread, potatoes, cereals, rice, and pasta, are the body’s most important and readily available source of energy.
- Fruits and vegetables contain essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Proteins, found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, pulses, seeds, and nuts, are key to growth and help build and repair essential parts of the body.
- Dairy foods are an important source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially calcium, which is essential for healthy teeth and bones.
- Fats, such as butter and vegetable oils, are essential (in the correct form and quantity) for the development of healthy brain tissue and the maintenance of the central nervous system.