An excessive intake of junk and processed foods can deprive kids of proper nutrition, impacting their health and immunity. Children can be fussy eaters which can increase the risk of malnourishment. However, there are ways and means to ensure that your child is getting optimum nutrition through the daily diet while keeping them happy at the same time. Introduce creative versions of the existing recipes and practice other behavioural techniques to bond well with the child and entice them into partaking in a healthy diet.
Dietary considerations to optimise your child’s health:
Ensure that your child consumes a decent amount of carbohydrates such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, oats, legumes, seasonal green vegetables, and fruits. Since children are highly active, carbohydrate-rich foods help them meet their increased energy needs. Incorporate good fats such as flax and chia seeds, walnuts, avocados, olives, and fish such as salmon, tuna, and herringbone in their diet.
Proteins are required to build muscles and other body tissues in children of growing age. Hence, it becomes important to include foods like eggs, fish chicken, soy products, legumes, cottage cheese, and others as part of their daily diet. Add iron rich foods to your child’s diet, such as red meat (only once a week in moderate amounts), beans, green leafy vegetables, tuna, eggs, pomegranate, and beetroot.
Iron helps in the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen in the body, and helps in their overall growth. A deficiency of iron in children can also lead to anaemia. Adding vitamin C to a child’s diet improves their immunity, promotes wound healing, and helps in the proper absorption of iron.
Ensure that the child is taking enough calcium and vitamin D as these micronutrients are required for building strong bones and teeth. Since children are generally not fond of having herbal concoctions, they can be given besan sheera in winters to improve their immunity and reduce the chances of seasonal colds and coughs. Add spices such as cardamom, turmeric, black pepper, and nutmeg to the sheera.
Many healthy foods can be included in their diet every day. Include eggs in their breakfast, as they are an excellent source of iron, protein, good fats, vitamins A, D, E, and B12. Egg yolk contains choline- an important nutrient for improving memory in children. One can consider pumpkin seeds that are packed with iron, magnesium, and healthy fats. If the child doesn’t have the taste for them, you can also add powdered seeds while kneading dough for chapatis or mix it in curd/raita. Another healthy mid-morning snack option is sprouted moong and chana chaat. Lentils and legumes are high in protein, fibre, vitamin B, and vitamin C. You can make it more flavourful by sprinkling a pinch of chaat masala over it and adding some lemon juice, chopped cumber, and tomatoes.
A peanut butter sandwich or smoothie is a great option for a nutritious evening time snack. Peanut butter is rich in protein, good fats, and vitamin E which works as a powerful antioxidant and helps protect the nerve membranes. It is also rich in vitamin B1 or thiamin, which can help boost a child's brain health. Including oats in your child’s diet is yet another healthy idea to complete their nutritional needs. You can make oatmeal with milk and top it up with some freshly chopped fruits like banana, apple, kiwi, mango, strawberries, figs, and others. One can also prepare oat balls and energy bars using rolled oats, nuts, seeds, jaggery, raisins, and dark chocolate chips at home itself, rather than offering chocolates to the children every time they crave something sweet.
Limit children’s intake of chocolates, candies, wafers, chips, and aerated drinks. Junk and processed foods can make them vulnerable to early diabetes, hormonal imbalances (especially in young girls), and a high body mass index (BMI). While travelling, instead of handing your child a packet of chips or cookies, offer them coconut slices, roasted makhanas, or peanuts as healthy snacks to munch on. Swap their soft drinks with homemade mint and lemon mojito, fresh orange or pineapple juice, milkshakes, fruit smoothies, coconut water, jaljeera, lemonade, and others.
A well-balanced diet and optimum nutrition are majorly responsible for enhancing children’s health. However, there are certain non-dietary aspects as well which can significantly contribute towards improving their relationship with food, thereby helping in their holistic development.
Never force food on your kids in case they don’t like it. Instead, try to come up with new and creative versions of that food and re-introduce it to them. Forcefully feeding the child may destroy his relationship with food and he may never want to have it again considering it as pressure. Do not allow children to use gadgets while eating as they become dependable on them and refuse to eat once it becomes a part of their habit.
Encourage children to participate in sports activities and be physically active. Do not provide them free access to a lot of gadgets or video games as it will confine them to the house, and they would not get involved in any outdoor activity, which in turn can make their metabolism slow and sluggish. The best way to know about where your child is facing challenges in terms of not eating properly is to communicate with them. Learn about their choices, likes, and dislikes, and try to include those foods in their diet in a creative way.