Everywhere we look we hear that nutrition is important… and would you believe it… it really is! From the get-go we are swamped with healthy eating advice and GOSH it can be hard to decipher what’s what. We know food is important for a range of different reasons such as assisting with growth, bone development, concentration, and energy levels. So, let’s get into the hard facts.
WHAT IS A BALANCED DIET YOU ASK?
Having a balanced diet means eating a wide variety of foods from each of the five food groups. We know it’s difficult and let’s face it – some kids are not great eaters, but keep trying!
- Fruit – Provides vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre
- Vegetables – Should be encouraged at two meals per day and provides vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre (Even if you have to hide them!)
- Dairy and/or their alternatives – Great source of calcium, needed for healthy bones and muscle function. It’s also high in protein to keep those tummies full.
- Lean meat, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu and nuts – Provide protein which helps build, maintain and repair muscle tissue.
- Grain foods – Choose wholegrain varieties of breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles etc.
Now if you’re saying, ‘my child doesn’t eat any of that!’ that can be normal and picky eaters gravitate towards more processed, higher sugar foods.
Here are some of our top tips to help kids eat a balanced diet:
- Make food fun! Getting creative in the kitchen is a great way to help children become more interested in eating healthy. These include making food into different shapes and sizes, making faces with food and fruit/vegetable kebabs, etc.
- Eat the rainbow – no single food provides all the nutrients we need, so the key is to encourage a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables!
- Get kids involved – by getting your children involved in the preparing and cooking of meals, they’re a lot more likely to eat it! It also helps them to learn how to make good choices about the foods they eat. This could involve preparing the lunchbox together, washing and cutting up or choosing a recipe together for a family dinner meal.
DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST
Whilst it’s typical for busy parents to skip out on breakfast, kids that skip breakfast are more likely to feel tired and irritable – and no one wants that! Breakfast helps to give children the energy they need to start their busy day. Without at least a little something in their stomach, their energy levels can crash by the time they start school. We know with the morning school rush, it can be hard to fit in a nutritious breakfast.
Here are some of our top tips to make breakfast time easier for the whole family:
- Stock up with healthy breakfast options, such as fresh fruit, whole grain cereals, yoghurts etc.
- Prepare what you can the night before – e.g. setting the table, pre-chopping fruit and boiling eggs. • If your kids really aren’t hungry, try something like a smoothie instead, or bringing some fruit and a milk drink for their drive to school.
PRIMARY SCHOOL VS HIGH SCHOOL NUTRITION
Whilst a healthy diet is important for both primary school and high school students – energy needs are very different between the two! Typically, as children grow, they require more energy – this will mean slightly bigger meals and more snacks. It’s normal that your child’s appetite will start increasing as they get older, which is their body’s way of saying “I need more food!”. Fun fact – by the time they reach 18-20 years old, about 90 per cent of their bone mass is already built, and puberty is the key time for this process. Having adequate calcium intake helps to ensure development of strong healthy bones.
In summary, feeding your child can be TRICKY! But it’s important to keep in mind that they are developing their taste preferences and learning what foods sustain them! Most importantly they learn from you – the way you describe food, the way you eat, and the amounts you eat. Encouraging a healthy diet is key, but remember not to force them. If you suspect your child is lagging in their eating development or becoming increasingly fussy, reach out to a health professional such as a dietitian, who can help.
DAY ON A PLATE
Breakfast: 1-2 x slices grain bread + thin spread of peanut butter OR overnight oats with chopped fruit and yoghurt
1st Break: 1 x piece fruit + 1 x low sugar yoghurt
2nd Break: Wholegrain sandwich with cheese + tomato + ham
After school: Wholegrain rice cakes with ricotta or cottage cheese + sliced capsicum or carrot sticks + hummus dip
Dinner: Smaller portion of the family meal e.g. spaghetti bolognaise – packed full of veggies (tomatoes/mushrooms/onion etc) OR Taco’s (hard or soft) – loaded full of salad vegetables + small amount of lean mince + avocado
Breakfast: Porridge – 1/2 cup oats (raw) + 1 cup skim milk + ½ cup fruit + yoghurt to top
1st Break: 1 x piece fruit + 1 x boiled egg + chopped carrot & celery sticks with hummus dip
2nd Break: Wholegrain wrap with chicken breast or ham + salads (e.g. lettuce, cucumber, tomato) + 1 slice cheese + 1 x low sugar yoghurt
After school: Wholegrain sandwich with peanut butter OR 1 x 95g tin tuna + 2-4 x wholegrain rice cakes and tomato
Dinner: Portion of the family meal – e.g. beef stir fry (with lots of veggies!) OR chicken casserole (loaded with veg and served with brown rice)
Georgia Brockman is an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Health Managament Dietitians