Nutrition Tips for Young Children: What and How to Eat
Food is a topic close to all our hearts. Even though your toddler or preschooler runs away from it, you know for sure that when they snuggle back to you, all cranky and sad, they are hungry.
A child’s health and brain development is directly linked to what goes in their stomachs. The formative years of their life, especially, are crucial.
With nearly one in five children being classified as obese, America is turning its heart from away from cheeseburgers to greens and beans. You just have to notice the decline of McDonald’s and proliferation of all-vegetarian restaurants to give credence to this fact.
But good food and nutrition starts right from home, and some would even say, the womb. We would add that your child’s daycare or pre-school also has a major part to play in a child’s health. It is a collaborative effort to make sure that the future generations grow up to be healthy, intelligent, conscious, long-living beings.
So here are some tips and tricks to ensure that food on the table is healthy and consumed in the right way.
1. Choose minimally processed foods: Who are we kidding? There is enough to balance between work, home, holiday planning and socializing that made-from-scratch dinners have become a rare occurrence in the house. And nobody is complaining! The only thing is, check the label, twice, even thrice maybe, to make sure what you are feeding the child. Many breakfast cereals contain more sugar than soft drinks. The same is applicable to multiple kid-friendly brands of purees, yogurts and packaged dinners. Sometimes even frozen fruits contain excess sugars.
2. Incorporate fruits and vegetables: This is age-old wisdom everyone knows about. The multitudes of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients that these colorful foods provide have no alternatives (except pills of course). But it’s not that easy, specially when they aren’t sweet or ‘tasty’. Try roasting, making into a soup, blending veggies into a shake with fruit, or serving them raw with dips and sauces. Keep looking for ways to incorporate veggies into the diet till your child learns to accept and enjoy them. Sometimes involving children in the preparation also helps to get them excited about the meal coming up. Tell them to mash avocados, tear up lettuce for salad or simply place chopped peppers on a baking sheet. See how delighted they might be to try something they prepared!
3. Aid your child in eating the right amount: It’s quite an art to feed children the right amount of food. And what is the right amount? Every child defines it on their own. And well, for them, the definition keeps changing. Two slices of pizza will be devoured in two minutes, while a small bowl of rice will keep standing for two hours. Haven’t we seen it all?
As bizarre as it may sound to a mother, a child’s body cues tells them how much food they need. Some days they’ll eat more, some days less. Their bodies naturally regulate their intake over a long time period. And a child’s ability to self-regulate can be disturbed by things like inappropriate portion sizing, processed foods, and eating while rushed, distracted, or on the go. To put things in perspective, they may eat only half a bowl of pasta vs one bowl of rice because pasta usually sits heavier on the tummy with quite a bit of all-purpose flour in it. Some strategies that might work in making sure that your child has the right amount of food are:
1. Don’t push them to finish dinner quickly.
2. Don’t bribe them (“If you finish lentils you’ll get ice cream”). It makes it worse!
3. Give them the illusion of choice (e.g. “You can pick 1 vegetable you’d like to eat tonight”).
4. Let kids stop when they’re no longer hungry (instead of insisting that they clear their plate).
5. Don’t keep unhealthy choices in the house. Out of sight, out of mind. Make healthy choices available.
6. Involve kids in shopping, menu planning and cooking. It gets them excited!
7. Eat together as a family as often as possible. Make meal time as family time.
At Vernon Hills Montessori Academy, we insist upon freshly prepared food made with ingredients that are proven to be beneficial for the growth of children. Our caterers regularly serve food made with buckwheat, whole wheat, cheese, poultry, eggs and more. We give high emphasis on feeding fruits and yogurt to children, especially in the summer. And our lovable, resident helper, Ms Louda, makes extremely delicious recipes with beans, veggies and rice for toddlers.
Don’t forget to see our chart on which nutrient is offered by which food. It might help you in planning quick, daily meals.