Planning balanced diet for your child

Last Updated 20 December 2018, 06:22 IST

Should we be worried about what our children eat? Yes. The food our children eat has the potential to change their life for the better.

All through childhood millions of cells are under construction in the body of a child. New cells are made with the raw materials available at that time in the body. And these raw materials come from the food that a child eats. So a growing child truly becomes what she/he eats.

Diets that have nutrients in right proportions build better brains and bodies than meals deficient in essential nutrients. When I help parents plan what their child should eat through the week at every meal, I ask them to follow these principles.

Plan the diet such that every meal and every snack has carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Without focussed intentional planning, most meals for children end up being carbohydrate and fat-rich and deficient in proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Serve your child frequent small meals. Small meals can be easily digested and absorbed by the child’s digestive system. Big meals are just flushed down the drain. Give your child three meals and three snacks a day.

Understand that unlike an adult’s body, a child’s body depends on snacks for a large part of her/his nutrition. So planning healthy snacks is very important when you plan your child’s diet. Snacks that are made up largely of carbohydrates and fats like biscuits and potato chips leave your child’s body deficient in proteins, vitamins and minerals. And when these snacks come packed and ready to eat, they are also loaded with chemicals and preservatives.

Serve meals and snacks at fixed times of the day and never extend the meal beyond 20 minutes. Digestion is not an easy job. When the food arrives at fixed times, the stomach finds it easier to digest because it can keep the digestive enzymes ready at those regular intervals. Plan the menu for the week in advance and keep the ingredients and recipes ready so that serving meals on a regular schedule becomes easy for you.

Children need lots of calories because they move around so much. Therefore, make sure you focus on the carbohydrates in each meal. Learn more about good carbohydrates like whole grains and millets before you plan the weekly menu. Learn how to include these good carbohydrates in tasty recipes so that children do not get bored and start craving bad carbohydrates like maida and sugar.

You can give your child enough protein even if you are vegetarian or vegan. Non-vegetarian food or milk protein is not the only way to bring in protein into meals. Protein is abundantly present in almost all natural food. Combine protein-rich food with the right carbohydrate sources in every meal and every snack to keep your child fit.

Don’t worry if your child refuses to eat vegetables. You need not force feed your child vegetables at every meal. Include whole grains and millets that are rich in vitamins and minerals in your child’s diet in the right way and stop worrying.

Make sure your child drinks lots of water. The nutrients in your child’s food are carried by water to the cells that need them to grow. Without water, they never leave the digestive tract and are flushed out right away.

Switching to healthy food is not difficult. For example, to include healthy carbohydrates in your existing diet, first identify the recipes in which you are using refined flour (maida). Buy healthy flours like millet flours or whole wheat atta and use them in place of maida in your recipes. If you don’t like experimenting in the kitchen, search for tried and tested recipes that use these healthy flours. Switch to the healthy recipe instead of your regular one and you are on the way to better health.

Cooking healthy meals that are nutrient-rich need not be complicated or time-consuming. Begin today. Build your knowledge about nutrition. Identify deficiencies in your child’s daily meals. Buy ingredients that supply those nutrients. Use recipes that tell you how to replace unhealthy ingredients with healthy ones.

(The writer is a Parenting Consultant and founder, What Parents Ask)

(Published 19 December 2018, 19:34 IST)

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