Consuming a balanced diet is vital to your child’s overall wellbeing and helps them to maintain an even mood and energy level.
Finding a meal plan that’s both nutritious and kid-friendly can be challenging, so here are some strategies for creating one.
1. Focus on nutrient-dense foods
When choosing foods, prioritize those which offer the highest nutrient-dense value per calorie – these will most effectively fuel your body and keep you full for longer.
Integrating more nutrient-dense foods into your diet will not only make you feel better but will help protect against overeating or weight gain by being more satisfying and harder to overeat than less-nutrient dense ones.
Additionally, these nutrient-dense foods provide you with essential vitamins and minerals to support optimal body functioning as well as energy to help you feel good during the day.
Nutritious foods contain lots of fiber, protein and healthy fats to support health and weight management. By eating such food items regularly you’ll also reduce added sugars and sodium that could negatively impact both your health and weight.
Fruits and vegetables are an abundant source of nutrition, offering vital vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants that support good health. Aim to consume at least seven servings daily of fruits and vegetables to take full advantage of all they offer.
Other foods high in nutrition include lean meats, fish, eggs and beans – which provide essential proteins, B vitamins, iron and zinc.
Make sure to purchase a variety of these nutrient-rich foods to ensure a balanced intake. Also be sure to read nutrition facts labels on products so you know exactly what is in them.
One key consideration when shopping for cereal is the low fat content – that means no more than 10 grams per 3.5 ounces. Anything higher may not be an ideal option.
2. Limit fat intake
Planned meal plans that are balanced are important in creating a healthier environment for kids, since too much fatty food may contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease among them.
Reducing fat intake begins by staying away from processed foods, fried and salty snacks, greasy fast foods and replacing saturated and trans fats with healthier unsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds avocados and fish.
Be sure to provide plenty of healthy fruits, vegetables and whole grains as part of each meal and snack; they should also consider low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products for additional supplementation.
Try to provide at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily to your child, encouraging him or her to enjoy an assortment of fresh, canned and frozen veggies each week.
Snacks between meals should be nutritious and include low-fat yoghurt, peanut butter or wholegrain crackers with cheese and fresh fruit as healthy options. Dessert options should also include low-fat yoghurt or slices of fruit instead of cakes, biscuits or chocolate.
Limit the consumption of drinks that are high in sugar, such as fruit juice, cordials and flavoured waters – as they may contribute to unhealthy weight gain, tooth decay and other health issues in children. Replace these options with water or other calorie-free beverages instead.
Cook with healthy oils from plants like extra virgin olive, canola, corn, sunflower and peanut oil when possible. Fatty coldwater fish such as salmon and trout also provide valuable sources of unsaturated fatty acids.
Avoid foods high in salt or refined flour content, like pastries and pies, which are high in calories and may increase anxiety and depression in children.
3. Limit added sugar
Planning a healthy meal plan for children involves limiting added sugars, including those found in fruits, vegetables and milk products. Although these sources of nutrition should be included in moderate amounts.
An ideal 2,000-calorie diet should contain only 12 teaspoons (48 grams). For kids, that number should even be lower.
To reduce added sugars, ensure each meal includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products – plus introduce fat-free or low-fat milk as well as alternative milk alternatives!
Encourage your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day, particularly between meals. Children who drink more water are more likely to eat healthier food options.
Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, juice and energy drinks which contain high calories and could increase your child’s risk for obesity, tooth decay and other health problems.
Limit refined sugars such as white and brown sugars, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup – they’re used by food manufacturers as cheap sweeteners but may not provide as many health benefits as real sugar does.
As they’re high in calories, it is wise to limit themselves to no more than several servings each day.
Instead of turning to sugar as the only source of sweetness, consider natural alternatives like honey, molasses or syrups as natural sweeteners that don’t pack nearly as many calories per gram than sugar would. They are far better for your child’s overall health.
Make sure to incorporate fresh, canned, dried and frozen vegetables in your child’s diet on a weekly basis; including colorful options like peas, beans and kale will help them adapt to a healthy eating regimen and reduce the likelihood of them refusing healthy foods in future.
4. Offer a variety of familiar and new foods
One of the key components of a nutritious meal plan for children is providing them with a variety of both familiar and unfamiliar foods, ensuring they get all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed for growth and wellbeing.
Since many children tend to reject new foods at first taste, it is essential that new items be offered multiple times until they become familiar and learn about its texture and flavor. Doing this will allow children to gain comfort with it as they explore its features.
Avoid giving picky eaters too many unfamiliar foods at one time as this could make them feel sick or upset.
Make sure your menu offers a range of colors and textures each day to keep meals appealing to children and enable them to select what they prefer from their plate.
One key part of creating a healthy meal plan is restricting high-fat and high-sugar snacks like chips, candy, soft drinks, sugar-flavored beverages and baked goods.
If you regularly buy unhealthy foods for your children, make a commitment to shift your shopping habits in order to promote better eating. Create a new grocery list focusing on purchasing healthful items.
Not only should you limit foods high in fat and sugar, it is also crucial to introduce your child to an assortment of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products – this will allow them to learn about the many health benefits offered by each type of food and may encourage healthier choices in future.
5. Serve meals and snacks at the same time
Planned eating is essential to healthy living, and providing meals at set times ensures your child receives all of their essential vitamins and nutrients on schedule.
Plan each meal around including at least one nutrient-dense food from all major food groups, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Also ensure you include protein foods like beef, poultry, fish, eggs, beans or nuts – plus something from dairy like milk or yogurt – in each food group.
Integrate fruits and vegetables into all of your child’s meals and snacks, with the goal of reaching at least five servings daily. Encourage kids to snack on lower-fat yogurt, peanut butter and celery; or whole-grain crackers and cheese as healthy options.
Snacks can provide children with additional nutrients while keeping them focused at school or homework, but it’s important to avoid nonstop snacking which interferes with hunger and fullness cues and may lead to overeating.
Children typically require three meals and two to three snacks daily, depending on age and activity level. Younger children may require more frequent snacks than older ones.
Schedule snacks and meals regularly so your child develops a positive relationship with food, according to Registered Dietitian Jennifer Hyland, MS, RD. She advises this approach as it provides security against hunger-induced tantrums which can lead to poor eating habits in later years.
Snack on nutritious treats such as cut up fruit or vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, whole-grain cereal or crackers with small amounts of fat-free or low-fat cheese, yogurt with sliced bananas or yogurt and banana slices as snacks – limit low nutrient snacks like chips and cookies to occasional treats only!