Switching to a healthy diet can have a profound effect on your child’s physical and mental health. It will help them maintain a healthy weight, stabilise their moods, sharpen their minds, and prevent a variety of chronic health conditions. 

If everyone has learnt something from the pandemic situation, it is the importance of having a strong immunity. 

The most important step you can take to protect your child from falling sick is to boost their immune system. Therefore, the basic thing that you can do is to give them a nutritious diet. 

It is important to remember that no kid is born with a craving for French fries and an aversion to broccoli or carrots. As they grow, they develop curiosity about food and new eating habits. They develop preferences and unique dietary needs based on their likes and dislikes. 

However, it is possible to reprogram your children’s food preferences and inculcate a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. 

Nutrition for children is based on the same core principles as nutrition for adults. The key to a healthy lifestyle is an appropriate balance of diet and exercise.

A good starting point would be by adding the five main food groups including grains, dairy, protein, vegetables, and fruits to your child’s diet. 

The portions of each respective food group will depend on your child’s age, physical activity, and genetics. It is important to customise the meal plan to meet your child’s nutritional goals.

Let’s take a look at a few essential nutrients that your child needs.

1. Grains

There are 2 types of grains – whole grains and refined grains. Whole grain products use the entire grain kernel and have more fibre, iron, and B vitamins than refined grains. Examples of food with whole grains include whole-wheat flour chapati, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. 

Refined grain products include white flour, bread, white rice, and most kinds of pasta. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommends getting at least half of your grains from whole grains. As they are high in fibre, they also aid in digestion.

How much do preschoolers need daily?

Children 2 to 3 years old: 85 g 

Children 4 years old: 140 g

How much is that? 

For 2-3 year-olds, it is equal to 3 small 6 inch chapatis, 2 cups of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1 cup of cooked cereal.

2. Vegetables

Vegetables are a storehouse of fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and loads of antioxidants, which are disease-fighting substances that lower the long term risk of cancer and heart diseases.

How to incorporate vegetables into your child’s diet? 

Make a timetable so that over a week, your child has lots of different-coloured vegetables – dark green broccoli, light green beans, orange carrots, red tomatoes, and so on. That way, you are sure your child is getting all the nutrients, plus it is not boring for them. 

  • Make the recipe presentation easy for you and interesting for kids. 
  • Make it a bonding activity. Get hold of some child-friendly vegetable peelers, and peel and cut vegetables along with your kids. 
  • Make meal preparation time a game time for them, and you will be surprised to see your child eating carrots, cucumbers, and so on without any fuss.

How much do preschoolers need daily?

Children 2 to 3 years old: 1 cup

Children 4 years old: 1 ½ cups

What does this mean? 

This can include 1 or 1 ½ cups of fresh, frozen, canned, or dried vegetables or 100% vegetable juice.

3. Fruits

Fruits contain huge amounts of fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants. Serve fruits as munching bites in between meals, or after food. 

Alternatively, you could just be liberal with fruits, and offer them whenever your child wants them.

How much do preschoolers need daily?

Children 2 to 3 years old: 1 bowl 

Children 4 years old: 1 to 1 ½ bowl

How much is that? 

This includes 1 or 1 ½ cups of raw or cooked fruits or 100% fruit juice.

4. Dairy

Dairy products are a rich source of calcium that helps your child get strong teeth and bones. They are also an alternative source of protein, especially if your child dislikes meat.

If your child is 2 years old and above and has a good height to weight ratio, it is safe to switch to low-fat or fat-free milk. 

This way they will get the same amount of calcium and vitamin D, but with less solid fat (a type of unhealthy fat) and calories. This will reduce the chance of developing childhood obesity.

How much do preschoolers need daily?

Children 2 to 3 years old: 2 cups

Children 4 years old: 2 ½ cups

What does this mean? 

A cup of dairy can be: 

  • 1 cup milk, yoghurt, or soy milk
  • 1 ½ ounces, two slices, or 1/3 cup shredded hard cheese (such as Cheddar, Mozzarella, Swiss, or Parmesan)
  • 2 ounces processed cheese
  • 1/2 cup Ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup pudding made with milk
  • 1 ½ cups ice cream

5. Protein

Foods that are high in proteins include meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, soy products, nuts, and seeds. Note that beans and peas are also part of the vegetable food group. 

Try to serve seafood at least twice a week. 

How much do preschoolers need daily?

Children 2 to 3 years old: 60 g

Children 4 years old: 120 g

How much is that? 

2 eggs, 2 slices of rye toast, or 2 ounces of grilled salmon make up 60 g of protein.

6. Oils and Fats

Add healthy oils and fats to your child's diet. Oils are not considered a separate food group, but they do provide some nutrients necessary for a healthy diet, and they are a major source of vitamin E. 

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperatures, like the vegetable oils used in cooking or salad dressings. Some foods, such as nuts, and certain types of fish, avocados, and olives, are naturally high in oils. 

Children get their recommended daily allowances of oils via the food they eat.

How much do preschoolers need daily?

Children 2 to 3 years old: About 3 teaspoons of oil per day

Children 4 years old and above: 4 teaspoons of oil per day

What does this mean? 

This includes 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter, ghee, oil, or animal fat. Fatty meat or processed meat such as bacon or sausages in the right quantity can be included in your child’s diet. 

“Investing in early childhood nutrition is a surefire strategy, the returns are incredibly high”. Happy Parenting!

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.