These days, it may be tempting to go the quick and easy route when it comes to your child’s meals. Processed, ready-to-fry meals seem heaven-sent for harried parents and these packaged supermarket staples are eagerly gobbled down by kids. Meanwhile, healthier meals like baked fish and vegetables sometimes entail a battle of wills and plenty of patience. “At least he’s eating something!” you might say in resignation as your child eats yet another hotdog.
But if the growing rates of childhood obesity worldwide are any indication, more attention should be given to children’s nutrition. Kids are eating more but aren’t necessarily eating better—fried food and excessive sugar are contributing to unhealthy diets and building unhealthy eating habits for later in life. In fact, those suffering from childhood obesity have a greater chance of developing obesity and its accompanying health problems in adulthood.
The time to start making sure your child gets balanced meals is now. It may not be easy but its long-term benefits are definitely worth it. Read on to find out what you should be including in your child’s diet, including the kids’ supplements that he may benefit from.
The Awesome Foursome
There are four main foods that your child should have in his diet:
1. Protein. One of the three macronutrients (the others being carbohydrates and fat), protein is the building block of the human body. It’s essential for tissue and growth repair, and aiding in the production of enzymes and hormones—all especially necessary for growing boys and girls. Protein can come from animals or plants. Animal proteins have all the amino acids the body needs but these sometimes come with unhealthy things like saturated fat. Plant proteins are the cleaner alternative, but they don’t normally offer all the amino acids needed. If you decide to go for animal proteins, choose the healthiest kinds, like fatty fish, lean cuts of meat, and poultry. Avoid processed meat, which has been linked to an increase in cancer risk, among other health problems. If you’re leaning towards plant proteins, make sure you mix and match to get all the essential amino acids from various sources. (Check with a nutritionist if you’re bringing up a vegetarian child.)
2. Fruits and vegetables. These plant products are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Vegetables like carrots, for example, are a rich source of Vitamin A, while citrus fruits are a great source of Vitamin C. Eating fruits and vegetables in a range of colors can help your kid get a host of different nutrients. Note that organic produce is best for kids as they have no pesticide residues and other potentially harmful substances.
3. Grains. Kids need a lot of energy and grains can power them up each day as well as provide them with much-needed fiber for a healthy digestive system. Go for healthier grains like brown rice over white rice.
4. Dairy. There’s a reason kids are told to drink milk: It’s an excellent source of calcium, which is necessary for kids’ developing bones and teeth. Other sources of calcium are other dairy products like yogurt and cheese.
When Your Child Is a Picky Eater
But what do you do when your child isn’t fond of fruits and vegetables? Remind yourself that you can wean his taste buds off the unhealthy stuff like deep-fried meat and added sugar but it will take some time (and maybe a few tears). Gradually introduce healthier items instead of overhauling his meals in one go.
You should also supplement his diet with nutrients that he may not be getting from his meals. Some of the supplements you can add to his diet are:
1. Multivitamins. As its name suggests, multivitamins for kids come with a host of vitamins and minerals. Look for those with nutrients that are especially important for growing kids: Vitamin A, B Vitamins, calcium, and iron.
2. Probiotics. Probiotics are a buzzword in the health world now. These good bacteria are particularly good for the gut, which in turn may improve overall health. More studies are needed to be done, but the research so far indicates that probiotics have positive effects on health.
3. Vitamin C. It’s important to build up your child’s immunity system to protect him from sickness.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids. According to an article by the U.S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, omega-3 fatty acids have a number of functions. “Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that help feed the brain and keep it healthy,” said pediatric dietician Laura Gibofsky MS, RD, CDN. Some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help manage psychological and behavioral conditions aside from helping develop brain function.
As with anything, moderation is key. The intake of too many nutrients may be bad for your child’s health so make sure to consult with his physician regarding the supplements he needs and appropriate amounts. You can find a range of children’s nutritional supplements at Healthy Options.