Creating a balanced diet for kids can present a challenge for parents and caregivers. Not only are children exposed to junk food daily, but many kids are also picky eaters and insist on eating only their favorite foods, which are not necessarily healthy.
At the same time, kids need a wide range of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Although kids' nutritional needs vary depending on age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity, all children should try to eat healthy age-appropriate foods from all food groups. Children also need omega-3 fatty acids, so fish and healthy oils are also an essential part of a healthy diet. Here are some more tips for creating well-balanced meals for your kids.
Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods
Choosing foods that are rich with nutrients from each food group can help you prepare healthier meals for you kids. For example, use whole grains instead of refined grains or plain yogurt instead of flavored yogurt that's full of sugar. Cooking methods are also important. Instead of frying foods in fat, try steaming, stir-frying, grilling, roasting, or poaching dishes.
Work with Your Child's Taste Preferences
If you have a picky eater at home, you're not alone. Kids often don't like strong-flavored, bitter, spicy, or mixed foods, and also might say that they don't like the texture of a particular food. To avoid arguments at the dinner table, it's always best to work with your child's taste preferences but continue offering new healthy foods. Most children are hesitant to try unfamiliar foods and often have to be exposed to a new food several times before they decide to try it.
Creatively Prepare Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are the most nutrient-rich foods, and they provide much-needed vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Unfortunately, many kids tend to eat too few of them, so if you're looking for ways to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your child's diet, here are a few ideas:
- Slice fruits and vegetables into small slices. Small children also love when foods are cut into fun shapes, and specialty vegetable cutters are sold in kitchen stores or online.
- Offer healthy snacks such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bananas, oranges, apples, dried fruits, or grapes. To make the snacks more balanced, pair fruits and veggies with nuts, seeds, cheese, or yogurt.
- Disguise vegetables by adding them to dishes your kids like. For example, peeled zucchini is a great vegetable to incorporate into spaghetti sauce or soup. Grated carrots and cauliflower can be added to meat loaf or burgers.
- Make a smoothie. Blend a favorite fruit or some berries, plain yogurt, and a small slice of a mild-tasting vegetable, such as cucumber or zucchini, in a blender or food processor. Add a little water if the smoothie is too thick.
- Offer fruit for dessert, such as plain yogurt mixed with berries or chopped fruit, fruit salad, or homemade fruit Popsicles.
Don't Remove Treats Completely
What about cake, cookies, ice cream, potato chips, and all the other foods that kids love? Do they still have a place in a balanced diet for kids? It's absolutely fine for your kids to have a treat every once in a while! Fully restricting favorite foods will only make kids want them even more. If you're looking for a ratio of how much healthy food vs. not-so-healthy food children should eat, many nutrition experts refer to an 80/20 rule, where 80 percent of meals consist of healthy foods and 20 percent is reserved for "sometimes" foods.
We all want healthy meals for our kids, but in today's busy world, it's easier said than done. Taking the time to have a nourishing meal in a loving environment together as a family will help your children develop healthy eating habits for years to come.