What children eat is fundamental to their health, growth, and development. In developed countries such as America, Australia, and Europe we are fortunately in having a wide range of foods available and many children experience the pleasures of eating foods from diverse cultures. But not everything children eat contributions to their health and choosing food that fulfills children’s nutritional needs can be challenging.
The basic food groups
It is important to introduce children to healthy nutritious foods from when they begin to eat solids. The basic food groups provide the nutrients necessary for good health and daily activity. The foods in these groups are sometimes known as ‘everyday foods’. This is because these foods are eaten daily in snacks and meals and are essential for healthy growth and development in children.
The food groups are:
- slices of bread, Cereals, rice, pasta, noodles and other grains
- vegetables and legumes
- milk, yogurt, cheese and/or alternatives
- lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts.
Limit foods high in fat, sugar, and salt.
Sometimes foods or occasional foods should not be offered on a regular basis as they have little nutritional value; usually contain high levels of fat, sugar, and salt; often processed and packaged and are not essential for good health. Try to avoid introducing this food to your child as long as possible (if at all). Eating these foods can reduce a child’s appetite for everyday foods and affect children’s healthy development. These unhealthy foods can also contribute negatively to children’s temperament and behavior.
Sometimes foods include the following:
- Chocolate and confectionery
- Sweet biscuits, chips and high-fat savory biscuits
- Fried foods
- Pastry-based foods such as pies, sausage rolls or pasties
- Fast food and takeaway foods
- Ice cream, cakes, and some desserts
- Soft drinks, fruit juice, fruit drinks, cordials, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored milk and flavored mineral waters.
Three meals and two to three snacks a day is ideal for young children. Children need a wide variety of nutritious foods included in the basic food groups.
The importance of water for a healthy diet
Drinking water is essential for children’s health and should be available to them at all times throughout the day. Water intake supports digestion and absorption of nutrients and keeps children hydrated. Plain milk is also important, as it provides a good source of calcium. Sweet drinks such as soft drinks, cordial and flavored milk should not be offered to children as they decrease appetite and contribute to tooth decay and weight gain.
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