Eating healthy has many benefits for anyone who integrates this habit into their lifestyle. To say the least, setting up a healthy lifestyle at an early age has long-term advantages. Forming the habit early on makes it more likely that young people will stay on this track throughout their lives. This in turn decreases the risk of them developing diseases later in life such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and even cancer.
Why is a healthy diet important for kids?
A balanced and healthy diet is the key for kids to reach their full potential. We mean that in terms of their physical appearance and well-being, as well as their success at school and their general mood. Unhealthy or junk food does not only lack the most-needed vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for child growth and development. They also cause other problems that you might not associate with your kids’ diet at the first glance. A sour mood, lethargy, fatigue or attention deficiency can all result from what your kids are filling their stomachs with. Remember the saying, you are what you eat? Well, it’s true for kids as much as adults. If your kids are eating greasy, sugary foods, or even if they are eating somewhat healthy food but only of a limited variety, their physical and psychological well-being might be at risk, for the time being and for the future.
What does a balanced diet look like?
A healthy diet means a balanced diet, and a balanced diet means a diet of variety. Providing kids with different kinds of food from each food group would mean a well-rounded, healthy diet. If you’re not sure what a balanced diet looks like, there is a simple and easy-to-follow recipe developed by scientists at Harvard Medical School. According to Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, fruits and vegetables should make up half of each meal, and they should be accompanied by grains and proteins (preferably fish, poultry, beans and nuts over red meat and cheese). Healthy oils like olive and canola oil are also recommended in a smaller portion.
Benefits of fruits
Kids are growing and they are growing fast! That means their bones and organs need certain vitamins and minerals in certain amounts to be able to function and develop as much as they can and without any problems or deficiencies.
One never-failing way to make sure kids are getting enough nutrients is including fruits in their diet. Fruits contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, and complex carbohydrates that have a fundamental role in children’s growth. The portions vary depending on various factors. We suggest consulting a paediatrician or a nutritionist to determine how much of which fruit would be safe for your child. The main idea is to have a piece of fruit with every meal.
It is crucial to note that fruit juice does not have the same benefits as fruits themselves. Some health organizations recommend not to give any kind of fruit juice to infants younger than 12 months of age. For older kids, the recommendation is different. Half a cup for children between 1 and 3 years old, up to ¾ of a cup for children between 4 and 6. The portion per day shouldn’t exceed more than 1 cup.
The main reason to restrict juice consumption is that it usually contains lots of sugar, which can contribute to problems like tooth decay, poor nutrition, and, in the worst case, to diabetes or obesity.
It might sound strange to some but sugar also affects kids’ mood. Foods or drinks high in sugar rise the blood sugar levels fast, but for a short time. That means, kids will be hyperactive for some time, after which they might be sluggish, moody, or even bad-tempered. It falls on parents to make sure that their children’s sugar intake is kept to a minimum and supplemented with other, healthier sources like fruit.
Vitamin D for stronger bones
Vitamins and minerals are usually known as micronutrients because the body needs them in smaller portions, unlike macronutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Micronutrients help the body in crucial phases of growth. They also aid the metabolism by supporting the immunologic system.
Bone fracture may become an issue when it comes to kids, especially if they are active or play sports. Vitamin D is not necessary only because it is a good source of nutrition, but also because it helps to ensure that body absorbs and retains calcium and phosphorus, both of which are critical for bone building. In other words, getting enough vitamin D is vital in preventing rickets, bone-softening disease, fractures or injuries.
Common wisdom relates milk and playing outside (thanks to sunlight) with the intake of Vitamin D. However, several studies have come to the conclusion that this is not enough. To make sure children are getting enough of this vitamin, here is a list of foods you might consider:
- Shiitake mushroom
- Fortified dairy products
Don’t avoid fats
The reason is simple: humans cannot live without them. Their main benefit is that they are a concentrated source of energy and provide essential fatty acids that the human body needs for many processes. Those processes are crucial: they include the metabolic process, blood clotting, and vitamin absorption. Intake of each nutrient, especially fats and sugar, should be monitored, however, because excessive consumption can cause many health issues, such as high cholesterol levels.
The main issue is that kids are usually very drawn to fatty and sugary food. For children after the age of two, poultry, fish, lean meat, low fat dairy products and low saturated-fat oils from vegetables are all good choices. Also, keep in mind that it is better and healthier to broil, roast or bake meat and fish than to fry them.
Like most other things in life, balance is the key to a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating habits. Needless to say, kids take their parents and heroes as role models in establishing their own personality and life choices. If you add to this the fact that most habits are developed and set during childhood, the benefits of eating healthy become all the more obvious. Help your kids to eat like a pro and to have a long and healthy life.