Healthy eating for kids is important for many reasons, here are just a few:
- A healthy, balanced diet provides the building blocks for bodies to grow and develop properly.
- A varied diet is necessary to give the full range of vitamins and minerals required, many of these work together with protein, fat and carbohydrates for better absorption by the body.
- Having too much bad fat, sugar and salt at a young age can lead to serious illnesses and conditions such as diabetes which can be devastating on the body.
- Healthy eating makes healthy kids who are full of energy, better able to concentrate at school, sleep well and are generally happier individuals.
So what is healthy eating?
A balanced diet provides all the major food groups: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate, together with vitamins and minerals. It can be divided into the following-
- Fruit and Vegetables. These provide important vitamins, minerals, fibre and natural plant compounds known as phytochemicals (health giving compounds which are responsible for the colour, taste and smell of a fruit or vegetable).
- Starchy Foods. There are lots of different types of starchy foods (sometimes called carbohydrate) such as bread, rice, grains, cereals and potatoes. Try to choose wholegrain foods as these contain more vitamins, minerals and fibre than “white” ones which have lost nutrients during the refining process.
- Protein. There are many different types of foods in this group from both animal and plant sources. Protein is made up of amino acids which are essential building blocks for strong muscles and bones. Sources of protein include meat, nuts and seeds, fish, pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans etc) and dairy.
- Fats. These are required for energy, to help absorb some vitamins and provide the essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and 6. It is important to eat the right type of fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, found in vegetable oils, fish and olive oil. Saturated fat is found in animal fat and should only be eaten in moderation. Trans fats such as “hydogenated” fats are chemically modified, poisonous and to be avoided at all costs.
Every meal should ideally contain these in roughly the proportion 30, 30, 30, 10. Variety is key, try to eat lots of different types of foods. Cooking food from scratch makes it easier to control the amounts. Unfortunately, the modern diet and reliance on takeaways and convenience foods means that many children are eating the wrong proportions of foods and also have too much sugar and salt in their diet. While sugar and salt are required by the body in small amounts, too much can cause health problems.
Commonly, the hardest food group to eat enough of is the fruit and vegetable one. However, small changes can make it easier than you think to get your minimum “5 a day”. Here are some ideas:
- Add a glass of juice at breakfast, either a glass of orange or apple. Freshly squeezed would be ideal but otherwise whole juice not squash.
- Make a fruit smoothie for breakfast and throw in blueberries, banana, spinach leaves and milk, it tastes great!
- Give a piece of fruit at each meal, this could be some berries at breakfast (maybe sprinkled on cereal), an apple or orange cut into quarters for lunch, a banana after dinner.
- Make some healthy fruit/vegetable snacks for in between meals. Carrot/cucumber/pepper sticks with a hummus dip. A handful of sweet cherry tomatoes. Homemade vegetable soup. Homemade ice lollies made with fruit puree.
- Have a fruit dessert such as apple crumble, bananas and custard, strawberries dipped in chocolate, frozen berries with a hot white chocolate sauce.
- Vegetables can be “hidden” in sauces. A tomato pasta sauce could have hidden carrot and celery chopped small. A curry could have spinach leaves, broccoli or green beans. A casserole could have carrot, swede and butternut squash. Mashed potato can have all sorts added and pureed: carrot, cabbage, spinach etc.
The next step is to start cooking more meals from scratch, that doesn’t mean giving up on convenience foods completely, they can still be a great addition when time is in short supply. Here are some ideas for “healthy” quick meals which can be cooked from store cupboard, freezer or long life fridge ingredients. The recipes mostly take around 10 minutes:
- Penne with tuna and tomato sauce. Put some Penne pasta on to boil. Meanwhile add a tin of tomatoes to a pan and boil rapidly, add a squirt of honey and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, when the sauce has reduced slightly add a tin of tuna. Serve with tinned sweetcorn (reduced salt/sugar!).
- Stir fried rice with salmon and vegetables. Put boiling water in a bowl and add frozen peas, sweetcorn and broccoli, leave for 2 minutes. Cook Uncle Ben’s Express Wholemeal rice for 2 minutes in the microwave. Heat a wok or large frying pan with a tablespoon of oil and add some “easy garlic”, the rice and a tin of salmon, heat through and add the drained vegetables. Stir fry for 2 minutes and serve with some reduced salt soy sauce for flavour.
- Spaghetti with Pesto. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions. Meanwhile, cut up some tomatoes and put on a plate, add torn mozzarella and spoon pesto over the top. When the pasta is cooked, drain and add a few spoons of pesto to coat, then serve with the tomato and mozzarella salad.There are many healthy recipes out there which don’t take long to cook, for example 30 minute Spring Dinners, Roasted Cod, Sesame Beef Stirfry are just a few of the recipes on my blog.
I will be posting some more on this subject soon with recipes for breakfast, lunch and evening meals. I would be grateful for your feedback, what do you cook to keep your kids healthy? Are there any specific recipes/meals you would like to see?