What is a Healthy Meal for my child?

The good news is that there are just a few basic guidelines to follow on what is a healthy meal for children.

We all wish for our children to eat nutritiously and grow up strong and healthy. There are many food choices now for all ages that deciding on a healthy meal for our children becomes a difficult task. The good news is that there are just a few basic guidelines to follow on what is a healthy meal for children.

1. A healthy meal is one that is age-appropriate.

Starting 6 months of age, children must already be fed solid foods that progress in texture and variety according to their fast developing skills. A 6 month baby starts with mashed or pureed foods and thin gruel/ lugaw. Babies quickly learn to swallow and chew an ever increasing texture and variety of foods such that by 12 months of age, he or she can be served regular table food. It is not appropriate to serve an 10 month old baby, mashed baby food. This does not allow the stimulation of mouth muscles and nerves that promote proper development.

2. A healthy meal is diverse.

Proper daily nutrition is ensured if at least 4 of the 7 major food groups is served in a day, namely (1) grains/ cereals and rootcrops/ tubers, (2) dairy, (3) eggs, (4) flesh foods like meat, fish, seafood, (5) beans and legumes, (6) Vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables, and (7) Other fruits and vegetables. Usually, a child’s diet becomes limited because of the tendency of parents to serve only a child’s favorite, or to stop offering a food that a child reacts negatively to even after just one try. Offering a good variety of foods daily allows the child to be educated on different flavors, tastes and textures and makes sure he or she received all the nutrients needed for growing.

3. A healthy meal is predominantly made up of grains/cereals or tubers as staple.

Staple foods like grains and tubers provide the proper balance of energy, carbohydrate, protein and fibre to growing kids , as well as micronutrients like vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.

4. A healthy meal is made up of healthy and nutritious foods from nature.

Whole foods from nature that is cooked age-appropriately is what is best for children. Seasoning with added salt, and added sugar is best done after 12 months of age. There are so many convenient food choices for children now that are packaged attractively but may contain unnecessary and even harmful ingredients. It is best to read all the ingredients in the package before offering these to your growing child. Whole foods make choosing healthy food simple.

5. A healthy meal is free of choking hazards.

Especially for children under 3, we are careful to prevent choking by avoiding certain foods that easily get lodged in the airway. The following are foods in young children because choking remain a worry even until 5 years of age: Peanuts and nuts, whole grapes, raw carrots and apples; hotdogs and sausages; hard candy and chewing gum; popcorn; dollop of peanut butter; marshmallows; gel candy and pearls/ bubbles.

A healthy meal is a parent’s responsibility. Remembering these tips allows parents to feel confident that they are providing kids with the best in nutrition. Food is building blocks for a growing child so only the healthiest and safest options are best given. Nutrition in children ensures their body and brain are healthy, and their immunity is strong enough to fight disease.

References:

Kerzner B., Milano K, MacLean, W.C., Berall G., Stuart S., Chatoor I. A Practical Approach to Classifying and Managing Feeding Difficulties. Pediatrics 2015, 135 (2) 344-353.

World Health Organization. Guiding Principles for Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Child. WHO Press; (2001).

World Health Organization. Guiding Principles for Feeding Non-breastfed Children 6 - 24 Months of Age. WHO Press; 2005

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