What your child eats can have a huge impact on their health. Eating food containing all essential nutrients helps children grow and helps with their mental and physical development.
Nutritional needs change with different life stages so you must take into account the demands of your kids’ body by these changes. For instance, once a child starts eating solids, you should encourage the use of a wide variety of foods.
Preschoolers are active and spirited children who are still developing their eating habits. And it can be a task to feed them the right foods as they become highly opinionated at this age, especially when it comes to eating. However, not eating the right foods at this age can affect their health. We talked to Dr Senthil Kumar, Consultant - Paediatric, Neonatal & Cardiac Intensivist, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield about the health benefits of eating the right foods for preschoolers and how parents can inculcate good eating habits in their kids.
Why is it important for preschoolers to eat a healthy diet?
“Undernutrition or overnutrition in Preschoolers may have an impact on their brain development and cognition, cause stunting or subsequent obesity along with metabolic problems in adulthood,” Dr Kumar stated. The foods your kid eats should be rich in proteins, energy, calcium, vitamin A, C, E, iron, zinc and selenium. “These are important nutrients required for optimal growth and development of immunity in children.”
How to plan a healthy meal for kids?
- For an ideal meal plan, ensure that ½ the plate contains fruits and vegetables (1/2-1 cup each), ½ of the grains are whole grains (1cup rice/chappati/ cereal flakes) and include a varied choice of protein foods like lentils, cooked beans, eggs, lean meat. Cut back on salt, saturated fats and sugar. Add curd or any other dairy products to the meal daily.
- Young children require more calories than adults for optimal growth. Their calorie intake depends on their weight and gender. Preschool boys roughly require 75-85 Kcal/kg/day and girls require 70-80 Kcal/Kg/day.
- The time interval between each meal can be 3-4 hours but may vary according to the naptime and their level of exhaustion.
- Preschool children are required to drink at least 750 ml to 1 litre per day for their normal body metabolism, which may vary according to the weather, age and physical activity. Water, milk, fruit juice (unsweetened), and coconut water are the best natural drinks for maintaining their hydration.
- Make sure your child indulges in at least 1 hour of physical outdoor activities every day.
How can you help develop healthy eating habits in kids?
- Avoid distractions during mealtimes such as television or smartphones.
- Be calm and maintain a pleasant attitude during mealtime.
- Encourage self-feeding while accepting an age-appropriate mess.
- Limit meal duration (20-30 min).
- Provide 4-6 meals/snacks in a day with water in-between.
- Serve age-appropriate foods and have regular family mealtime.
- Break the monotony by systematically introducing new foods (8-15 times).
- Make food more colorful and attractive.
- Involve kids in grocery shopping and playfully teach them the importance of healthy eating.
- Make food more energy-dense if they are eating less.
What are some of the unhealthy eating habits?
- Screen time while having meals can make your child eat more than they require, which can lead to obesity.
- Eating too fast may lead to improper digestion and eating too slow, keeping the food in mouth for long, can lead to dental caries. They must chew the food properly.
- It can be tough to gauge how much food your kid really needs so many parents end up serving too much. Try to follow the tips mentioned above to avoid overfeeding.
- Processed or junk foods are good for their health so avoid feeding them these foods.
- Avoid offering foods such as chocolates, burgers or pizzas as rewards.