A common question from parents and carers is what should I feed my kids?
Often there can be concerns over whether you child is truly getting the nutrients they need to play, learn and have fun!
Good nutrition is important, however sometimes there can be barriers (such as fussy eating) making it tricky to help your child eat a diet filled with a good variety of fruits, vegetables and protein.
Signs and symptoms that may indicate that your child may have a nutrient deficiency in include:
- fatigue – is your child often tired?
- hard to stayed focus – lack of attention
- behaviour changes
- failure to thrive
- sore tummies
- frequent infections – your child frequently sick
The good news is there are steps you can take today to begin to introduce changes into your child’s diet to boost their nutrient intake and thus improve their health!
Tip #1 – Make the switch to water
Sugary drinks such as soft drink and cordial are not the best choices for children (or adults) to drink. One can of soft drink can include almost 3 teaspoons of sugar. These high amounts of sugars include fructose and other nasties which are now well researched to have poor effects on health, particularly gut health and brain function. So to make the switch you can begin to gradually reduce the amount of sugary drinks and encourage water more frequently. To flavour water you can choose a few of your child’s favourite fruits and add to their water to make ‘fruit infused water’.
Tip #2 – A nourishing breakfast to start the day
Breakfast time can often be rushed, fast paced and at times it may be hard to know if anyone has even eaten!
The benefits of eating a nourishing, whole food breakfast are plentiful including a kick start to metabolism which provides a boost of energy needed for playing, learning, and helping to regulate blood sugar levels for brain function.
Some ideas for a nourishing breakfast include:
- Porridge topped with a plant based milk (almond/oat) and some berries. (Maybe a drizzle of raw organic honey too!)
- Eggs – either poached or scrambled with toasted quality bread (sourdough, rye, spelt)
- Granola (home-made is tasty) topped with coconut yogurt and fruit (banana, berries)
Tip #3 – Think quality carbs, good fats and protein at each meal
Most of us are familiar with the terms good fats, protein and carbohydrates and there are significant reasons behind why these macro nutrients should be included in every meal and snack. Including these important macronutrients into your child’s meals and snacks will also help to balance blood sugar levels which can help with concentration, energy and behaviour.
Complex carbohydrates not only provide energy but they also provide important fuel for our gut bacteria, which we know plays an integral role in quality health, particularly immune health. Bananas and sweet potato are great sources of complex carbohydrates.
Good fats are essential for brain health and function, mood regulation, as well as providing a source of sustained energy and satiety for our children. These quality fats can be found in foods such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, oily fish, raw nuts and seeds.
Proteins consist of amino acids which are the building blocks for many functions within our body. Some of these important functions include energy production, growth, concentration, behaviour and good digestion. Sources of good quality protein that you can include in your child’s meals and lunchboxes include chicken, eggs, red meat, salmon, lentils, chickpeas and seeds.
Tip #4 – Swap out the junk food
Avoiding processed food can be quite a challenge, especially with birthday parties and other events. A great rule to apply to diet and nutrition is the 80/20 rule. This is where 80% of the time you include good food choices and 20% of the time you allow for choices that may be outside of your control or preference.
Whole food (not processed) food is the best choice. This includes fruits, vegetables, fresh meats, legumes, seed and nuts (if allowed). If you do have to buy packaged or processed foods the recommendation would be to make sure there are less than 5 ingredients and definitely no additives or preservatives (no numbers). Once children have increased their healthy whole food intake they can and do recognise the contrasting effects of consuming processed foods.
Some swap outs to include:
- Lollies swap for dehydrated fruit or vegetables, or dried fruit that hasn’t had sugar added
- Hot chips for sweet potato home made chips
- Processed snacks for veggie sticks/rice crackers and hummus
Making changes to your child’s diet can take time however the long term (and even short term) benefits can be profound helping them to thrive in childhood. I strongly recommend to take one day at a time and if each day provides a 5% improvement, well then you are on the right track.
Tip #5 – Make sleep a priority
Sleep can be a common complaint and point of distress to parents. From our experience, establishing a good bed time routine can take time however consistency does pay off.
The importance of sleep (particularly good quality sleep) has been well established in research and is viewed as essential for quality health. Increased energy, improved concentration, growth and behaviour changes are all benefits that can come from good quality sleep.
The recommended time of sleep for children is:
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours
(*Information provided by sleepfoundation.org based upon National Sleep Foundation).
Methods which may improve your child’s sleep:
- Adopt a consistent, calm bed time every night
- Establish your own bedtime routine together. This may be quite chat time, or reading a book.
- Dim lighting an hour before bed helps to increase melatonin production which is our sleep
- Avoid sugar or processed food, particularly before bed
- Reduce screen time, especially 2-3 hours prior to bed
- Exposure to daylight first thing in the morning can help to regulate the circadian rhythm