Getting your kids involved with their food really helps develop healthy eating in the early years. Whatever works is good – fun food play, stirring the big cooking pot, baking something nice or planting some seeds and growing your own. It also means eating a wide range of foods from all 5 food groups. From age 1 – 4 little ones need to grow their experience with all types of food; they are already familiar with milk, so even although its a good source of calcium, do be careful not to rely on it too much. Milk drinking can displace eating other foods and also limit the practice of eating that helps to extend their overall range of foods. Nutrient needs in the early years are around 4-5 times higher for most nutrients, and yet their tummies are still so small.
Learning about food happens at home with family – but also within their friends at play group and nursery. Young children need plenty of calories and nutrients, but their tummies are still small! With three meals a day plus 2 – 3 planned snacks, especially when you want to choose the best options for your child, it needs to be organised! Check out this fantastic resource on healthy snacks from First Steps Nutrition. For healthy eating in the early years, salt, sugar, fats and fibre recommendations are quite different.
- Offer fruits and vegetables every day; 5 child size portions (fits in their hand) is about right.
- This will help them develop preference for low sugar options, and educate their palate
- Develops that pincer grasp with berry fruits, grapes, segments of citrus
- Separate colourful hand-size veggies on their plate and encourage self feeding
- Cut up into bite-size chunks or sticks to makes it easier to eat
- Fruit juice is OK in moderation, but acid can affect teeth; once a day is recommeded
- See this eye opening report on fruit snacks for children if you dare!!
- Include a range of healthy fats, oils and foods containing fat for healthy brain and nervous system.
- Little ones needs about half their calories from fats, rather than the 1/3 that adults need
- Fats provide fat soluble vitamins A, D and E to help protect the body
- Fats are tasty, make you feel full and are a good source of the calories they need
- Try avocado, olives, cheese chunks, smoked salmon, nut butters, fish sticks, full fat hummus
- Get the balance right with fibre – Think Goldilocks! – not too much not too little, but just right!
- Some high fibre foods help children to develop good toilet habits and avoid constipation
- Provide some lower fibre carbs too – they don’t have to be very processed
- Great source of B vitamins for making energy easy and economical to buy
- Try oats, vary your grains, nuts and seed products, choose breakfast cereals wisely!!
You know what to do about salt and sugar! Aim not to develop a preference for salty and very sweet foods. It matters now and it matters later …