Nutrition and diet can be over complicated these days. But it doesn’t have to be complex. That’s why I want to take it back to the basics of choosing healthy food for kids. When you get the foundation right, it makes a massive impact on every area of your child’s health.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn about the foundations of healthy food for kids.
The Three Foundations Of Healthy Food For Kids
The food that your child eats is one of the greatest influences on their health. I see the difference that healthy food can make for kids in my clinic every week.
When it comes to healthy food for kids, I come back to to 3 foundations. If you get these right, you’ll see a massive improvement in your child’s wellbeing.
#1 – Get more fresh wholefoods into their diet
If you do nothing else for your child, this one change will have massive benefits. It’s simple in theory, but not necessarily in practice!
Rather than cutting out sugar and treats after the Christmas holidays, I like to focus on what we can add in. For example, you might add a smoothie and a salad each day. This does two things – it improves their nutritional intake, but it also crowds out the junk food!
So what is a wholefood?
I teach my kids that it is any food that is straight from an animal or plant. Wholefoods don’t have unfavourable ingredients like refined sugar, additives, vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates or trans-fat.
The first wholefood we focus on is vegetables.
Veggies are packed with nutrients including fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. The more we can include, the more we see the benefits.
Getting veg into your kids isn’t always easy. So get creative with ways to make it appealing. You can make a snack plate with chopped veggies, dip, cheese and fruit for them to snack on throughout the day.
I’m a big believer in getting veg in at breakfast and lunch. By dinnertime, kids are tired and often not as hungry, so getting veggies in throughout the day can take the pressure off.
Some ways to add veggies throughout the day include:
- An omelette with their favourite veggies
- Add cucumber, spinach or carrot to a smoothie
- Avocado and tomato on toast
- Saute some mushrooms as a side
- Make a side salad at each meal
Fruit is a food that most kids get enough of.
But fruit can still be a good way to sneak extra nutrients in. A good strategy for kids who like packet snacks is to offer them something fresh first, like a piece of fruit.
If they are still hungry after the fruit, then at least you got some nutrition into them first!
Next up is wholegrains.
When it comes to grains, you want to go for whole versions whenever possible. They are less processed and contain more nutrients such as fibre and vitamins.
Brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, oats and spelt are some good options. You’ll want wholegrain options for any cereal, pasta or bread that you buy.
Finally, we can’t forget protein.
Protein is an essential nutrient for growth and development, and it keeps kids fuller for longer. Wholefood proteins include eggs, meat, fish, chicken, dairy if tolerated, nuts, seeds and beans.
These food groups are what our kids need more of! They naturally crowd out processed foods and are full of nutrients growing bodies need. Even if you do nothing else, focusing on wholefoods is an essential step in healthy food for kids.
#2 – Read food labels of packaged foods your kids are eating
We’re always going to be eating some processed foods. It’s simply not realistic for most families to avoid them altogether! So it’s important to have the skills to determine which are the healthier options.
When it comes to food labels, I have 3 rules:
Ignore any health claims on the front of the package.
There might be big statements like ‘high in fibre’, ‘low in sugar’, ‘gluten-free‘, ‘organic’, ‘high in iron’ and so on. The manufacturers put these on the front to make it seem like a healthy option. But most of the time, these claims are misleading. So it’s best to ignore them altogether.
Instead, head straight to the ingredient list. The first ingredient is the highest percentage – so sugar is the first or second ingredient, it’s going to be high in sugar. Then it goes in descending order, which is why additives are often at the end of the list.
Stick to the 5 ingredient rule for most packaged foods.
The rule of thumb is the fewer the ingredients, the healthier the food. If a food has a massive list of ingredients, it will generally have a heap of additives and often multiple forms of sugar and sweeteners. So whenever possible, pick an option that has a max of 5 ingredients on the list. You’ll find that many kids snacks and muesli bars will have more than 5 ingredients – even if it’s in the health food aisle.
That being said, sometimes there can be up to 10 ingredients that are all wholefood-based. So take a little time to check the ingredients.
Avoid chemical sounding names.
If you don’t know what an ingredient is, it’s probably best to avoid it. Most chemical-sounding names are additives, preservatives and sweeteners that are added to a food to make it taste or look better.
You’ll also want to minimise the foods with multiple numbers listed in the ingredients. Not every additive is bad, but if there’s more than a couple, there’s likely to be problem additives.
If you’re not sure which additives to avoid, download the Chemical Maze app as a guide.
#3 – Use this simple macronutrient equation for every meal
One simple step of making healthy food for kids is balancing out the macronutrients of each meal. A good ratio of protein, carbs and fat can help balance blood sugar levels, energy and mood. It will also keep kids fuller for longer.
This equation is so easy, the only measuring tool needed is your child’s hand! Their hand gives you the perfect portion size of each macronutrient based on their age and size.
The majority of carbohydrates should be coming from vegetables. In terms of portions, you want to aim for 2-3 handfuls of salad or veggies at each meal. This includes salad veggies, veggie sticks, grated vegetables in sauce, smoothies, soups, stirfries and roasted vegetables.
For protein, you want a palm-sized portion at each meal. Often, kids aren’t getting enough at breakfast or lunch, which can set them up for poor energy and concentration throughout the day. So make sure they are getting wholefood proteins like eggs, meat, beans, nuts and seeds at each meal.
Starchy carbohydrates should also be a palm-sized serving. Unfortunately, kids eat much bigger portions of starchy carbs compared to other foods. Starchy foods include brown rice, oats, wraps, pasta and potatoes.
Finally, healthy fats are an essential addition – include at least one thumb-sized portion with each meal. You can either cook the food in a fat source, or add one to the meal. Healthy fats can be added by slicing up some avocado, sprinkling some nuts and seeds over the top, or adding a drizzle of olive or coconut oil.
Ready to learn more about healthy food for kids?
Get the foundations of your children’s diets right with my new online program, Food Foundations For Happy, Healthy Kids.
You’ll learn the 6 steps to take control of your kids’ health, using building blocks of nutrition to improve every area of their wellbeing. To find out more and join, click here.