healthy eating for under 5’s

Being overweight is bad for your child’s health now and in the future and can lead to a risk of a range of health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. However, you can do a lot to help your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight. A registered dietitian has provided the following advice.

Just like adults, children become overweight when they consume more energy (in the form of calories) than they use. But, unlike adults, children are still growing and that means they need more energy for growth. It’s crucial that they receive this energy from nutritious, healthy food, and not from foods filled with saturated fat and sugar. The best way to get your child to eat healthily is to lead by example. If your child is overweight, think about attitudes to food in your house. Do you eat together as a family, or grab snacks on the go? Is the television on at mealtimes, distractions can lead to overeating? Do you prepare food yourself or rely on supermarket ready meals? Establish a regular pattern of meals so the whole family can enjoy mealtimes together, instead of allowing your child to snack whenever they feel like it. Cook the same food for everybody even if it’s not possible for everybody to eat at the same time.

Follow these healthy eating principles:

  • Base your meals on starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes.
  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
  • Eat lean proteins such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses and lentils.
  • Cut down on saturated fat (found in processed meats, pies, cakes and biscuits).
  • Cut down on sugary foods such as biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks.
  • Cut out sugary drinks like sweetened fruit juices and fizzy drinks, and if you give your child unsweetened fruit juice, dilute it with water (be careful of smoothies, they are very high in fruit sugars)
  • Cut down on salt, both in cooking and at the table. Most children over four eat too much salt. Supermarket ready meals and processed meats are often high in salt, so check food labels when you buy.

Use healthy snacks such as fruit or a glass of milk in between meals. Only give them sugary foods such as biscuits, chocolate and cakes occasionally. Calcium is important for children, so ensure your child has three portions of calcium a day e.g. cheese, yoghurt, milk.  From the age of two onwards you can use semi-skimmed milk but fully skimmed milk is not suitable until the age of five.

If you have a fussy eater, a healthy diet can be difficult. Try to change your child’s eating habits one step at a time. 1) look at the eating habits of the rest of the family as these may be copied by your child. If you’re not eating vegetables, your child is unlikely to. 2) Praise your child for trying new foods, but don’t criticise them if they don’t. 3) Mealtimes should be fun not stressful, why not try some healthy fun foods such as vegetable fingers & dips or noodles.

Being active is also part of the equation. Children who can walk on their own should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day, indoors or out. Watching TV, travelling by car, bus or train or being strapped into a buggy for long periods isn’t good for a child’s health and development.

written by Katie Evans, children’s fitness specialist (Healthy Young Hearts)


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