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With schools closed around the world, meals and snacks are being prepared in the home now more than usual. Preparing three meals and snacks throughout the day is incredibly stressful and tiring, especially when doing so for young children and picky eaters. But have no fear – let’s go over some simple tricks to build a better plate and make meal and snack time easy as pie!
As a parent, you decide what, when, and where your child eats. Your kids get to decide how much they eat. If your child decides that they are done eating, respect their satiety cues. Forcing a child to “clean their plate” sets them up for overeating later on, so it is important to respect their hunger signals, as they instinctively know how much to consume. Obsessing over a child’s lack of appetite also gives them a sense of control, which may make them continue the picky behavior. Children will eventually experience the natural consequence of hunger after refusing a meal, so do not worry about them starving just because their plate isn’t empty. The only times to worry about a child refusing food are if it is interfering with energy-level, weight-gain, and general development.
Some changes have been made to the old food pyramid format, but the food groups are the same. Grains, protein, dairy, vegetables, fruit, and fats. All food groups are equally important parts of your child’s diet. It is important to fit at least three food groups into each meal and two food groups into each snack.
Whole grains are high carbohydrate foods and contain fiber; most of them are even enriched with extra B vitamins. Grains include quinoa, rice, farro, barley, noodles, oatmeal, bread, crackers, tortillas, popcorn, pasta, and pizza crust.
Proteins are essential for muscle and brain growth. Proteins are often high in minerals like iron and zinc. This food group includes meat, fish, poultry, and beans.
Whole-fat dairy foods are recommended for young children. These foods are high in phosphorus and calcium, which may help promote bone growth when coupled with vitamin D. This means it is important to either buy dairy foods highly fortified with vitamin D or provide supplementation with a daily children’s multivitamin. Taking these measures can reduce risk of osteoporosis later in life. The best dairy options are whole-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Vegetables are high in fiber and phytonutrients that support a healthy immune system. Vegetables include foods like asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and squash.
Fruits are high in antioxidants and healthy sugars, to satisfy sweet cravings and provide healthier habits. Fresh fruit is usually a better choice than dried fruit! This food group includes apples, berries, oranges, and pineapple.
Fats are a major food group reserved for young kids. Kids need a lot of fat to support healthy cell and neuron development. This is also why full-fat dairy is better than low-fat for children. This group includes nuts and nut butters, avocados, and mayonnaise.
So, let’s breakdown what we just set up!
It’s breakfast time. You choose to use whole wheat toast as your GRAIN base. For the next step, let’s pick a PROTEIN like peanut butter that also doubles as a FAT. Last, we can add FRUIT by mashing raspberries on top, instead of using high-sugar jams and jellies. Using this method, we’ve made a healthy PB&J that can be served for any meal and has all four food groups included.
It’s lunch time – your child is fussy and just wants something simple. You can serve chicken nuggets as your PROTEIN and GRAIN, applesauce as your FRUIT, and a glass of full-fat milk as your FAT and DAIRY. This easy meal fits in foods from five different domains!
It’s dinner time. You choose to use whole wheat spaghetti as your GRAIN base. Full-fat mozzarella cheese makes a topping and serves as your DAIRY and FAT group. Tomato sauce is high in vitamin C and serves as your FRUIT/VEGGIE serving (depending on how you see tomatoes).
I hope you found this overview helpful and can build a better plate for your family. Be sure to grab Blissful Meals Holiday Guide today to transform your meals this holiday season and beyond.