India is celebrating National Nutrition Week from 1st to 7th September. The theme this year is Optimal Infant and Young Child Feeding Practices: Better Child Health.
Family health and good nutrition have always been topics that I have deep interest in. Most of my adult life I have strived to maintain a healthy balance between good food and junk food. Since becoming a mother my passion for this subject has only increased. I have spent the first year of my baby’s life researching on what to feed him, how to offer nutrient dense foods and how to implement a system at home where an environment of healthy eating thrives. As a mother to a 18 month old I have found a few systems and tricks to keeping good healthy food available at home and outside regardless of how busy I get. Today I want to share my tips on building a healthy eating envirnoment for your child, and getting your children to eat healthy always.
- Start with meal planning and abundance of fresh food. This is a no brainer. If you want to inculcate healthy eating you first have to stock up your house with fresh fruits and vegetables. There has to be abundance in order to eat healthy. The more good food there is the lesser the chance of opening packets. Find a weekly home grocery delivery service in your area, it will get you organized as a busy mom. It’s best when you make a meal plan for the week and prep on the weekends. Though I personally can’t stick to meal plans, I am quite creative at coming up with dishes that are healthy with whatever I have in the fridge. If you struggle with meal ideas its best to plan a weekly menu for family, write down a few meal ideas and stick it to your fridge so you know what you are going to prepare during the week.
- Stock up the house with your child’s favorite staples. These need to be replenished every-time they run out. These are go-to meals you know your child will love. Better homemade food than take-out. My toddler loves : Pastas, quinoa, coconut meat, peas, eggs and avocados. These are all easy meal staples that can be thrown together to make quick combinations of meals. Eg. Avocado and peas quinoa bowl, Pesto Pasta or Tomato Pasta, etc.
- Vegetables are a must for your kids, they contain many vitamins and minerals that are essential during development. Don’t be afraid to use them in meals. In my experience, I have seen many mothers have a mental block in using vegetables in dishes for fear of rejection and food wastage. Pack vegetables into every dish you can think of. Its ok if they don’t eat it once, consistency helps when it comes to vegetables. Get innovative with the dishes you prepare. Don’t give up easy.
Eg. Add peas and carrots in upma, pohe, leftover vegetables can be made into a vegetarian patty and served as a snack, buy vegetable pastas, there are many options in the supermarket now – beetroot pasta, spinach pasta. Kids love the colours and get excited about eating them.
- Every once in a while make new dishes for the family. This keeps the kids interested in meal times. I try to make new recipes once every weekend as a change.
- Make friends with simple meal ideas or one pot meals for the weekdays. This makes it easy for you as a busy mom. My go-to weeknight recipes are one pot meals like hearty soups, stir fried rice, pots of vegetarian curries served with rice. All these recipes are easy to make, don’t require much cooking skills and are packed with vegetables to up the nutrition content.
- Always stock the house with super foods like avocados, berries, coconuts, ragi flour, barley grass powder, flaxseed powder, nuts and seeds, sprouted wheat (dalia). Kids benefit from eating these on regular basis. You can incorporate them in a variety of ways in your meals and be assured that your child gets great nutrition from the food too. Here are some easy recipes using these super foods as snacks. I make these when I am running out of ingredients in the house, this way I am still managing to serve healthy options to my little one. That is why its so important to always keep the house stocked with some of these ingredients.
- Lentils come in many varieties like masoor dal, tur dal, moong dal and are high in protein and fiber. Lentils are an excellent natural source of folate and manganese. If your child is like mine and doesn’t like dal as a dish you can add these lentils to soups or in finger food forms. They enjoy the novelty of these dishes.
- Healthy fats are important for growing kids. If you are a largely plant based family include avocados, sesame paste, nut butters, nut powders, coconut meat and almond meal in food preparations.
- Mother’s tend to worry about adequate iron content in their children’s diet and rightfully so. Children with insufficient iron may suffer from cognitive and behavioral development deficits and delays. You can add iron rich foods like meats, legumes, lentils, green leafy vegetables to your child’s everyday diet. Serve iron-rich foods alongside foods containing vitamin C (such as tomatoes, broccoli, oranges, and strawberries). Vitamin C improves the way the body absorbs iron. Eg.
- Oats porridge with berries or mangoes
- Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C – have them along with lentils and quinoa to increase absorption of iron,
- Squeeze lemon over quinoa salad, rajma (kidney beans) sabzi,
- Beans cooked in a tomato base or with tomato salsa etc.
- Be mindful about the sugar consumption of your kids. Even honey and jaggery are considered added sugars. The AHA reccomends limiting the amount of added sugars in the diets of children 2-18 years of age to about 6 teaspoons a day.
To know more about the effects of exessive sugar consumption in kids read my post on sugar and our children here. Ripened banana and cooked apple sauce are great substitutes for added sugars in dishes like smoothies and pancakes.
- Model good eating to your children. Eat meals together as a family. Give them more information on how to eat healthy. About the vegetables and fruits they are eating. Get them excited about food.
I hope my tips on serving healthy food to children helps you too. How do you plan and prepare meals for your kids? Do you have some tips for me?