There are a lot of negative connotations associated with the word “fat”. But growing children need healthy fats in their diets. Fats are important for their proper growth and developmemt.
Importance of fats
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) states that:
Fats are the main source of energy for satisfactory growth and physical activity during early infancy.
Fats should also be considered in terms of their structural function during the first two years of life. They provide the fatty acids and cholesterol needed to form cell membranes in all the organs. Moreover, important organs such as the retina and the central nervous system are mainly composed of fats.
Most of the fats needed to form these tissues are essential fatty acids (EFAs) which cannot be synthesized by the organism and have to be acquired through nutrition.
Mother’s milk has a special fat composition that makes it unique for good child nutrition.
But how to go about including fats in a child’s diet post the exclusive breastfeeding stage. Let’s read on.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that “no restriction of fat and cholesterol is recommended for infants <2 years when rapid growth and development require high energy intakes.” The fast growth of infants requires an energy-dense diet with a higher percentage of kilocalories from fat than is needed by older children.
Keep total fat intake between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35 percent of calories for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
Types of Fats
Are considered as good fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
Unsaturated fats are further classified into monounsaturated fats (e.g almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, avocados) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g fish, oils of soyabean, flaxseed, sunflower, and nuts like walnuts)
Are considered as bad fats as they raise the levels of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood. And rise in LDL cholesterol is linked to risk for heart disease.
Recently there has been a lot of controversy regarding this decades old advice to avoid saturated fats with some studies now questioning the link between saturated fats and heart disease. A key take away here is that saturated fats have to be consumed in moderation.
That was the background on fats, now getting to the part where I give examples of the different types of fats and how to incorporate them into every meal.
These are strategies I use at home and work for my family. I offer my son all types of fats, keeping the saturated sources from natural foods to a minimum and avoiding trans fat-containing processed foods altogether.
Different families and cultural backgrounds give all of us biases in our choices of healthy fats. I am in no way prescribing a specific diet or way of eating food. For specific advice regarding your child and family kindly consult the experts in the field. Use this blog post more as information to help plan your family meals.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way lets get started with the different sources of healthy fats and how you can incorporate them into different meals throughout the day.
Nuts have an abundance of good fats in them. Though young children won’t be able to eat them whole there are many ways in which you can include nuts in their diets.
Don’t give whole round shaped nuts and seeds to young children for risk of choking.
Nut Powder Walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, can be powdered and stay well in a cool environment in an airtight box for about 7 days. They might last longer in other dry climates.
Breakfast – Add the powdered walnuts to oatmeal or any other porridge or chia pudding.
Nut Butters You can make these at home or buy from the market. Look for ones that have no salt and sugar added. Varieties include almond, peanut, cashew.
Snacks – Spread over rice cakes. spread over whole wheat chapati, add a spoonful to oats, offer as a dip with apple and pear slices.
Almond Meal Almond meal leftover from making almond milk can be added to soups. To give your baby’s soup some density and flavor.
Lunch/Dinner – I add the leftover almond meal to broccoli soup and make a pesto sauce with it that can be used in pasta or on sandwiches.
The combination of broccoli soup and pesto pasta for dinner is one such go to dinner for us on days I make almond milk at home. It’s a great way to reduce the waste and make a yummy meal too.
Cashews are a great option to add to the base of any curry dish.
Lunch/Dinner – You can make a cashew paste and add to chicken curries, vegetable curries, koftas.
Groundnut In India we get whole groundnuts in the market, boil these in a pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles until soft and give older children (5 years and above) as a snack.
Another powerhouse of good fats is seeds. Examples of seeds that you can use for your family are sesame seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds.
Breakfast – Roast flaxseed and make a powder. Store in airtight containers. This powder can be used daily on your child’s oats porridge.
Snack – Sesame paste can be used to add to dippings like hummus or in salad dressing.
Roast pumpkin seeds and offer as a snack to older kids (above 5 years of age)
Sesame seeds can be used in homemade granola bars and energy balls.
I change my cooking oils from time to time to bring some variety in flavor to the dishes we make at home. We use everything from sunflower oil, soyabean oil, to coconut oil, sesame oil, groundnut oil, mustard oil.
Olive oil and sesame oil can be used to dress salads, pasta and quinoa bowls.
There is a lot of debate on which oils are best suited to human health. I will be honest, I have not been able to understand the shifting trends with oils. So I use ones that work well with Indian cooking and are cold pressed as they maintain the nutritional value of the seed.
Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and sometimes referred to as Butter fruit, because of their high-fat content. They are packed in omega 3 fatty acids and a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals like Vit B6, Vit C, Vit A, Vit K, manganese, calcium, and potassium. Makes it a must include fat for little ones.
Breakfast – Avocado and egg on toast.
Snack – Chopped avocado with salt and pepper, spread on rice cakes, dipping sauce like guacamole, avocado smoothies.
Lunch/Dinner – Avocado and quinoa bowl, include as a side in the form of avocado and egg salad to your kid’s meal.
Coconuts contain fat that is mostly in the form of medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs) in particular, one called lauric acid. Lauric acid is converted in the body into a highly beneficial compound called monolaurin. This compound helps protect against infectious diseases. In India, we are blessed with an abundance of this tropical fruit. My son loves coconut and all coconut dishes.
Coconut Meat Fresh grated coconut meat is super delicious as is and can be used to prepare snacks for little ones.
Snack – Malida is a grated coconut and beaten rice snack, served with jaggery.
Desiccated Coconut Nutty flavored and crunchy to eat.
Snack – Add desiccated coconut as toppings to homemade chia puddings, overnight oats, homemade icecreams.
Coconut Milk This creamy milk can be used to make thick Indian and Thai curries or as a base in pancake recipes.
Eggs are a source of a combination of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats. Eggs are a great option for proteins and essential vitamins like Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Also, it’s so easy to make a number of yummy dishes by incorporating eggs.
Always remember to introduce whole egg after first birthday of baby.
Breakfast – Hard boiled egg, Scrambled egg, Egg Omellete.
Lunch/Dinner – Egg curries, egg sandwichs, egg and avocado salad, egg fried rice.
Meat and Fish
Most health organizations advice sticking to lean meats and fish when it comes to meat. Not all kids take a liking to meat from the beginning, you can try with simpler preparations liked steaming fish, pan frying fish, meat mince gravies etc.
Full Fat Yogurt and Milk is recommended until age 2.
Cottage Cheese and Cheese are other great options. Pan fry cottage cheese or add to gravies like palak paneer. Cheese can be offered as a snack as is, or in sandwiches, pasta, etc.
Butter and Ghee As adults most of us shy away from butter and ghee, but these are great options to add to kids meals.
Breakfast- Butter on toast, butter/ghee in porridge.
Meals- Butter in pasta dishes, butter in soups, pan sear fish with butter and garlic, stirfry vegetables in butter, add ghee to chappati and dals.
Strategies To Using Fats For Kids
- When selecting meats and fish, choose good quality produce. Clean and store the meat well.
- Include fats in some way in every meal of baby. This increases the energy density of the meal and satiety level for your child.
- Mix it up from time to time. Kids get bored of the same flavors. Try different combinations and varieties of fats.
- Keep the level of unsaturated fats high compared to the saturated fats in your child’s meals.
- Stay away from trans fats, these are found in processed foods like biscuits, candies, noodles and other packeted items. There is a lifetime to try these foods. Let’s give first preference to building a healthy food foundation for our kids.
My aim with writing this post was to compile a list of all sources of fats for children. Sometimes as mothers we tend to get stuck in a rut and feel a lack of inspiration when it comes to offering meals. I hope this post can be used as a resource for healthy fat ideas by mothers.