Feeding time at the zoo
Foodie hacks for preschoolers. Eating healthily should be a lifetime habit that starts from a young age
What we feed our children is as important, probably even more important, than what we consume ourselves.
Most experts would agree that, ideally, healthy habits should start from a young age.
The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) (nutrition.org.uk) recently published updated guidelines on just that, introducing new information on portion sizes and healthy eating focused on toddlers.
The guidelines include new information on free sugars, and more advice on vegetarian and vegan diets for very young children, those aged between 1-4 years.
“Establishing healthy eating habits from a young age helps to set a child up for good health later in life,” says Sara Stanner, science director at the BNF.
“Even when parents know which foods are part of a healthy diet, it can sometimes be difficult to know what sized portion is suitable for a young child, and how often they should be eating from the different food groups each day.”
Developed by a BNF team of nutrition scientists along with an advisory group of experts in early years nutrition, the Foundation’s so-called 5532 guide outlines the balance of different foods that preschool children should be eating, and in what amounts, to help parents and carers choose a healthy, varied diet for their children.
The number ‘5532’ represents the number of portions across each food group that youngsters should eat each day: five portions of starchy foods; five (or more) portions of fruit and vegetables; three portions of dairy foods; and two portions of protein foods (or three if a child is vegetarian).
The guide contains examples of a variety of foods within each food group and also typical portion sizes.
It is designed to help parents and carers decide specifically what best suits their child, for example: 3-6 tbsp breakfast cereal, 2-6 carrot sticks, 2-4 tbsp of beans or lentils.
The new rules also contain updated information on free sugars, highlighting that parents need to limit intake of sweetened versions of starchy foods, such as high sugar cereals, and should opt for unsweetened dairy foods, like plain yogurt, where possible.
The resource also addresses confusion on the nutritional value of fruit juices, stating that: “Fruit juice provides some nutrients but is also high in sugar and is acidic so, if consumed, should be diluted and kept to mealtimes”.
“The latest updates help to address some of the biggest causes of confusion around nutrition for little ones,” adds Stanner. “We know that many parents are very concerned about sugar, and our guide highlights that sugary drinks and sugary treats like biscuits, chocolate and sweets shouldn’t be a regular part of children’s diets. It’s a good idea to check food labels and to look for lower sugar options when choosing foods like breakfast cereals or yogurts.”
With the increasing popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, the BNF has adapted its guide to provide specific information on these diets for young children.
Among the advice, the organisation recommends that vegetarian children should eat three portions of protein foods per day to ensure they get enough of important nutrients such as iron and zinc.
While well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy for young children, for those considering a vegan diet, the BNF suggests visiting a GP to ask for advice about supplementation, as it can be difficult for young children to get enough vitamin A and B12, riboflavin, iron, zinc, calcium and iodine.
“Likewise, families making the decision to adopt vegetarian or vegan diets need to be aware of how to balance their diet, and use supplements if needed in order to ensure children get all the nutrients they need to be healthy,” says Stanner.
Healthy eating hacks
Try to have regular meal and snack times each day and include your child in family mealtimes when you can.
Offer your child a small, healthy snack like fruit, vegetable sticks or toast fingers with cream cheese, 2-3 times a day. This will allow an opportunity other than meal
times to provide important nutrients.
Children’s food preferences vary from day to day so keep offering your child new foods, alongside familiar favourites.
Most young children can regulate their own appetite so encourage them to eat but don’t force them or expect them to eat if they are not hungry.
For non-vegans, milk is a good choice for drinks as it provides calcium and other important nutrients. Children aged 1-2 years should have whole milk, which is a good source of vitamin A. Those eating well can be given semi skimmed milk after two years. Skimmed or 1% milk is not suitable as a main drink for children under five.
Limit the amount of salty foods your child eats and be aware of some foods containing added salt. Your child should eat no more than 2g of salt per day – a packet of crisps contains around 0.3g of salt, a slice of ham contains 0.3gm, and 2 tbsp of standard baked beans contains around 0.5g.
Encourage your child to be physically active for at least three hours over the day – this could be any kind of movement including rolling and playing on the floor, playing in the park or dancing. Also try and avoid your child sitting still for too long (in buggies or watching TV).