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What Are We Feeding our Children?

Updated on March 9, 2010
Food Pyramid
Food Pyramid

Feeding our children nutritiously healthy foods that are satisfying and fun can be a challenge for most families in North America and the world. We are so busy and often lack the time to plan and make family meals that are healthy and appealing to our children's palate. As a result of our lack of time and sometimes lack of resources such as money and knowledge, we are raising children who are becoming morbidly obese. While many families are aware of some of the negatives consequences of poor nutrition, making do with the limited time and resources can restrict to some extent the quality of foods that children are fed. With some creativity and advance planning though, families can provide nutritious, fun and enjoyable foods for all members of the family.

According to the obesityfoundation.ca, children like adults should have at least five serving of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide nutrients and fibre that children need for proper body functioning as well as supply energy for daily activities. The Canada Food Guide suggests that children between two and thirteen years of age require the following servings of foods:

Fruits and Vegetables: The Canada food guide suggests that children between the age of 2-13 years should be eating 4-6 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This should include at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day. Choose dark green vegetables such as broccoli, romaine lettuce, and spinach. Choose orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Prepare vegetables and fruits with little or no added fat, sugar or salt. Enjoy vegetables steamed, baked or stir-fried instead of deep fried. Instead of juice, choose to have vegetables and fruits. Fiona Haynes at About.com suggests in offering children variety and interest, think beyond apples and bananas. She recommends that you offer kids slices of kiwifruit, mango, pineapple and blueberries. She also suggests that you make a melon medley, fruit kebabs by cutting chunks of fruit and putting them on sticks, and have a low fat yogurt dip to accompany them. These interesting and colourful fruits will not only be pleasant to the sight, they will be also pleasing to the palate of children and even adults.

Grain Products: The food guide suggests 3-6 servings of grain products for children 2-13 years old. You should make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day. Eat a variety of whole grains such as barley, brown rice, oats and wild rice. Enjoy whole grain breads, oatmeal and whole wheat pasta. Fiona Haynes of About.com suggests that while it is unrealistic to rule out cookies and candy all together, she suggests that you make them an occasional treat, and keep serving sizes small—no king-size bars or bags.

Milk and Alternatives:The CFG recommends 2-4 servings of milk and alternatives per day. It recommends drinking skim, 1% or 2% milk each day. Have 500 ml (2 cups) of milk every day for adequate vitamin D. Drink fortified soy beverages if you do not drink milk.Select lower fat milk alternatives.

Meat and Alternatives: The CFG suggests 1-2 servings of meat each day. It suggests meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu. At least 2 Food Guide Servings of fish each week. The guide recommends fish such as char, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and trout. The food guide also suggests that lean meat and alternatives be prepared with little or no added fat or salt. It recommends that visible fat should be trimmed from meats as well as the skin on poultry be removed. Use cooking methods such as roasting, baking or poaching that require little or no added fat. If you eat luncheon meats, sausages or prepackaged meats, choose those lower in salt (sodium) and fat.

Fats and Oils:Some healthy unsaturated vegetable fats are Canola, Corn, Flaxseed, Olive, Peanut (avoid for children because of allergy), Soybean, Sunflower. Use these sparingly to prepare meals.

Beverages: The food guide suggest water and other lower caloric beverages, such as low calorie fruit juices .

Suggestions for children's Meals and Snacks: So we are all busy and eating on the go, however if we want to raise healthy children who are not obese and will make healthier food choices, then start by setting the example. While some experts argue that children are more influenced by their peers than the family when it comes to the type of foods that they eat, I believe that if they are introduced to healthy food choices at home they are more likely to make better choices in food away from home. If we start offering fresh fruits and veggies as snacks to children when they are young, as they get older it is more likely that they will acquire the taste for these foods and choose them over other simple sugar snacks, such as pop and candy bars.

Suggestions for Breakfast:Many children do not eat breakfast at home, primarily because they do not have adequate time as parents and children rush to work and school. However, you can make breakfast a priority, by waking about 30 minutes earlier and doing some preliminary preparations. You can plan your breakfast for the whole week or from the night before. For instance, if you are going to make omelet, you can cut veggies the night before. You can also wash and cut some fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and peach. In fifteen minutes, you can have omelet, whole wheat toast, fresh fruits, orange or cranberry juice as well as cereal with low or no sugar or tea. Experts have reported that children who start their day off with a hearty breakfast do better in school than those who did not have breakfast. They can focus more as they are not hungry and are less irritable.

Suggestions for Lunch:For lunch I suggest whole wheat bread or wrap. Use chicken left over from dinner to make a chicken salad for sandwiches. You can make eggs or tuna salad. Not all children like the taste of tuna, so you can substitute for sodium free deli meats. I would limit the serving of processed meat to one or two times per week because of sodium nitrite. Crunchy vegetables, such as carrots and cucumber as well as fresh fruits such as cantaloupes, apples, grapes, pear and peaches are great ways of ensuring that the children have a balanced lunch. You can also pack sugarless applesauce, jello with reduced sugar and other fruit cups that are convenient ways of making sure that children are eating the 4-6 servings of daily requirement of fruits and vegetables. Don't forget that juices with no sugar added are also a good source of fruits and vegetables. Encourage children to drink water, which will keep them hydrated and fill them up so that they'll eat less.

Suggestions for Dinner: For most families, dinner is often the biggest meal of the day. It's perhaps the only time when most of the family sit down for a meal. Dinner is one of the time when it is most likely that children will over-eat. Portion size is important at all meals, especially at dinner since we usually do not get involved in many physical activities after dinner. This mean that there are not much opportunities to burn calories after dinner. It is for this reason why it makes most sense to make breakfast or lunch the largest meal of the day. This is however not always realistic, given our busy lifestyle and the fact that most of us work away from home, so dinner remains for most families, the largest meal of the day. Some suggestions for children are lean serving of chicken, fish, beef or pork. Prepare meats by broiling, baking or steaming rather than frying or sauteing. Steam brown rice, pasta or bake sweet potatoes, squash are great choices for obtaining the remainder of the 3-6 servings of grains per day for children between two and thirteen years old. Load up on fresh veggies, such as lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, sweet peppers, carrots, spinach and broccoli to get the remainder of the 4-6 servings of fruits and veggies per day as suggested by the food guide.  depending on the age of the children, they should help in the preparation of the meal.  Doing so has double effects; they'll learn how to prepare deliciously healthy foods and they will more likely eat what they have helped to prepare.

Healthy Snacks for children:Most children enjoy snacks and would survive only on them if they were allowed. The Canadian Cancer Society suggests some healthy snack ideas for children such as, fresh fruit or fruit cups, cheese and whole-grain crackers, a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with berries and milk yogurt with granola topping, cheese quesadilla with salsa, whole wheat pita with hummus or bean dip, bite-sized vegetables (baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, celery sticks) whole grain toast with fruit spread or nut butter, yogurt smoothie, popsicles made with 100% fruit juice or yogurt, graham crackers, arrowroot biscuits or digestives with a glass of milk.

Creating a balanced diet  for children and the rest of the family, from all the suggested food groups is essential to maintain healthy body weight and thus maintain good health and vitality. Variety of healthy foods, served in moderation is a sensible way to introduce foods to children in order to develop healthy food choices. The Canadian Food Guide is a great benchmark that provides suggestions of quality and quantity of foods to consume on a daily basis; it is however only a guideline. Children should be taught from early in life that they can choose from many interesting foods. They should be given the opportunity to experiment with foods,which will develop a healthy attitude to foods.

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    • DynamicS profile image
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      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      JannyC, thanks my friend, for your comment. Very smart of you. I like the whole wheat pita idea; I'll be trying that out with my son. You're right, us parents have to get smart and be more creative when it comes to blending foods that our kids like with the healthy choices.

    • JannyC profile image

      JannyC 8 years ago

      A popular topic. I have struggles with my son as well. He loves food and there is rarely anything he wont eat but lately he is now dissing the veggies. and he wants pizza. SO I do homemade spinach pizza on a whole wheat pita. Us parents gotta be tricky.

    • DynamicS profile image
      Author

      Sandria Green-Stewart 8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Tammy, thanks for stopping by and for your comments. You are right, home grown stuff are the best; they taste better and even look better. In the summer I grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumber in the backyard.

      I know that it can be a challenge to feed kids all the healthy foods that they need. Having a 6 year old, I have to really plan in order to ensure that he eats well. He is not very picky, but he definitely knows what he wants and he likes variety.

      As parents, we can only do our best.

      Have a great day.

    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 8 years ago

      Great advice...I miss having all the organic home grown stuff that we had back home. I guess we took it for granted. It's hard to find good produce here in Mississippi at a fair price. I agree how important it is to teach kids from an early age to experiment with food...mine are still finicky and picky eaters but they get a balanced diet.

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