A healthy diet provides your child with the right nutrients to grow, learn and stay active. They need to fill half their plate with vegetables and fruit, choose whole foods from each food group and eat a variety of proteins, starchy foods and healthy fats.
Eating a healthy diet also supports your child’s mental health. Children who don’t get enough sleep and eat unhealthy foods are more likely to have depression and anxiety. Encourage them to make healthy choices and limit screen time, especially before bedtime. This can help them get better quality sleep, improve their school performance and reduce cues to eat unhealthy food.
The first step to eating a healthier diet is figuring out why you want to make changes. This could be to lose weight, reduce your cholesterol or lower your blood pressure. It could also be to prevent or treat a health condition, such as high blood sugar or diabetes. Once you have a reason, it will be easier to stick with the change.
Encourage your child to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, which are a source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Try to include colourful vegetables, such as carrots, yams, squash and sweet potatoes, in every meal. Cook them in new ways, such as roasting or adding to soups and stews.
Vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned. You can also add them to smoothies and juices. Try to eat them with protein, such as meat, fish or legumes, for added nutrition and energy.
Incorporate lean meats, eggs, tofu and dairy products as sources of protein. They are an important part of a healthy diet and provide iron, zinc and B vitamins. Choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry and avoid processed meats like bacon and sausages. Fish, including oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel, is also a good source of protein.
Include healthy fats such as canola, olive and/or soybean oils, as well as non-hydrogenated margarine, avocado, nut butters and spreads in your meals. They can give you a range of important omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which cannot be made in the body and must come from the diet.
Lastly, make sure to include milk and other dairy products, which are good sources of calcium and vitamin D. They are important for bone health and can help prevent tooth decay.
Be mindful of your sodium intake, which is mainly found in packaged foods and fast foods. Look for low salt options and read labels. You should be aiming for less than 1500mg of sodium per day. Having too much salt can lead to obesity and high blood pressure in later life, so it’s important to be mindful. Limit high-salt sauces, dressings and mayonnaise. Replace salty sauces with herbs, spices and other flavourings.