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A Quick Guide to Healthy Eating for 0 – 5 YO

A Quick Guide to Healthy Eating for 0 – 5 YO

What every new parent should know about creating healthy food habits that will last a lifetime.

If french fries, cheese pasta, junk food and pizza go down easier than wholesome grains, vegetables and meats, then your kid could be in for trouble in the long term. Teaching children to love all kinds of healthy foods starts at home. Zero to five are called the formative years with good reason and nutritional requirements can vary significantly over these years. So how do we get them to eat their veggies and love it?

In the early years, parents need to do all the heavy lifting and learn about the right kinds of foods. Introducing children to a variety of tastes and flavours is as crucial as keeping sugar and salt consumption low. In fact, until babies are a year old, they need less than 1g of salt a day. As they grow, explain why some foods are better than others, shop for fresh produce together and let them help you cook. These are all great ways to get children interested in the right kinds of foods. But more importantly, children learn from example, so if you’re scarfing down greasy take out and filling up on farsan and doughnuts instead of dinner, you can expect to see the same behaviour replicated at home.

So where do we begin?

Let’s start with the five food groups. From 0 to 3 little ones need food from all five healthy food groups: vegetables, fruit, grain foods, dairy and protein.

Infant nutrition - 0–12 months

Until 6 months, breastfeeding is the best way of ensuring your baby gets all the nutrients they need as well as develop a strong immunity to diseases. At 5-6 months or after, it’s safe to supplement breastmilk with pure fruit juice and sips of water since they still get most of the nutrients from breastmilk or formula. Between 6-8 months is a great time to introduce lump-free purees of two vegetables or fruits together, khichdi, simple nachni or porridge and things like fruit with suji or ragi. This is also the time you can begin to offer some full-fat dairy options like yoghurt, cheese and paneer. By 10-12 months, check with your paediatrician about starting fish, eggs and meat. If you get the “okay” always use the freshest options and double-check for bones or tough bits before feeding the baby.

Toddler nutrition - 1–3 years

After the one year mark, children are quite capable of self-regulating the number of calories they need. This makes it more critical than ever to teach them to trust their feelings of being full. This also means ditching the age-old wisdom of finishing what’s on your plate and instead of paying extra attention to a well-rounded mix of carbohydrates, protein, fat, omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium and zinc. Kids in this age group need foods rich in fat - approximately 27 g of fat daily. But this needs to come from healthy sources like oil and soft non-hydrogenated kinds of margarine, nut butter and seeds, full-fat dairy products and fruits like avocado instead of processed foods. If you have a fussy eater in your hands, try offering them smoothies and fresh juices to add some variation to how they consume fruits and vegetables. Let them mush and squish foods as they try them and let them be hands-on during meal prep.

Pre-schooler nutrition - 3 – 5 years

At 3-5 years your child needs a whole line up of essential vitamins and minerals to grow and develop well. Kids in this age group are prone to deficiencies of vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K and minerals like calcium, iodine, zinc and iron. While it’s easier to get your kids to eat most carbohydrates, eating vegetables and fruit, a steady source of these essentials can become challenging.

Carbohydrate-rich foods are superb sources of energy. Low-GI breakfast foods – like porridge, whole grain muesli or even toast will give your child sustained fuel through full days of school, games and even help them keep up with high-intensity sports. But vegetables also have a role to play. They help protect your child against diseases later in life by giving them energy, vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and even water. Besides setting a good example by eating veggies yourselves, you can get creative with encouraging kids to eat their greens. Praise, don’t bribe kids when they eat their vegetables, offer vegetables as snacks, puree or grate them into pasta, soups or parathas and finally, find ways to shop for fruits and vegetables together. Teaching them how to choose great produce is a great way to get kids curious about their food.

When it comes to how much fat is right for your child, the amount of unsaturated fat required per day changes based on how old they are. Oils like olive, canola, rice bran and grape seed oil, lean meat and avocados are natural sources of good fats. If your kids have no allergies, nuts and seeds are healthy snack option that are also full of good fats.

Nutrition, Fitness and Immunisation

Nutrition and fitness go hand in hand at this age, so encouraging children to participate in at least 40 to 60 minutes of vigorous jumping, dancing, running, and any physical activity that increases their heart rate is essential. Playing when the sun is out is also a great way to get some Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and builds strong bones Just, don’t forget the sunscreen!

But the fight to be fitter and healthier also means the fight against infectious diseases. Immunisation and nutrition go hand in hand. Between 0-5 is also when you should begin your child’s vaccination schedule. In fact, undernourished children are nine times more likely to die from infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and measles, than well-nourished kids. In fact, this was why vaccines like the Rotavirus (RVV) was introduced in India in 2016. Addressing the problem of diarrheal deaths in infants and children under five meant that children had a fighting chance to develop into healthy adults.

But the list of primary vaccinations also includes BCG, Polio, DTP, Hepatitis B, Rotavirus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Pneumococcal (Conjugate), Measles and Rubella, to name a few. Children suffering from any one or a combination of these easily communicable diseases have trouble absorbing and retaining nutrients. While malnutrition can make you prone to repeated bouts of some illnesses, vaccines can help. Getting all the essential vaccines is our best chance to give a child a layer of protection that will hold them in good stead well into adulthood.

Excellent nutrition standards the world over follow a few general rules, but overall, the idea remains the same - eat foods from all five food groups equally, keep processed and junk food at bay, get plenty of fresh air and exercise, choose water over sugary drinks and get vaccinated. Remember, healthy beginnings are your best chance at healthier adulthood.

This is a partnered post.