Healthy Eating. What does Balanced Diet Look Like

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baby-eatingTo grow properly and keep healthy, children need to eat a good balanced diet. The food guide pyramid has been desined to show quickly the different properties of each of the food groups that make up a balanced diet and children should aim to achieve this balance by the age of five. This information is generally depicted as a pyramid to show the proportion of foods.


The foods that make up the base should form the largest part of a child's diet and as the pyramid tapers towards the top, the amounts of those foods should gradually become smaller. The foods near the top should only be eaten sparingly. Children under five need a diet higher in fat and lower in fibre because of their high energy requirements.

Carbohydrates

This group should make up the largest part of your child's diet. Bread, cereal, rice and pasta are the body's main source of energy and also provide vitamins, minerals and fibre. Wholegrain cereals and breads are also a good sourse of iron. Children should eat about five servings from this group each day.

Examples of what count as one serving of carbohydrate:

  • One slice of bred.
  • A small portion of rice or pasta.
  • A small bowl of cereal.

Try to choose natural rather than refined carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholegrain bread, pulses and fruit. These foods release sugar relatively slowly into the bloodstream, which helps provide long lasting energy. Unrefined carbohydrates are also a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Refined carbohydrates like white bread or white rice have lost many of their valuable nutrients during their processing. These foods still provide a good source of energy but try also to include a good proportion of natural, unrefined carbohydrates in your child's diet.

Vegetables and fruits

Vegetables and fruits are important as they provide phytochemicals such as vitamins and minerals, which help protect us against cancer and heart disease. Fruit and vegetables are also an important source of fibre. Different fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins so it is important to include as much variety as possible. Vegetables, particularly root vegetables, also provide carbohydrates for energy. For the recommended five portions a day, a three-year-old might have a satsuma, half an apple, four dried apricots, a tablespoon of peas and a tomato throughout the day.

Dairy

These provide protein, vitamins and minerals and are the best source of calcium, which is important for good health and the formation of bones and teeth. In the first year, milk forms a very important part of your child's diet. Between the ages of one and five, children should have approximately 600 ml (20 fl oz) of milk a day or the equivalent in other dairy products. Children should have three portions of milk or dairy products each day. This could be a glass of milk, a pot of yoghurt or 30 g (1 1/2 oz) cheese (a matchbox size).

Protein

Meat, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs and nuts supply a good source of protein, which is important for the growth, maintenance and repair of body tissue. An inadequate supply of protein can lower resistance to infection. Meat, poultry and fish also supply B vitamins, iron and zinc.

Once your baby is eating three meals a day try to make sure that she has some protein at two of these meals. Protein doesn't always have to be meat or fish; dairy products or a pulse served with a cereal are a good source. An example would be baked beans on toast. As a rough guide, children should eat meat or chicken three to four times a week and two or more portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily variety like tuna, sardines or salmon. Protein foods like cheese or eggs are good for breakfast.

Fats and sugary processed foods

Children need proportionately more fat in their diet than adults, so for the first two years serve full-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. Up to the age of one, children should derive 50 per cent of their energy from fat (breast milk contains 50 per cent fat). It provides a concentrated source of energy; fatty acids are important for brain and visual development, and fats contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

You should try to ensure there is enough fat in your child's diet, but you should also seek to introduce healthy eating by choosing lean meat and cutting down on fried food. Milk and cheese are good sources of fat and they are also rich in calcium, protein and vitamins. For adults and children over five, fat should provide no more than 30 per cent of their calorie intake by cutting down on funk food and processed foods like cakes and biscuits.



Did you know? Potatoes should not be counted as a vegetable portion. A poll commissioned by the British Dietetic Association found that 81 per cent of adults would have counted potatoes as a vegetable. In fact, nutritionally they are classed as a starchy food along with bread and cereals, so your child should be eating five portions, of fruit and vegetables a day on top of potatoes.

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