Here’s how you can make a balanced meal plan for your child

To ensure proper growth and development, it is essential to provide balanced meals to your child, on a daily basis. These meals should include items from all major food groups, so that he or she gets the required amounts of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. However, planning balanced as well as tasty and filling meals every day can be a challenge. So, learn more about the essential nutrients your little one needs, and how you can make them a part of a balanced meal.

Importance of a nutrient-rich diet

Children who are in the age group of 2-5 years need approximately 1000-1400 Kcal of energy every day. So, mothers need to feed their kids highly nutritious meals.

A high-nutrition balanced diet for kids comprises the food groups mentioned below, in adequate amounts:

  • Cereals, millets and pulses - These are important sources of nutrients and energy. Try and include these wholegrain items in your kid’s diet in the form of multigrain cereals, wholewheat rotis, daals
  • Milk, egg and fish - Milk and milk products are a rich source of calcium and protein, and eggs and fishes are a good source of protein and many micronutrients. Smoothies made with curd, fruit yoghurts, egg rolls or sandwiches, and lean meats such as fish and chicken, can be added to your child’s meal plan, to achieve a good balance of nutrients.
  • Vegetables and fruits - Mothers should regularly give their kids fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables as they are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. These contain a lot of fibre as well. Green leafy vegetables like spinach must be included in the form of soups, paranthas, or can be added to daals, gravies or stews. You can also try giving your kid upma, pulao and khichdi, prepared with spinach and other veggies. You can also serve carrots, cucumbers, and beetroots in the form of finger foods.
  • Oils and fats - These are essential in moderate amounts, for your child’s overall development. Vegetable oils, butter, or ghee can be used in small quantities for preparing your child’s meals.
  • Nuts - Walnuts and almonds are a rich source of micronutrients and must be included in the daily diet. Nuts can be crushed and added to milk smoothies or can be used to garnish fruit custard.

Apart from providing the right kinds of foods, you also need to keep an eye on the portion sizes. For children aged between 2 and 5 years, here are the recommended food portions.

Cereals –

  • You need to give 2 servings to children aged between 2 and 3 years, and 4 servings to those aged between 4 and 5 years, per day.
  • It can be in the form of either of these -
    • 1 small chapatti
    • 1 small slice of bread
    • 2 tbsp. of raw rice
    • 2 tbsp. of raw pasta
    • 2 tbsp. of raw dalia
    • 2 tbsp. of sooji
    • 2 tbsp. of raw oats.
  • Cereals are a rich source of carbohydrates, energy, fibre, and proteins. These also contain micronutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin B, magnesium, and zinc.

Pulses and legumes –

  • You need to give 1 serving to children aged between 2 and 5 years, per day.
  • You can give as much as half a bowl of pulses or legumes.
  • Pulses are high in protein and fibre. If you give sprouted seeds/legumes then your child will be able to digest and assimilate them very easily.

Milk and milk products –

  • You need to give 5 servings of milk and milk products to children aged between 2 and 5 years, per day.
  • You can serve 1 small cup or 100 ml of milk or 1 small cup of curd (100 g) or 1/2 cup of paneer.
  • Milk and its products like curd and paneer are rich sources of calcium. They can enhance the growth of bones, muscles, and make teeth strong.

Roots and tubers –

  • You need to give 1/2 a serving to children aged between 2 and 3 years, and 1 serving to children aged between 4 and 5 years, per day.
  • Roots and tubers should be given as much as 1 cup of chopped raw potato/ beetroot/carrot/ turnip/onion etc.
  • Remember, baked or steamed potatoes are a healthier option than fried potatoes.

Green leafy vegetables –

  • You can give 1/2 a serving to children aged between 2 and 5 years, per day.
  • Try to give your child 1 cup of cooked or raw leafy green vegetables like spinach/fenugreek/bathua/mustard leaves etc.
  • They are a rich source of iron, and will keep children healthy and strong.

Other vegetables –

  • You can serve 1 cup of cooked vegetables like lady’s finger, french beans, tomatoes, gourds, carrots etc. to your kid.
  • They are a rich source of antioxidants. Try to include all seasonal vegetables in your child’s diet.

Fruits –

  • 1 serving of fruit like a medium banana/apple/pear/orange/chopped papaya/ pineapple, etc. can be given to your child every
  • Fruits are a rich source of vitamins and minerals.

Fats and oils –

  • You need to give 5 servings of fats or oils to children aged between 2 and 5 years, per day.
  • You can try giving oils or fats as much as 1 tsp of vegetable oil/ ghee/butter/cheese spread etc.

Meat and eggs –

  • Choose lean meats and give 1 egg/1 piece of fish/2 small pieces of chicken/meat to your child every day. Just give one serving to children in the age group of 2-5 years.
  • These foods are rich in B-complex vitamins, iodine, iron, and fat. Go for baked/grilled/steamed/roasted versions instead of fried, to ensure maximum health benefits for kids.

If you want to extract maximum benefits from these food groups, remember to offer your child three main meals and two small meals every day. Cooking methods such as boiling, roasting, baking, and steaming, are healthier than frying, and can retain the flavours and nutrients as well.

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