Key pointers for planning balanced meals for children

Key pointers for planning balanced meals for children

It goes without saying that nutrition and child growth go hand in hand, which is why parents need to be conscious about what and how much their kids eat. For instance, it is important to include items from all major food groups in your little one’s meals, so that he or she gets all the macro and micronutrients. The deficiency of any essential nutrient can create health problems.

While children of all ages need protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals, the proportions change as they grow up. So, this article takes a close look at how you can plan balanced and wholesome meals, so that your toddler can reach all developmental milestones easily.

Do children and adolescents need more food?

When you’re creating a healthy diet plan for kids, keep in mind that children need more food than adults. Let’s start by considering an infant and toddler diet plan. A newborn grows rapidly, almost doubling their birth weight by 5 months, and tripling it by 1 year. In the second year, they once again gain 4 times their birth weight, and also grow by 7-8 cm in height.

During the pre-adolescent period, a child grows 6-7 cm in height and 1.5-3 kg in weight, every single year. This is also the time when various organs and tissues mature, which makes getting the right nutrition all the more important.

Finally, the adolescent period, which lasts over a decade, is known for rapid growth spurts, development of critical bone mass, hormonal changes, development of sexual organs, and mood swings. Adolescent girls go through even more physiological stress due to the onset of the menstrual cycle. This period of rapid anabolic changes means that once again, kids need more nutrients based on body weight.

Creating a balanced diet chart for kids

Given that their needs change so quickly, creating the right diet plan for children can be tricky. Keep this table handy to make sure you’re not compromising on your child’s nutritional needs at any point.

Number of portions per food group based on age

Food groups g/ portion Infants 6-12 months Years 1 - 3 4 - 6 7 - 9 10 - 12 Girls 10 - 12 Boys 13 - 15 Girls 13 - 15 Boys 16 - 18 Girls 16 - 18 Boys
Cereals & millets 30 0.5 2 4 6 8 10 11 14 11 15
Pulses 30 0.25 1 1 2 2 2 2 2.5 2.5 3
Milk and milk products 100 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Roots and tubers 100 0.5 0.5 1 1 1 1 1 1.5 2 2
Green leafy vegetables 100 0.25 0.5 0.5 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Other vegetables 100 0.25 0.5 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2
Fruits 100 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sugar 5 2 3 4 4 6 6 5 4 5 6
Fat/oil (visible) 5 4 5 5 6 7 7 8 9 7 10

Some nutrient-dense food sources

Now that you know about the proportions in which your children need nutrients, read on about the relevant food sources. This will help you plan healthy and well-balanced meals.

Fruits

Most fruits are beneficial as long as they’re fresh, local, and seasonal. Make sure that your child has liberal quantities of fresh fruits as opposed to canned, frozen, or dried fruits, or even fruit juice. If you give your child juice, make sure it’s 100% fruit juice without any added sugar.

Dairy

Low-fat dairy products like cheese and curd and milk are a good source of calcium and other vital minerals and vitamins. If your child is lactose-intolerant and is unable to digest milk and dairy products, don’t force them. You can try fortified soy beverages instead.

Vegetables

Once again, fresh, local and seasonal is the key. In India, you can get a wide variety of vegetables across seasons. So, try to maintain that diversity while preparing meals. Make sure you provide dark green veggies, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, as well as beans and peas. Try to avoid canned vegetables as far as possible and if you are serving them, look for varieties which have low sodium.

Protein

Serve a variety of protein sources with every meal. These include daals, beans, chickpeas (channa), peas, soybeans, eggs, lean meat, and poultry.

Grains

Choose whole grains over refined grains. Oats, quinoa, brown or red rice are all good options. Whole-wheat rotis can also be an integral part of daily meals. Avoid white bread and pasta and serve these only occasionally.

Planning your child’s meals can feel a little overwhelming at times because there’s a lot to keep in mind. However, as long as you know the nutrients your child needs, and the different food sources they can get these from, you should be able to plan diverse, creative, and delicious meals.