Healthy eating for children helps them to maintain good health, keep up their energy levels and fend off illness. Each OSHC session offers fresh fruit and vegetables and we have recently sourced from local boutique suppliers to maintain food that is of quality and freshness due to the recent panic buying resulting in a shortage of supply from our regular supplier.
Supporting your children during the COVID-19 outbreak is about understanding the most nutritious options and how to maintain good food hygiene.
6 tips for building healthy eating habits for children during COVID-19
Whether you want to encourage your children to eat more healthy foods or you’re concerned about food hygiene, these six tips can help.
1. Eating together as a family
Bringing the family together at least once a day allows you to be a role model for your children, as well as ensuring healthy food is put on the table. The WHO (World Health Organisation) suggests allowing plenty of opportunity to educate your child about COVID-19 and being their form of guidance. If your children are old enough to make their own food choices, this is especially important right now. While they might enjoy junk food in moderation, now’s the time to make sure you’re all eating nutritious foods every single day, and as frequently as possible. Seeing you model this behaviour is important for children of all ages.
2. Stock up on healthy snacks
Have a variety of fruit on hand for snacks and dessert so they become the new ‘normal’ for your household. Other good options include cheese, wholegrain crackers or breads, eggs and nuts, where not allergic, of course. By providing healthy snacking options, you also ensure your children are getting some of the nutrients they need throughout the day, not just during main meal times.
3. Disguise healthy foods
If you’re struggling to get your children to accept some of the healthy options you’d like them to eat, try disguising it. For example, add vegetables to soups or casseroles, mash vegetables into mashed potato or blend veggies in pasta sauces. Australia’s Best Recipes has various examples to try. With the right quantities, they’ll never guess what you’ve added but still benefit from all the extra nutritional value.
4. Involve children in the decision-making process
Plans to improve your family’s healthy eating works even better if everyone’s onboard. Ask your children to help you look at labels or recipes, and talk to them about the ingredients listed, and what they do or don’t contribute to a healthy diet. You could also get them to help you work out what you can substitute if you can’t get everything you want in the supermarket. Getting them excited about picking and eating s is a fun way to involve them as well. This isn’t just beneficial during COVID-19, it’s teaching them important skills for their future.
5. Ask them to help you prepare food safely
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) say that coronaviruses are typically spread from person-to-person through the air. They don’t have any evidence to suggest that the virus is transmitting through food, but they still highlight the need to practice good hygiene. Get your children involved in food preparation and explain to them why they need to take certain precautions. In particular, they should wash their hands thoroughly before preparing or eating food. It’s also important to clean the surfaces you’ll be using. Washing and rinsing fruit and vegetables is a critical habit to develop as well.
6. Start with a healthy breakfast
By starting the morning with a healthy breakfast, your family has an even better chance of staying away from unhealthy snacks throughout the day. A healthy breakfast can help with better energy levels and focus, avoiding those energy dips that send us reaching for unhealthy food. You can even choose meals you can prepare the night before or in batches. Good options include boiling an egg for everyone or making scrambled egg sandwiches the night before. You can also defrost frozen fruit overnight, ready to mix with yoghurt and cereals in the morning or for the week ahead, or blend into a smoothie.
Exactly what kind of portion sizes your child needs depends on their level of physical activity.
Child health and the importance of good nutrition
Healthy eating is about getting the right nutrients to help our bodies grow and develop. Poor dietary choices can mean children are missing essential nutrition, such as key vitamins and minerals, that help them fight disease and stay healthy.
So, what is a good diet for children? It’s about having a balanced diet, which covers a range of food groups and allows children to get all the nutrients they need to be as healthy as possible.
When children don’t eat a balanced diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, they can lack fibre which may lead to nutritional deficiencies. They may have difficulty maintaining a good weight, lack energy or show problems with their physical growth. Some children experience emotional, psychological and behavioural problems, may struggle to concentrate at school or have difficulty sleeping.
It’s not always obvious what you should look out for when it comes to keeping your children healthy though. Here are some key nutrients to think about:
- Vitamins and minerals from a range of fruits and veggies. Go for as colourful a plate as possible and think about this at every meal. By doing so, you’ll likely make sure your children have plenty of vitamins such as A and C, both of which support the immune system. Citrus fruits and dark leafy greens are great examples of high vitamin foods.
- Protein is an essential part of the body’s repair system and so helps your child recover quickly if they do get ill. Lean meats and dark leafy greens have lots of protein.
- Good fats are also good for the immune system as they help the body effectively use some of the other nutrients we eat. It’s also a great source of energy for children. Be careful to provide unsaturated fats rather than saturated. Avocados, eggs, nuts and seeds are excellent sources of good fats.
- Carbohydrates are another key source of energy and they also support the body in using other key nutrients in repairing and building. Sweet potatoes and whole grains are great examples of carbohydrates.
- Iron helps the body produce blood and build muscles and is especially important when your children are growing. Red meats and beans are excellent sources.
There are many important nutrients that we all need, which is why a well-balanced and varied diet is so important.
Get the right balance of nutrients to help your child develop and grow.
Dietary choices the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend
The Australian Dietary Guidelines, published by the Australian Government, include specific recommendations:
- Be physically active and choose nutritious foods and drinks
- Enjoy a variety of food from five key food groups
- Limit intake of saturated fat, high salt and sugars
- Prepare and store food safely
For parents trying to build healthy eating habits for their children, the first two guidelines are key.
The five food groups the guidelines refer to are below, as well as serves per day - which depends on your child’s age.
- Vegetables, including different colours and different types (2-5 serves per day).
- Fruit (1-2 serves per day).
- Grain-based foods, particularly wholegrain or high cereal fibre options [including breads, rice, pasta and noodles] (4-7 serves per day).
- Lean meat, fish, poultry or vegetarian alternatives such as egg, legumes/beans and tofu (1-2.5 serves per day).
- Milk, cheese, yoghurt or alternative products available [children under 2 should have full-fat milk, but older children and adolescents can have reduced-fat varieties] (1.5 - 3.5 serves per day).
The guidelines also advise parents that it’s important to drink plenty of water.
The government’s ‘Healthy eating for children’ guide, which uses the same guidelines, also explains that being healthy involves choosing the right amounts of these nutritious foods to support energy needs, growth and development. Children should have a variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups every day.
A healthy diet includes options from all five food groups.
Foods to avoid in a healthy diet
Guideline 3 is about understanding what foods to limit. These foods may be high in calories, or have significant sugar, saturated fat or salt levels. While these kinds of foods can be enjoyed occasionally, the guidelines refer to them as ‘discretionary choices’ because they are by no means an essential part of your child’s diet. Similarly, the Australian Department of Health refers to these choices as ‘Sometimes foods’. As well as only having these foods occasionally, it’s also advisable to limit how much your children have.
Examples of foods to limit include:
- Lollies or confectionery
- Desserts including ice cream
- Processed foods such as meat pies or ready meals
- Sugary drinks
- Deep fried foods such as takeaway fries
Remember that highly processed and refined foods are often stripped of much of their nutritional value and don’t offer slow, long lasting energy release like complex carbohydrates do - such as brown rice and whole wheat bread.
It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of watching out for added salt and sugar in seemingly healthy foods - such as bread, prepared soups, flavoured yoghurts or drinks and ready-made meals. Producers add extra ingredients for a variety of reasons, such as taste and shelf-life, which can hamper your efforts to provide healthy food for your children.
Helping your child make good food choices is not only important while we navigate COVID-19, it’s a critical habit to develop and maintain into the future. Check our school holiday activities article for a healthy recipe you can make today.