Every child needs to eat a balanced diet.
But actually feeding a child a balanced diet is not an easy task.
The food must be healthy and nutritionally balanced. But it must also be tasty, different and interesting. Everyone should like it but the ingredients should be available at home and the food should be easy to make and quick to serve and eat.
So how do you plan such meals every day – day after day – at every meal?
Here are 10 tips to help you plan balanced healthy meals every day
Make every meal a balanced meal
Healthy balanced meals are those that deliver all the nutrients that the body requires in the right proportion and at the right time. They must be balanced in the nutrients that they deliver
Unfortunately – most of the meals we eat every day are not balanced and nutritious. In most cases – the meals that we eat every day are carbohydrate heavy and have very small amounts of vitamins or proteins. These meals fuel the body and give it energy – but don’t nourish it.
What to do – When you plan a meal try to include a source of carbohydrate (e.g. – atta or whole wheat flour), a source of protein (e.g. – dal or pulses and beans) a source of vitamins and minerals (e.g. – vegetables), a source of fats (e.g. – oil)
Plan 3 meals and 3 snacks
Often we focus only on breakfast lunch and dinner when we make a weekly meal plan and menu. This is a mistake. Children have small stomachs and can only eat small quantities at the main meals. This means that they are hungry soon after the meal and need a snack. When snacks are not planned – they are invariably pulled out of packets – and are nothing but junk food. Junk food kills appetite but gives the body no nourishment.
What to do – when you plan your weekly menu make sure you plan healthy snacks. Try and plan for the snacks to be ready before hunger strikes. It is unlikely that you will feel like going back into the kitchen 20 minutes after lunch to make another snack for your child. So make sure the snack is ready to hand out. A healthy amaranth flour muffin baked with Chia seeds and kept ready over the weekend is excellent.
Make sure the snacks have all the nutrients
When we make snacks – the primary component of the snacks is carbohydrate. Most snacks in addition are deep-fried and so they are also full of unhealthy fats. There is usually no protein source.
Cakes biscuits, pakodas etc are examples of such snacks.
These snacks fill your child up and make it difficult for her/him to eat the next meal. They are also addicting because of the sugar and trans fat that they contain and children begin to prefer the snack to the regular meals.
What to do – Use whole grains when you are making snacks. Whole grains have proteins, vitamins and minerals in addition to carbohydrates. Also try to bake or steam the snack instead of deep-frying it. Bajra biscuits is an example of a very nutritious snack.
Also Read Vitamin A deficiency – what parents in India must know
Plan finger food for snacks
Snacks must be small in size and should not require the child to sit down and eat. The child should be able to pick up the food and eat it on the go while playing. This will ensure that the child gets enough activity and sunshine and fresh air to make her/him hungry for the next meal.
What to do – Even if you have a very young child – make sure you plan a snack that fits into your child’s hand. Make cutlets really small. Just big enough to fit into your child’s hand and go into her/his mouth in a single bite.
Focus on breakfast
When you make a weekly meal plan ensure that you include a very good carbohydrate source in the breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This has been proven by many studies and lots of research – so make the effort to serve a good breakfast. A slice of toast, an egg, a glass of milk or a cereal from a packet are useless from the nutrition perspective.
What to do – Most traditional Indian breakfasts are nutritionally balanced and if you choose whole grains when you make them – you will be giving your child a very nutritious breakfast. A dosa made with brown rice and served with peanut chutney has a good carbohydrate (brown rice), a protein source (dal) good fat (peanuts) and vitamins and minerals from all three components.
Change the breakfast every day
Every source of protein or carbohydrate that we eat has some advantages but also has some deficiencies and some disadvantages. It is easiest to combat the deficiencies and disadvantages by eating a different breakfast every day.
What to do – Plan 7 different breakfasts for the 7 days of the week. To make it easier to make healthy breakfasts and to ensure that you resist the temptation to pour the breakfast out of a packet – prepare batters for dosa and dough for parathas in advance over the weekend.
Plan a good snack box
Resist the temptation to give a packaged snack in the tiffin box. Snacks that come packaged are full of unhealthy sugars and trans fats and cannot replenish the nutrients that your child’s body has consumed through the first few hours of school. This results in your child having weak muscles and bones.
What to do – When you pack your child’s tiffin box – put in a sweet fruit/dry fruit. Dates or raisins are excellent for the snack box. Use a carbohydrate and protein rich whole grain as the primary ingredient for the snack. A ragi pancake – made with banana and sweetened with pureed dates is an example of a perfect tiffin box food. It is important to choose a power packed ingredient so that the size of the food item can be kept very small. When you make something big your child will not eat it because she/he wants to play.
Make lunch easy to eat
When children sit down to eat lunch – in most cases they are in no state to sit. They are tired from the activities of the day and they are restless because they have been confined by the routine of sitting in a classroom and following instructions. They want to move around and play. And they want to spend almost no time eating.
Serving children an elaborate lunch is a mistake. When every bite of the roti has to be dipped in the dal, topped with sabji and put into the mouth and chewed many times before it can be swallowed – it will turn any child into a fussy eater.
What to do – Try to combine the ingredients of the meal into a complete mass. So put the dal and the sabji into the atta dough and then turn that dough into a paratha. Or make a pulao or khichdi with all the meal ingredients – so that every bite has everything in easy to chew bites.
Also Read How Does Children Become A picky Eater
Make the evening snack light
A bowl of chopped fruits or a fruit smoothie or milk shake is ideal in the evening. It should be tasty and easy to gulp down so that it does not keep the child from playing. It should be healthy – but should not be heavy so that the child can jump around without throwing up.
What to do – Serve a different fruit every day – by itself – in a milkshake or in a smoothie.
Make dinner shareable
By dinner time children are too tired to eat. So instead of thinking of dinner time as a time to eat – think of dinner time as a time to share. Sharing must not be limited to food. The focus must be on sharing the events of the day. Conversation must not be limited to “eat fast” or “finish your food”. Laughter and happiness should be served in large quantities because they increase the appetite.
What to do – Plan a millet pizza or a bake that takes very little time to make so that you are not in the kitchen making rotis – but at the table sharing the food and the fun. Also make it something that your child can help you assemble like a pizza so that cooking turns into activity time.
Cooking does not have to be difficult or time-consuming. If you choose the right ingredients, use the right cooking techniques and reuse the healthy ingredients through the day to make different recipes – cooking can be a breeze. In addition shopping according to the meal plan and cooking a bunch of things over the weekend can make life very easy. I will talk about these in our next article.
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