This is one of the most common questions that every parent wants to know the answer for, especially if your kid is a picky or fussy eater. Well, the rule for this is quite simple — opt for a balanced diet. Confused? Let’s get to the basics and understand what is a balanced diet for kids and its role in keeping your kids healthy and wise.
What Is A Balanced Diet For Kids?
Just like adults, a balanced diet provides all the essential nutrients needed by the body for proper functioning and growth and development of the body. This is no rocket science because all you need to focus is the macronutrients and micronutrients in your child’s diet to help your kids eat healthy and stay fit which can be achieved either through natural food sources or through health supplements or drinks. Here are the essential components of a balanced diet for kids.
Carbohydrates: Thanks to the fad diets, most parents are planning to cut down on the carbohydrate content in foods and instead opt for proteins. However, as a general rule of thumb, carbohydrates must comprise of at least 60% of the daily calorie intake. Carbohydrates are the key source of energy and hence, it is a must to include foods rich in carbohydrates such as wheat, rice, jowar, bajra, ragi, corn, etc in diet. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of energy for a kid aged 1-3 years, 4-6 years and 7-9 years is 1060, 1350 and 1690 kcal/day respectively.
So instead of packing biscuits and cakes in your kid’s tiffin, you can make parathas stuffed with different vegetables. Replace those processed foods such as chips with boiled corn or ragi pancakes to fill your kid’s stomach in a healthy way.
Proteins: Proteins, as we all know, are the building blocks of the body which are required for normal growth, development and recovery from illness. They function as enzymes and hormones and are essential components of connective tissue. Deficiency of proteins in diet can cause muscle loss, edema, impaired immunity and slow healing. The RDA of proteins for kids aged 1-3 years, 4-6 years and 7-9 years is 16 g, 20 g and 30 g per day[1,2]. Protein energy malnutrition is a major problem in kids under 5 years of age in India. It is responsible for a prevalence of around 48%, 19.8% and 42.5% of stunting, wasting and underweight of kids under 5 years of age.
The dietary sources of proteins include dals (moong, tur dal, urad dal, chana, etc), milk and milk products such as cheese, ground nuts, etc. The non-vegetarian sources of protein include eggs, meat and fish. To make sure your kids get the daily dose of proteins you may include besan chilla or poha with groundnuts in breakfast. A healthy evening snack before your kid heads for tuitions or play can not only fill the stomach but also provide the much needed energy and protein required for your kid. For this, you can opt for homemade protein shakes or health drinks to pack a healthy punch to your kid’s daily dose of nutrients.
Fats: It is a common misconception that fats make your kid obese and hence, should be restricted for your kid’s diet. In reality, fats are essential part of a balanced diet for kids as these are needed for the absorption of vitamins and minerals and are essential for the development of the brain. Essential fats which are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) are not synthesized by the body and hence, need to be supplied through diet. These are an integral part of the brain membrane and also play a key role in the proper functioning of the nervous system. The RDA of fats for children aged 1- 3 years, 4-8 years and 9-13 years is 0.7 mg, 0.9 mg and 1.2 mg per day respectively.
To boost your kid’s mental health include more nuts and seeds in the diet. Be it having 2 – 3 soaked almonds or eating one or two walnuts every day, it can go a long way to keep your kid both mentally and physically healthy.
Vitamins & Minerals: A child needs adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals for the body to function and to boost immunity. And this can be achieved by adding a whole range of fruits and vegetables of various colours in your child’s diet. For example, Vitamin A plays a key role in vision and food sources rich in this vitamin are carrots, papaya, pumpkin, etc. Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium and aids in the growth and development of bones. This vitamin can be easily obtained from foods such as fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolk and fortified foods.
Just like vitamins, minerals are also needed for various metabolic processes and to boost immunity and thus, form an integral part of a balanced diet for kids. Calcium is very much needed by growing children and adolescents to achieve the right bone mass and strength. To get this mineral through diet, include foods such as milk and milk products, til, ragi, amaranth, paneer, etc.
So include loads of fresh fruits and vegetables in your kid’s diet to reap various nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, selenium, etc. You can even include health drinks to provide a balanced nutrition and also make sure your kid gets the daily dose of vitamins and minerals.
From today, make sure your kid’s diet is complete with all the essential nutrients for overall growth and development. Remember that a healthy diet and nutrition from a young age can help to lead a healthy and happy life in the future. So ensure your kid gets a proper and balanced diet either through natural food sources or through health supplements. A healthy diet for kids not only lays a strong foundation just for today but also for years to come. So eat healthy and stay healthy.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
1. Recommended Dietary Allowances And RDA Of Indians ( Icmr 2010) And Their Uses In Planning Diets.
2. Proteins. Nutrition Atlas. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Nutrition(NIN).
3. Bhutia DT. Protein energy malnutrition in India: the plight of our under five children. J Family Med Prim Care. 2014 Jan;3(1):63-7.
4. Fats. Nutrition Atlas. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Nutrition(NIN).
5. Diet for children and adolescents. Vikaspedia. National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).