There is so much information out there about nutrition, telling us what is good and bad. It’s like you need a university degree to know what to feed your kids! (That’s a little joke, because that’s what I did.) And I’m here to break it down for you. Into simple manageable chunks. My top 5 nutrients all kids need.
This is not about food intolerance, it’s just about the key ingredients for a healthy diet for your little ones.
Then in a few weeks, I’ll give you some tips and tricks for fussy eaters, and how to de-stress dinner time.
There is no need for us to feel bad as parents. We are learning too, and each day, we get a little bit better at the hardest job we’ve ever had. No need to put extra pressure on ourselves. Just some simple guidance, so you are well informed about what’s good and what’s not. No guilt, just helpful advice and a don’t-stress attitude (which I am personally still working on!).
So, top 5 nutrients for our kids? Here we go!
Top 5 Nutrients 1. Iron
Even the GP will tell you about this one 😉
The quickest way to see if you or your kids are iron deficient, is to check the colour inside their bottom eyelid (just gently pull it down. Probably tell them first). If it’s pink, they’re good, if it’s really pale, they’re deficient.
Signs and symptoms to watch out for include poor concentration, being Irritable or nervous, tired and pale, some behavioural problems, maybe hair loss or spots on the tongue. These signs can be easily confused with food intolerance, as discussed many times on this blog. So really check the conjunctiva of the eye (as explained above) and if it’s pale, get to the GP for a blood test.
Iron is not just in red meat. Chicken on the bone has plenty too. You can increase absorption by eating iron-rich foods with vitamin C foods, such as kiwi, pineapple, broccoli, citrus, capsicum or cabbage. Liver (as in pate) is a good source, as is shellfish.
Vegetarian sources include green leafy veg, tomato paste, lentils and beans and dried apricots.
Top 5 Nutrients 2. Protein
This can go hand-in-hand with iron deficiency. Not enough protein can lead to muscle wasting, so it’s important to try and include a little serving at each meal of the day.
Some kids prefer pasta and rice to meat and fish, as it’s easier to eat, so try other sources. Nuts and seeds are a good source, and are easily added to breakfast or afternoon tea with a piece of fruit. Legumes (beans, lentils) are another easy source, and make a simple, quick meal with salad and pasta, or add them to curries and Bolognese sauce. Don’t forget fish – try crumbed for a tastier version that’s more like chicken.
Whole grains are also a source, so try whole oats (not quick), quinoa, brown or basmati rice, barley or buckwheat – not just whole wheat!
Eggs and cheese are great too, and usually a popular choice if your kids can tolerate them.
Top 5 Nutrients 3. Vitamin D
Why are we all vitamin D deficient? Well, we don’t really get out in the sun anymore, unless we’re covered in suncream. It’s a shame, because vitamin D is essential for transporting calcium into bones – STRONG BONES NEED SUNSHINE.
Babies are born deficient if their mum was deficient during pregnancy, so it’s important for us all to get out in the sun together on the weekends. Don’t get burnt, but let some sunshine in!
Seafood and eggs are also sources. Good gut function is required to synthesise vitamin D, so if your kids have bloating, constipation, tummy pains or diarrhoea, come to me and I’ll help get their guts healthy again.
Top 5 Nutrients 4. Calcium
We all know where to get calcium, don’t we? Dairy, right? It’s what the dairy industry has been telling us for years, so it must be true.
Well actually, there is some research that shows that the acidity of dairy actually leaches calcium out of our bones. Whether that is true or not, many can’t tolerate dairy, so where do we get it?
Luckily, there are many other sources. A healthy dairy-free diet can contain plenty of calcium, but don’t forget Vitamins D and K (sunshine and green leafy veg) to ensure the calcium is transported to our bones, and weight bearing exercise, to keep it there.
Try a handful of almonds or spoon of tahini, salmon with crushed bones, some legumes or tofu, peas, broccoli or other leafy green, seaweed (snacks or sushi) and some orange and you’ve got more than your daily serving.
If your kids are intolerance to some of these foods, try sheep and goat dairy instead. It is far less processed and much easier to digest.
Top 5 Nutrients 5. Essential Fatty Acids
We need fats for healthy skin, hair, and the mucous membranes that line our gut, lungs and nose, and keep our immune system functioning well.
The tricky thing with fats is knowing which are the good ones and which are not. So here goes, essential fatty acids, 101.
You’ve heard that omega-3’s are good, I’m sure. That is your fish, flaxseeds and walnuts, and they are anti-inflammatory.
I’m sure you’re also familiar with the monounsaturated fats (Omega 9) of olive oil and avocado. Right again, tick!
Then it gets more complicated. Saturated fats are now good (yay, roast dinners!). Think coconut oil (lovely medium-chain fatty acids that are good for our guts and stay stable when heated). Even butter is back (the fancy organic, grass-fed kind, if you can tolerate it).
It is now the polyunsaturated, omega 6 fats (think vegetable oil) that are bad, because they are inflammatory and WE EAT WAY TOO MUCH of them. They have been sneaking into our products for decades, making us sick and fat.
The very worst kind of fat, that you’ve probably heard of too, is trans fat – REALY BAD!
Trans fats are made when liquid fats (oils) are ‘hydrogenated’ or made solid (ie. margarine). This was done decades ago to make an alternative to butter. Unfortunately, we now know, that trans fats are strongly linked to heart disease, diabetes and poor health. Yet, they are still added to many processed foods, like cakes, biscuits, salad dressings, frozen foods and the ‘butter’ on microwave popcorn.
1. Eat some fresh food everyday
a. Add a side salad
b. Offer veggie sticks as an afternoon snack or while you’re cooking dinner (when kids are hungry, they’ll eat whatever is on offer)
c. Make funny faces out of your fruit and veg
d. Use lettuce as a wrap
e. Tried fried cauliflower with eggs, peas and a little bacon
a. Roast veggies instead of frozen chips
b. Grilled chicken instead of chicken nuggets
c. Crumbed fish instead of fish fingers
d. Make pizzas at home, on wraps
3. Balance meals and snacks (don’t just leave veggies till dinner time. That equals stress!)
a. some protein
b. some carbs (wholegrains, veggies or fruit)
c. some fresh veggies or fruit
d. some good fats
4. Learn to read labels
a. Avoid anything with more than 0% trans fat, or any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated anything on the ingredients list
b. Limit ‘numbers’ – aim for few ingredients, and words you understand, not chemical names (if you don’t recognise a word, it is not a food)
c. Don’t eat many things with sugar in the first few ingredients, or more than 5 or 10% sugar (I always look at the per 100g column)
If you eat like this most of the time, there is room for snacks and treats. Think of the 80/20 rule. Eat healthy, whole foods 80% of the time, and eat what you like 20% of the time. This rule can be applied to kids too, which can save you many battles! Enjoy your food and your family time, get some sunshine and keep it fresh!