Food is a celebration – it creates joy, laughter, conversation and community. The experience of having a meal together, sharing plates of homemade goodies, lively conversations and family traditions – this should be a daily occurrence in a household, and it nourishes the body and the soul. Nutrition for children is so important as they go through so much learning and development, so we also need to ensure that these meals are packed with nutrients.
Creating a nourishing, balanced diet does not need to be complicated, and I believe that first we need to educate ourselves about nutrition. I am frustrated about how little we learn about food at most schools, so here is a quick recap of the very basics:
A quick lesson on macronutrients:
- Protein is essential to every cell and every body function. I cannot stress the importance enough for a child’s diet, as so much physical growth and brain development happens. Good sources of protein include organic, grass fed meat, small types of fish, free range eggs, dairy such as yoghurt and cheese, legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, and glorious nuts and seeds. Aim for some protein (either animal or plant based or both) at each main meal, and incorporate some into snacks as well.
- Fats are fantastic, and they play a huge role particularly in baby’s nervous system and brain development. Previously demonized, research is now showing how important it is to include a range of good quality, healthy fats into the diet. Great examples include coconut oil, coconut cream, butter, avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil and whole fat dairy. Again, make sure baby gets some good fats with every meal. Fats to strictly avoid: margarine, fatty cuts of meat, and any processed foods that contain added oils or transfats.
- Carbohydrates are our main source of energy, and again very important for growing babies and children. They should be largely wholefoods, unprocessed and unrefined, meaning vegetables, fruit and wholegrains. When using flours, choose less refined and unbleached variations. Avoid white bread, sugar, processed snacks and cereals (or really anything that comes in a colourful box!). Unfortunately I believe that this is where the standard western diet is getting it somewhat wrong – from a young age there is an emphasis on carbohydrate heavy meals and snacks, particularly wheat based breads, pasta, sandwiches, cereals, cakes, biscuits and bars. Reducing that reliance on refined carbs and from the beginning opting for whole, unprocessed vegetables and fruit will set up healthy eating habits for life!
All in all, I believe that creating a balanced diet isn’t complicated. With each meal, think of each macro food group, and incorporate foods and ingredients that are as close to nature as possible. If you shop fresh, you will cook fresh. If it comes in a colourful box and was made by a factory, our digestive system wasn’t meant to handle it.
The key is lots of variety, lots of colour, and lots of flavour, just as nature intended it. Keep it simple and base your meals around beautiful seasonal vegetables. By having a largely plant based wholefood diet you are ticking all the boxes in terms of nutrition for your family. And without even having to think about it, you are ensuring intake of all the great micronutrients, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and enzymes required for all-round good health
Starting with this awesome foundation creates a wonderful, varied and nutritious diet, which then even has room for the occasional treat. The whole family will benefit from this approach!
And for some great, balanced and nourishing recipes that your babies and toddlers will love, have a look here.