mother-child-cookingA healthy, balanced diet for your child will enhance their growth and development. A balanced diet also provides all the necessary nutrients a child needs to be their best at home, in school, or during their extracurricular activities. Children who eat a healthy breakfast for example, invariably perform better in school, in tests, and will eat less junk food for the rest of the day. Our eating habits are established early in life. Children must consume fruits and vegetables, otherwise they may lack important nutrients later in life. For example, girls who do not drink milk as children may suffer from osteoporosis once they get to the menopause.

Nutritional deficiencies can cause hyperactivity and depression. A child who is deficient in iron may have behavioural or learning difficulties. A healthy diet in childhood is the key to future mental and physical health. Eating the wrong types of foods that don't provide the nutrients your child so desperately needs can lead to diabetes, obesity, ADHD or Autism.

Improving your child's diet does not have to be difficult. Little changes will soon make a big difference. Here are 10 ways to remove junk from your child's diet.

1. Don't Have It in the House

You can remove all temptation by ensuring that you don't buy junk food or stock it in your cupboards. Start by going through your kitchen and throwing out any existing supplies and then limit what you buy new. If it isn't there, your kids will eat something else instead.

2. Plan the Week's Meals

When you go shopping, make a list based on your plan and stick to it. That forethought will actually save you a huge number of calories. Buy all the ingredients you need at once and if you have the time, prepare meals at the weekend so that your weekday evenings go a little smoother.

As an added bonus, why not let your children help when preparing their meals? This will give you the opportunity to educate them further and at the same time, help them to become familiar with the ingredients that go into their meal.

3. Swap the Junk for Healthy Alternatives

You need to recognise that there are certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients that kids need in their diet if they are to grow up healthily. They particularly need calcium for example, but many dairy products contain saturated fat which in the long run is thought to cause heart disease. Perhaps avoid full-fat dairy and supply your kids with healthier low fat alternatives, such as yoghurts, cheese and milk.

If your kids are pestering you for junk try finding alternatives. You can stuff pitta bread with all sorts of fillings or even create pizzas with it. Make some homemade burgers using mince and finely diced onion.

4. Give Your Children a Choice

Choice is empowering and can really help change your child's eating habits. For example, you can ask your family to choose between certain vegetables to go with their main meal: carrots, beans, broccoli or cabbage? If they have made the choice themselves they will enjoy eating the vegetables. Similarly, try taking your children shopping with you and let them choose which healthy snacks and foods they would like.

5. Be Careful of What Kids Drink

Never forget that sugary beverages and fizzy drinks contain obscene amounts of sugar. One can of fizz can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar. If you wouldn't let your children put that on their cereal, why would you let them drink it all in one go? Check out the nutritional information on juice bottles too because they often fare little better. Pay particular attention to E numbers. If you're unsure about an ingredient and the effects it may have on your child's behaviour, search online for information.

6. Bigger Is Not Better

It is possible to gain weight from eating healthy food and this is because quite often children are eating too much, it's as simple as that. Children sized portions in fast food restaurants are generous and full of fat and sugar, and restaurants often serve large portions of even healthy food. All food has calories so if you eat lots of it you will still put on weight. Ensure that your children are eating child size portions. If you think the portion of food in a restaurant is too big, remove some of it before your child starts to eat.

7. Don't Eat It All Up

In a similar vein, don't insist that your child cleans their plate. They should eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. If you insist that they eat what you think is right for them they will get used to eating larger portions.

8. Stay Away from Fried Foods

Teach your children early that fried foods are not good for them. If you are away from home, in a restaurant for example, choose grilled or baked options instead. If you always serve healthy options at home your children will be used to that and will not crave fried food. If your children do have cravings for fried food, you can usually substitute their favourites, chicken or fish etc. and either grill or bake it.

9. Make Sure Your Child Is Exercising

Your child may be more of a bookworm than a future Olympic star, but any movement that you can encourage your child to do will be helpful. Take the whole family out for walks and rambles, or cycle rides. Try parking further away from your destination so that you all have to walk. Walk to school. Take the stairs. Use any excuse to get more exercise.

10. Allow Treats Occasionally

There are always going to be times that you can't prevent children eating junk food or treats, particularly at Easter or Christmas. Try to limit it to particular days or occasions. Let them eat whatever they want, but in reasonable amounts.

Image credit: choreograph / 123RF Stock Photo

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