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What does it mean a balanced diet in the family?

balanced diet

I can tell you that introducing solids into my children diet has been a big relief. And this also brought up new questions:

Can toddlers and small children really eat the same as we eat?

Do we offer the right kind of food for them?

How can we provide them and for us, for the adult members of the family a balanced diet at the same time?

Food is one of the biggest adventures for a toddler and I really love watching my daughters discovering different flavours and textures at the table. Most of the time, this is funny, but there are frustrating moments too: when I spend long hours to prepare a lovely meal and they barely touch it – when they are asking something else without touching the food – or when they are just simply refuse to eat altogether.

As every mum, I too am worrying that they probably do not eat enough (they do), they eat too much unhealthy food like sweets (they do not) or they do not have the right kind of nutrients in the right proportion.

This concern is very normal I reckon, especially nowadays when healthy and balanced diet is much emphasised in the media. I remember, my mum was much more relaxed about our nutrition, she never counted the amount of vegetables per day consumed by us 🙂 But it is true, that all the food adverts, processed food, and other bad things did not concern us really. And all the consequences of our childhood diet wasn’t known then. However, we know now that a good nutrition is an investment into our and our children’s health.

The building blocks of a balanced diet

 

We hear a lot, how important a balanced diet is, but what is it in reality? And how can find that balance?

A good balanced diet mean that all food groups – carbohydrates, protein and fat are present in our diet. This means that we eat raw and cooked vegetables, raw, dried and cooked fruits, lean red and white meat (or alternatives), fish, poultry, pulses, nuts, eggs, dairy products, grains, rice, bread, cereals, pasta. A balanced and varied diet can provide all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals what our bodies need.

Adults

An average adult’s diet contains about 47-50% carbohydrates, 15% protein, 33-35% fat and 0-5% alcohol. We do not need to measure all food and count the calories in every meal – this would be impossible anyway. However, it’s good to know what is the right proportion on our plate and what are the serving sizes.

You can read more on the right balance on your plate here.

balanced diet

 

The key points in a balanced diet:

Contain food from all food groups

It is not a good idea to exclude food or an entire food group (like carbohydrates) out of your diet. Do not cut nutritious food from your diet unless you are diagnosed with a particular health complaint which needs such a restricted diet.

Variety

Eat different sources of the main food groups, this ensures that you will get all the micronutrients – minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients – what you need.

Portion sizes

Even if you can include nearly everything into your diet, watch the portion sizes. Some food needs to be limited in our diet like saturated fat or sugar.

Fluid intake

I cannot emphasise this enough, – as we are prone to forget that the right amount of fluid is part of a healthy diet.

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Toddlers and small children

Toddlers and small children are not mini-adults, their nutritional needs are different.

Toddler’s stomach is 5 times smaller than an adult’s stomach, that’s why it is so important to offer them regular smaller nutrient-dense meals throughout the day: 3 main meals and 2-4 smaller snack. 3 main meals and 2 snacks would be recommended for adults too. A small snack between main meals help us to regulate the blood sugar level and to maintain a healthy weight (or even to lose weight).

You can read more on why snacking is so important here:

15+1 NO-CARB SNACK IDEAS FOR BUSY MUMS

Toddlers’ plate is a bit different, they should eat starchy food (potato, pasta, bread, rice) 5 toddler portions a day, fruit and veg should be offered 4-5 times a day, milk

  • Starchy food (potato, pasta, bread, rice) 5 toddler portions a day, fruit and veg should be offered 4-5 times a day, milk
  • Fruit and veg should be offered 4-5 times a day, milk
  • Milk, cheese and yoghurt 3 times a day
  • Meat, fish, nuts and pulses 2-3 times a day
  • And just a small amount of food high in fat.

Balanced diet - toddler nutrition

 

You can read more on toddlers’ diet here:

www.infantandtoddlerforum.org

 

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Toddlers’ diet compared to adults’ diet

So what to watch when you are planning meals for the adults and children in the family?

More fats

While fats make 30-35% of an adults daily calorie intake, toddlers need much more fat in proportion in their diet. The fat content of breast milk is around 50%  and this reduces in the diet of pre-school children’s diet gradually to 30-35% by age 5. It is important to limit saturated fat in toddlers diet too – just like in adults’ diet – , and offer them different sources of fats: like oily fish, oily vegetables, vegetable oils: olive oil, sunflower, rapeseed oil.

Less fibre

What is really important for an adult – high fibre intake, not so good for small children. Fruits and vegetables are important. However, toddlers’ digestive system cannot deal with large amounts of high fibre food. They usually tend to be chewy and children cannot break them up properly, so minerals and vitamins cannot absorb properly. They also fill up children quickly and they finish the meal before getting the right amount of nutrients.

More protein

Toddlers need relatively more protein: while adults need 0.75g protein per kg body weight, pre-school children need 1g protein per kg body weight.  We can offer them a varied source of protein like meat, poultry, fish, beans and pulses, bread, rice, nut butter, tofu.

Less sugar

We all know that sugar need to be limited in small children’s diet, so sweets and chocolate obviously need to remain only treats. Usually, the hidden sugar is what causes problems: it is there not just in sweet drinks and food (like juices, squash or biscuits) but in savoury foods as well like bread and processed food.

Less salt

Toddler’s kidneys can not cope with the large intake of salt. We have to reduce salt in home-made food using spices and herbs instead. we also need to avoid high-salt content ready made food, salty snacks and salty cheeses.howe

Avoid food containing artificial colouring, flavouring, preservatives

These should be avoided by adults too, but it is really important to cut them from children’s diet. These food additives can trigger allergies and some of them are linked to behavioural problems in children. They are not allowed to be in baby and toddler foods but they are very often present in adult food. So think about this before offering adult food to your children.

Fluid needs

Small children’s fluid intake needs more attention as they can get dehydrated more easily. Their body cannot cope with very hot condition and their body temperature regulation is different from adults: they sweat less, they get hotter during exercise than adults, and they do not recognise or respond to feeling of thirst. So it is really important to offer them water regularly.

How comes all these together in family meals?

I think, this is the most important question because we are not scientists but busy mums. We must be able to put a balanced diet into practice every day.

Probably it looks complicated, but it is not really, it is possible to put together meals which deliver all the needed nutrients to everyone. The first step towards a balanced diet is planning our meals ahead. You can read more on Family Meal Planning here.

The other important step is to bring our diet closer to a healthier standard – for instance reducing salt and artificial additives in our food.

All sounds very simple, isn’t?

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