Keep your kids away from JUNCS for a happy, healthy life

A balanced diet is key to healthy development in kids! An expert explains how a balanced diet can benefit your children.
balanced diet
Ensure that your child is eating a balanced diet! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Ipsita Chakravarti Published: 20 Oct 2021, 20:42 pm IST
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When describing children, you are most probably to use terms such as naughty, energetic, and fearless among many others. While it is their nature to be exuberant, good nutrition can help provide them with a solid boost of energy! Not just that, what children eat today can tell you a lot about their future health.

But nutrition can be a double-edged sword, as both under or over nutrition can be particularly bad for a child’s growth and development. There is a worrying trend of Indian children consuming fat-laden fast foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages such as fruit juices, and carbonated drinks among others. These foods and drinks provide empty calories and increase the risk among kids to become overweight and obese, or to develop dental issues and allergies.

Ensure your kids are consuming a balanced diet. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Worrying dietary trends amongst children

As per a survey by Centre for Science and Environment, 1/4th of the pre-school children eat ultra-processed food high in fat, salt, or sugar. These foods include pizza, burgers, soft drinks, and potato chips.

In fact, so grave is the problem that the Indian Academy of Pediatrics has coined an acronym for such unhealthy foods. It is called JUNCS:

J: Junk foods
U: Ultra-processed foods
N: Nutritionally inappropriate foods
C: Caffeinated/coloured/carbonated foods/beverages
S: Sugar-sweetened beverages

As parents, the secret is to serve delicious yet nutrient-rich foods and beverages, for every meal they consume. These foods should be low on fat and sugars. When a child’s tummy is filled up with the right kind of meals, there will be less room for eating nutritionally poor foods such as candy, desserts, and french fries. A balanced diet will help you nourish your child.

Eating a balanced diet can ensure your child stays healthy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Why do children need a balanced diet?

A balanced diet provides quality nutrients by including different foods in adequate quantities. By providing your child with a balanced diet, you are ensuring they get all the essential nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fats, and carbohydrates.

Nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D are important to fuel the rapid increase in bone strength and growth in pre-schoolers. Iron and omega-3 fats are needed for brain development, minerals like zinc and selenium are needed for immune system development. A balanced diet can easily provide all the growth nutrients, protecting your child from malnutrition, and various lifestyle diseases in the future.

Build your child’s plate to promote healthy eating habits

Parents know about the importance of a balanced diet but could face difficulties in putting it to practice. Here are a few tips on how a balanced diet should look on your preschooler’s plate:

  • Start by filling half of your child’s plate with vegetables of various different colours. Potatoes and French fries may not make the cut here, so go for options such as spinach and broccoli.
  • Choose beans, dals, sprouted pulses, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, and poultry for protein. This should be occupying one-fourth of the plate. As a precaution, limit the portion of red meat (mutton, beef, or pork) as it has a high-fat content.
  • Go for whole grains such as whole wheat or multigrain bread, whole wheat pasta, oats, or millet-based foods. They give essential fibre to your child and should occupy the remaining one-fourth portion of the plate.
  • Searching for a snack? Always reach for different fruits. Consider cutting them in enticing ways for your child. Cut whole fruits should be preferred over fruit juice.
  • Limit the use of butter and use healthy oils for cooking your food.
  • Thirsty? Give your child a glass of unflavoured low fat milk or water. Milk provides calcium, vitamin D, and protein.
Nutritious meals can ensure the physical and mental well-being of your child. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Kids being kids, would ask for sugary treats and drinks. These foods should not be made a regular feature of their diet.

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How to boost absorption of nutrients?

Toddlers and pre-schoolers require higher nutrients than adults to help with growth and development. But getting nutrients for toddlers and pre-schoolers is no cakewalk. Firstly, getting your pre-schooler to eat everything that is served to them can be difficult, as picky eating is very common. Secondly, even if you serve the most nutritious dishes and your child eats them gladly, there is no way to ensure that the nutrients are getting absorbed.

It then becomes important to pair nutrients to maximize absorption.

  • Vitamin D is needed to absorb and use calcium
  • Vitamin C improves utilization of iron
  • Vitamin E can help with omega-3 fat absorption

Adding prebiotics has been shown to improve absorption. Prebiotics are naturally found in bananas, onions, beets, and garlic.

It is important to have a consultation to understand if your child needs supplementation. The diet should suit your child’s health goals.

So, we understand that kids should be kids, and that’s why they should play hard, work hard, and eat healthy! Remember the foundation for the future is set in childhood.

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About the Author

Ipsita Chakravarti is the HOD of the Dietetics department at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI). ...Read More

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