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Get your children eating healthily

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Getting children to eat healthily can have its challenges - from fussy eaters to finding time to prepare meals rather than firing up the microwave.

The fact is you don't need to be a TV cook to feed your children well, and keep them happy and healthy. All you need to do is remember these basics:

Kids need calories for energy and growth - more if they are skinny, less if they are prone to piling on weight.

Carbohydrates such as root vegetables (potato, sweet potato), pasta, rice and bread are good sources of carbohydrate that provide sustained energy.

Children also need protein for growth and repair of muscles, organs and tissues - especially during growth spurts. Choose protein foods low in saturated fats such as lean beef, skinless chicken, lean pork, white and oily fish. Pulses like baked beans, red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, peas and lentils are great low fat, high fibre protein sources as well.

Fat is crucial for energy, growth and body development. Up to the age of 5 children need a little more fat than adults do. Choose unsaturated fats over saturates - use olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils and spreads instead of butter, and in the form of oily fish for omega-3s, plant oils and nuts and seeds. Avoid whole nuts and seeds until children are over the age of 5 because of the risk of choking. For fussy eaters, there are good fats in peanut butter, or try dipping vegetable sticks into hummus made from chickpeas and olive oil.

Tickle their taste buds

Try to get your children eating a wide range of foods by the age of two - research shows that they are more willing to experiment up to this age. It’s common for young children to be wary of unfamiliar foods and tastes. Remember that whilst adults may enjoy spicy or flavoursome foods, children may be put off by strong tasting foods, so start with just a little use of spring onions, garlic or herbs to add flavour interest. Ensure variety by offering foods in season. In summer, try baby carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, and fingers of cucumber.

If your child’s experienced frequent middle- ear infections by the age of 3, it may not be their fault if they dislike the fruits and vegetables other children seem to enjoy. The glossopharyngeal nerve that carries taste information from the back of the tongue to the brain passes close to the ear, and frequent ear infections in the early years may damage this nerve, influencing taste perceptions.

Some children, like adults, are ‘supertasters’. Supertasters have the ability to taste bitterness in foods even at low concentration, making cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage taste unpleasantly bitter. It’s easy to have a healthy diet without this group of vegetables, but if you want to persevere, serve small amounts with other strong flavours - such as a small floret of cauliflower served with cheese sauce.

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