We all want our children to feel good about themselves. To thrive both physically and mentally. How your child eats today will have an effect on their health, both now and in the future. You are what you eat is a popular mantra that rings true for all, especially in the first five years of life when children are growing at a phenomenal rate.
At times, it can be difficult to get little ones to eat the right foods, especially as we struggle to maintain a balanced diet as adults. One of the best ways to help stay on track with instilling healthy habits is a reminder of the benefits.
Why is nutrition important for early childhood education and development?
MIND: Nourish the brain
The brain uses more energy than any other organ in our body (more than 20% of our daily energy intake). Everything from learning, to memory and attentiveness, are affected by the foods we consume. Healthy eating in early childhood may even yield benefits that are only measurable later in life.
Young children, whose brains are rapidly developing, need a nutrient-dense diet to help them as they process the world around them. Without the right nutrients, toddlers and preschoolers might struggle to develop the skills to maintain concentration, which becomes increasingly important as they get older. The research is endless: fish, broccoli and berries are just a few foods shown to improve cognitive functions and memory. Conversely, ‘anti-nutrients’ such as refined sugar, bad fats and additives can negatively affect a child’s mind, even making them feel hazy and less focused.
Did you know, you can also help your children be happier through healthy eating? Nutrition has a direct effect on how children feel. Research shows the brain networks associated with controlling feeding are linked closely to emotion. Serotonin (which helps regulate sleep, appetite and moods) is mostly produced in the gut, meaning the digestive system also guides emotions.
BODY: Grow strong and live long
Children love to climb and run, the sunlight bouncing off them as they dig in the sand, nervously balance on a beam or throw themselves down a slide. Not only does a nutritious diet help these precious bodies grow strong, it improves their overall wellbeing.
The physical benefits of proper nutrition are endless: it gives children the energy to live life to the full, protects against malnourishment, maintains the immune system, prevents obesity and reduces the risk of chronic disease.
Some important nutrients for children include:
- Calcium strengthens bones. Found in milk, yoghurt and seeds.
- Protein builds muscles. Found in eggs, lean meats and cheese.
- Carbohydrates provide energy. Found in whole grain bread, potatoes and apples.
- Iron makes healthy blood. Found in legumes, lamb, spinach and quinoa.
- Essential fats help the body absorb other vitamins. Found in fish, avocados and nuts.
SPIRIT: Cook up healthy habits
As children grow and make choices, they can be overwhelmed by a confusing world that throws convenience and fast food at their feet. It is important to help children develop healthy habits that will make it easier for them to continue throughout life.
A simple meal can become a fun and exciting learning experience! From health education to culture and celebration, the opportunities are endless.
Here are 7 healthy and child-friendly habits you can begin to form:
- Keep snacks simple: a piece of fruit or handful of nuts
- Eat the rainbow! Create colourful plates with a variety of vegetables
- Involve little ones in cooking, even if they are just watching while you explain the process they are still learning
- Limit sugary drinks, including juices
- Take it slow: don’t rush mealtimes. It can be frustrating when children eat slowly, but this helps them assess their appetite and stop when full
- Do not punish a child for not eating, as it can develop a negative association. In some cases, they may feel the need to eat everything on their plate, thereby overeating and not listening to their bodies
- Avoid using food as a reward, as it can teach them to rely on it for comfort. Praise and encouragement, sometimes with a hug, can be enough reward for a child
At a basic level, most parents understand nutrition is important. Trying to implement this lifestyle can be challenging. Don’t lose heart if it’s a struggle, it’s never too late to make changes.
If your child is participating in an early childhood education program, ask about their menu. At Kids Club, healthy nutrition is one of our four key pillars. With hundreds of children in our care across centres in Sydney and Canberra, Kids Club knows how crucial it is for babies and children to stay fuelled on the right foods. We also recognise the importance of introducing a diverse range of delicious flavours to encourage good, healthy eating habits for the future.
That’s why Kids Club has partnered with global children’s food expert and bestselling international author (with 45 cookbooks to her name) Annabel Karmel to bring a wealth of expertise and cooking know-how to our centres.
Annabel Karmel has worked closely with the chefs at Kids Club to ensure mealtimes become a memorable, much-loved part of the day for children 0-5-year olds. Read more here about our exclusive partnership with Annabel Karmel.
If you want to learn more, book a tour of your closest Kids Club centre here.
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