Food is a basic need for all human beings. Both adults and children need the same kinds of nutrients — namely proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. However, the sheer number of available food options is enough to overwhelm even the most experienced parent. Sometimes, it can become difficult to identify healthy and unhealthy food for kids. Children specifically need certain nutrients in the right amounts at specific ages to ensure proper growth.
Healthy and Unhealthy Food for Kids
The following outlines the top healthy and unhealthy food for kids, and their benefits. This list is based on the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Take a look at this general list of healthy food for kids:
Seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, unsalted nuts, and seeds are great sources of protein, one of the body’s basic building blocks. Considered a macronutrient, protein is necessary for building up muscle mass and is a source of energy.
Train your child early on to eat different types of fruit, whether it be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruit. Fruit juice is acceptable but avoid sugary fruit juices. As much as possible, allow your child to drink 100% juice with no additives. Be mindful of the amount that your child eats, as some fruits can contribute extra calories and are high in sugar even when fresh.
- Veggies contain vitamins, minerals and fibers. They are also naturally low in calories. When feeding your child vegetables, be sure to provide variety: fresh, canned, frozen, or dried. Include dark green, and red and orange vegetables, as well as beans, peas, and starchy vegetables. When giving canned or frozen options, be conscious of the sodium content in each.
- Grains are an essential component of a healthy diet for your kid. Classified as carbohydrates, they are one of the ways the body gets energy. It is best to feed your child whole grains like whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, (unsalted) popcorn, quinoa, and brown or wild rice. Your child’s intake of refined grains like white bread, pasta, and white rice should be controlled.
- Dairy provides many vitamins and minerals, foremost of them calcium. Teach your child to eat and drink fat-free or low-fat dairy like milk, yogurt, cheese, and soy drinks.
The following are the things that constitute unhealthy foods for kids. Foods containing these should be limited as much as possible:
- Added sugar
There are naturally occurring sugars, which are found in fruits and milk. This is different from added sugar, which includes brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey, and the like.
- Saturated and trans fats
There are good fats and bad fats. Bad fats include saturated and trans fats. These come from animal sources such as red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy items. It is a good idea to find suitable alternatives to saturated fats, such as vegetable or nut oils, as these have fatty acids and vitamin E. There are also healthier fats in foods like olives, nuts, avocados, and seafood. Avoiding foods that have partially hydrogenated oil, like pastries, junk food, oily food, and fast food, can help you limit your child’s intake of trans fats.
Babies and young children have special nutritional needs, making it imperative to learn healthy and unhealthy food for kids. The World Health Organization prescribes that infants be breastfed exclusively for six months to two years. Complementary solid food can be introduced at six months of age.
Although it is widely known that balanced diets are essential for overall health, an unhealthy diet is one of the leading factors for disease, globally. One out of every three people experiences malnutrition. Much of the world’s population suffer from diet-related illnesses like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even cancer.
Healthy and Unhealthy Food for Children in the Philippines
The Department of Health Disease Prevention and Control Bureau has advised parents to refrain from feeding their children processed foods, which include instant noodles. This is considered one of the top unhealthy foods for kids because of its high sodium content and could affect children’s kidneys and result in hypertension. Healthy eating begins in early childhood and experts suggest that parents prepare meals ahead of time. Fast food should also be avoided as the food served in these restaurant chains are high in salt content.
The National Nutritional Council explained that because noodles are the most affordable food options for many Filipino urban households, they have convened food manufacturers and fast-food chains in a discussion to reformulate their products, reducing the unhealthy components to help scale up the government’s nutrition program. This is in accordance with UNICEF’s report in 2019 that Filipino children are highly malnourished.
Poor nutrition may adversely and irreversibly affect a child’s physical and mental development, ultimately affecting school performance and the ability to earn as an adult.
What Can We Do?
The American Heart Association (AHA) published the following recommendations for parents to implement when buying or preparing food for their children:
- Reduce added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks and juices
- Use canola, soybean, corn oil, safflower oil, or other unsaturated oils in place of solid fats during food preparation
- Use recommended portion sizes on food labels when preparing and serving food
- Use fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and fruits and serve at every meal; be careful with added sauces and sugar
- Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée
- Remove the skin from poultry before eating
- Use only lean cuts of meat and reduced-fat meat products
- Limit high-calorie sauces such as Alfredo, cream sauces, cheese sauces, and hollandaise
- Eat whole-grain breads and cereals rather than refined products; read labels and ensure that “whole grain” is the first ingredient on the food label of these products
- Eat more legumes (beans) and tofu in place of meat for some entrées
- Breads, breakfast cereals, and prepared foods, including soups, may be high in salt and/or sugar; read food labels for content and choose high-fiber, low-salt/low-sugar alternatives (AHA Pediatric Guidelines)
Parents should know the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods for kids. Certain foods brought into the home can be limited. Stores and restaurants that serve unhealthy food for kids can be avoided. Parents can also teach their kids to eat small but adequate portions, training them to self-regulate in terms of eating behavior.
Children’s eating behaviors are learned in early life. Babies can be given complementary food which is usually “disliked” in order to get them used to the tastes and textures at an early age. This is a good way to teach children healthy eating habits.
Socioeconomic status is a factor when it comes to discerning healthy and unhealthy food for kids. Parents who have high educational attainment are usually more aware of health issues and thus consume more healthy foods. Educational programs should be given to families that do not have this level of education available to them. The goal of promoting healthy eating habits goes hand-in-hand with other healthy habits such as encouraging exercise, reducing screen time, and getting enough sleep.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.