Healthy Meal Plans for Kids | Balanced Meal Plan for Infants, Toddlers, Children
Use the Food Pyramid as a guide to planning your family's meals, but remember the number of daily helpings from each food group are guidelines only rather than set rules.
Appetites can vary a lot from day to day, so don't worry if your child doesn't always eat the suggested number of portions a day, or sometimes wants only very small helpings. It's the overall balance over the week that's more important.
Balanced Meal Plan:
Young babies should obtain all their nourishment from breast (or formula) milk. A baby in this age range who is hungry probably needs more milk, rather than solids. If you're breastfeeding and your baby is hungry, boost your milk supply to meet his needs simply by feeding more often, and for longer at each feed. Do this for two or three days and you should have plenty again. If your baby is extra hungry it may indicate he or she is going through a 'growth spurt'.
Some babies may start weaning at four months. See Introducing Solid Foods to Babies
If you are introducing solids for the first time, follow the guidelines on Introducing Solid Foods to Babies. If your baby is already taking solids, gradually increase the frequency over the weeks and months to three mini-meals daily, spaced as evenly as possible throughout the day. Build on the flavors your baby already enjoys and introduce simple combinations with new flavors too.
Be guided by your baby's preferences and don't hurry him. Too many flavors in quick succession may completely put him off the idea of solids. Aim to increase his solid foods gradually and maintain regular milk feeds.
Once your baby is happily eating different vegetables, try introducing ones with a slightly stronger flavor, such as parsnips, leeks and sweet pepper, but use small quantities to begin with and mix them with familiar, blander vegetables.
You can offer your baby a wider variety of fruit, including raw avocado, papaya, banana and melon. Offer new fruits one at a time until you know your baby likes them. You can then try combining fruits - perhaps a little cooked apple with some banana, or melon with pear.1 Papaya may sound a little exotic for a baby, but once it has been peeled and the seeds removed, it blends to a wonderfully smooth, vibrant orange puree. As it contains the enzyme papain, it is also very easy for a baby to digest.
While many vegetables no longer need sieving, fruits with skins, such as apricots and plums, need cooking and sieving. For a baby who doesn't seem keen on fruit, mix equal quantities of fruit puree and baby rice for a milder, milkier flavor.
Your baby's natural store of iron will now be exhausted, so it's important to include sufficient iron in the diet. A baby's appetite is small and his growth rate high, so it's also vital to provide foods that are a concentrated source of nutrients. Meals may now be thicker smooth purees, moving on to finely mashed or minced meals when your baby is ready.
Once your baby is having solids three times a day, aim to include:
Give an older baby 'finger foods' - foods to hold and suck on or chew. Many six-months-olds like to try holding food, and by eight or nine months they can cope very well. Try a large wedge of peeled raw fruit, such as an apple or rusks made from baked slices of whole meal bread.
Food Allergies in Kids
If you have a family history of food allergies or related allergies, such as asthma or eczema, you may be advised to avoid giving your baby dairy products and eggs until much later. Avoid nuts until a child is three years. See also Food Allergies in Babies, Infants, Toddlers, Kids and Children.
Foods to Avoid for Allergic Kids
By now, your baby may be happy to progress to slightly lumpier food, especially if she has a few milk teeth, but be guided by her. Some babes hate lumps of any kind, while others are ready to try lots of new tastes and textures. The most important thing at this stage is to offer variety. If the diet is very limited now, then it can be difficult to encourage children to try novel foods later on.
New Foods to Try
Small portions of well-cooked and mashed frozen peas, dried split peas and chickpeas may now be offered. Provided that an allergy is not a consideration, smooth nut and seed butters can be introduced; simply grind lightly toasted hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower or sesame seeds, then blend to a paste with little vegetable or sunflower oil.
Your child's repertoire of fish and meat can be extended by offering small amounts of oily fish, but always be extremely vigilant about checking for any bones. However, fish canned in brine should be avoided as it is too salty to be safe for a small child. If using small quantities of pulses, you may prefer to use canned beans for convenience; choose a variety without added salt or sugar. Canned tomatoes are also a good store-cupboard ingredient, but use them sparingly as they can be too acidic for young children. Whole eggs may now be used, but make sure they are cooked until both the yolk and white are firm.
If you and your family eat a balanced diet and feed your child what you all eat, you won't go far wrong, as long as you cut out added salt and use very little added sugar.
A 9-12 month baby can be offered the following each day:
Foods to Avoid:
Once your child is on the move, she can be incredibly active. While her energy and protein requirements are high in relation to her size, her appetite may be very small and it can be difficult to meet these dietary needs from just three main meals a day. Healthy but small snacks - those not laden with sugar or salt - can make all the difference. Choose from the following suggestions:
When your baby is one year old, milk will probably still be providing at least half of the calories and nourishment needed each day, and perhaps much more, because not all one-year-olds are eager to eat much in the way of solids.
From now on, the solids you give at breakfast, lunch and tea can gradually begin to take over from milk as the main source of nourishment, though milk will continue to be an important food for several years in most children.
If you are breastfeeding, you can give some full-fat cow's milk as well if you like. If you are bottle-feeding, you can give your baby full-fat cow's milk instead of formula milk now. Cow's milk is fairly low in iron, so if your child is bottle-fed and slow to take to solids, favor iron-rich foods and ask the doctor whether an iron supplement would be a good idea. Breast milk is richer in iron, so iron-deficiency anaemia is unlikely to occur in breastfed one-year-olds who don't yet eat many solids.
Breakfast, lunch and supper are the main meals of the day, though many over-ones prefer to eat five or more smaller meals each day. This is easy if you give a snack mid-morning and at teatime, and perhaps a bedtime snack too (see the important of snacks). One advantage of 'grazing' is that a child doesn't get irritable through hunger between meals. 'Grazing' also works for a child who is 'put-off' by large meals.
Make sure you give your child enough foods containing calcium, iron and vitamins, and avoid too many foods that contain added salt and sugar.
Most nutritionists regard breakfast as the most important meal of the day as it provides fuel and nutrients for the whole body, including the brain. A well balanced, filling breakfast keeps a child going and, perhaps with a small top-up from a mid-morning snack, prevents a late-morning energy slump.
This should be well balanced, and quite substantial, as it may have to provide nutrients and energy to last for some hours.
This meal can be smaller than the other main meals. Some children sleep better after a supper that's rich in carbohydrate, but not so rich in protein. Any sort of pasta dish is an excellent choice.
Try to make these 'mini meals' nutritious. Avoid sugary cakes and biscuits or fatty, salty crisps. Instead, offer fresh or dried fruit, or perhaps vegetable sticks with a dip, a small sandwich or a smoothie.
A 1-3-year-old can be offered the following each day:
Be relaxed about your child's food intake, because he or she will readily pick up any anxiety on your part.
As your baby grows into a toddler, try to offer the same balanced diet as the rest of the family eats. Toddlers shouldn't live on 'nursery food' - bland, smooth, 'white' foods - though like kids of all ages, they may enjoy them from time to time.
Young children usually eat better if they are in company, where the attention isn't focused solely on what and how much they eat. So aim for you and your toddler - or the whole family - to eat together whenever possible, and use the time for listening to and learning about each other.
Trust your child to eat what he or she needs. There's every reason to suppose this will happen, provided you don't offer too much food laden with sugar and fat. Never force a child to eat, but don't compensate half an hour afterwards by offering a 'junk-food' snack, high in calories, sugar and/or fat, but with relatively few other nutrients, or the lesson will be that refusing a meal means he or she can then have 'junk food'. Give a healthy snack instead. There's nothing wrong with junk food occasionally, but too much on a regular basis can lead to bad moods and behavior problems, being overweight and nutritional deficiencies.
Nutrition for School Children
A good breakfast helps a child to stay full of energy, and learn well. Choosing what to give your child to take to school for a mid-morning snack can be a challenge because children often want what others are eating. So if this happens to be 'junk' food, they'll probably want a chocolate bar, rather than something more nutritious. For a young child, try making your healthy 'break' look attractive - perhaps by wrapping it up in shiny cellophane.
Many school children are very active and need the sort of food and drink that will help keep them full of energy. So for breakfast, break and lunch, include some foods that supply a steady source of slow-release energy, such as bananas, Oat and Apple Muffins or Carrot Cakes.
Each day, aim to offer:
Also, each week, include:
Nutrition for Vegetarian and Vegan Children
If your child is vegetarian, offer plenty of foods containing iron and vitamin B12, as these are the nutrients most likely to be lacking. Also, offer any two of the following three food groups each day:
If your child is a vegan, check with your doctor that her diet is nutritionally adequate and whether there is a need for any supplement - for example, of vitamin B12. Zen macrobiotic and fruitarian diets are unsuitable for young children.
A Healthy Baby Weight
It's normal for many young children to be a little plump. A few, though, are too plump. And a few are too thin. If necessary a doctor can plot your child's weight on a chart. If the weight is very high or low - or if it's quickly heading that way - you should be concerned.
Children naturally tend to become more streamlined as they approach five years. However, older children are more likely to be heavy if they have overweight parents. So if your child has a weight problem and you do too, do something about yourself before focusing on them. Your example of healthy eating and exercising may do more to help your overweight child than anything else.