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An increasing number of families are looking to do a better job of watching what they eat. Busy parents and full lives often open the door to convenience food, and you can make the argument that a fed child is always the best outcome, even if that means chicken nuggets and apple slices are on the menu.
Preparing wholesome meals does not have to be difficult. A meal only needs to meet a few very simple markers to have a solid nutritional foundation.
Keeping an appropriate balance of macronutrients while eliminating some of the things you don’t need, like added sugar, is a quick and easy approach to providing a simple and balanced meal that the whole family can enjoy together.
Macro means big, and macronutrients are the three main staples of a balanced meal. There are both healthy and less healthy forms of each macronutrient. Choosing wholesome versions and serving them in an appropriate amount is the base of a well-balanced dinner plate.
Protein helps the body build and grow, as it supports muscle growth and repair. Every form of tissue in the body requires some type of protein for maintenance and sustenance.
Protein comes from most animal-derived products, including dairy. Beans, soy, lentils, and nuts are also high in protein. Some grains contain small amounts of protein. A single cup of chopped chicken contains 38 grams of protein, which is more than most children would need in an entire day. Half a cup of pinto beans contains about 20 grams of protein.
Between 10% and 30% of your daily caloric intake should come from protein. Needs vary according to your level of activity. The only people who need more than 30% of their caloric intake from protein are people who routinely lift heavy weights in an attempt to gain mass.
A lot of people place emphasis on protein. You’ll often see protein shakes, supplements, powders, and bars everywhere you go, giving the impression that it’s nearly impossible to get enough protein without help. This is very far from the truth.
Children between the ages of 4 and 9 only need about 19 total grams of protein per day, and children from 9 to 13 need about 34 grams. Excessive protein intake can lead to weight gain and other serious health conditions. There’s no need to incorporate more protein than the necessary minimum into your child’s diet unless your pediatrician recommends that you do so.
Carbohydrates have a bad reputation without a significant reason. They’re the body’s primary source of energy, and they’re necessary for healthy bodily function. Carbohydrates can help your body to utilize certain protein building blocks. Fiber is a carbohydrate, and it’s necessary to help the body produce regular bowel movements.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars, with added table sugar being the least nutritionally beneficial simple carbohydrate.
Fruits also contain simple sugar carbohydrates, but they also deliver vitamins and minerals at the same time. They’re a well-balanced way to enjoy simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates contain complex sugars. Potatoes, corn, rice, beans, seeds, and bread are complex carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are more satiating to the body and provide a steadier flow of energy. They also contain fiber when in their whole form.
Always look for whole or brown carbohydrates. Whole wheat bread and brown rice haven’t been processed. They still contain fiber to help you feel full for longer and assist the body with gastrointestinal movement.
Children should get between 45% and 65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates, preferably mostly in their complex and whole forms. Children should consume about 130 grams of carbohydrates a day, including 19 to 25 grams of fiber.
One cup of brown rice contains 45 grams of complex and fiber-rich carbohydrates. A medium apple contains 25 grams of carbohydrates, and a slice of whole wheat bread contains 12 grams of carbohydrates.
As long as the majority of your child’s carbohydrates come from whole sources, there’s no reason to limit carbohydrates in your child’s diet. Children who like sweet flavors can easily enjoy the simple sugar carbohydrates in fruit while increasing their vitamin intake.
Fat is the most complicated macronutrient to understand. It’s necessary for organ protection, cell integrity, and even the production of hormones. Your child needs fat in their diet, but not all fats are created equal. It comes down to choosing the right kind of fat.
Trans fat is never helpful and always harmful. It doesn’t have a valuable place in any diet and should always be avoided. The FDA banned artificial trans fats several years ago, although some foods may still contain small amounts of natural trans fats. Always check nutrition information.
Saturated fat isn’t good for the heart in large amounts, but it isn’t easy to avoid. Meat and dairy products naturally contain small amounts of saturated fat. Coconut oil is almost entirely saturated fat. Current guidance suggests that saturated fat should be no more than 5% of someone’s daily caloric intake.
Unsaturated fats work to perform the functions the body needs from fat, including lowering the risk for heart disease. These fats are found in plants and in fish. Fat should be 20% to 35% of someone’s daily caloric intake, and kids and teens should get 30 to 35 grams of mostly unsaturated fat per day.
Healthy unsaturated fat naturally occurs in plants. An avocado contains about 30 grams of fat, a single olive contains about 1 gram of fat, and a serving of almonds contains about 14 grams of fat. Half a salmon fillet contains about 27 grams of fat.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. We call them micronutrients because they’re necessary for health, but the body doesn’t require them in large amounts. Rather than measuring vitamins and minerals in grams, we measure them in milligrams or micrograms. Only a small amount is necessary to help the body grow and function.
Macronutrients and micronutrients work together to create the big picture. Children need protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and they also need a wealth of vitamins and minerals to support their growing bodies.
It can be easy to get a child to consume the recommended amount of each macronutrient because only a single source is required. You can pick a few proteins, carbohydrates, and fats your child likes and serve them regularly. If your child is excited to eat chicken, potatoes, and avocados, that’s a great start. It’s just not the end of the line.
Micronutrients come from a wider variety of foods. Citrus fruits, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens are equally as important as foods that meet macronutrient requirements.
Nutrition is like a puzzle, and if your toddler would rather throw a few key pieces off the high chair than put them together, the situation can become challenging. Many children begin as picky eaters, but they’ll often outgrow their habits.
As they grow and mature, so do their preferences. Your two-year-old may shriek at the sight of brussel sprouts, but your teenager may ask you to roast them with garlic and olive oil. These things take time.
If you’ve got the macronutrient system down to an art, slowly focus on the micronutrient system by introducing new foods into your child’s diet. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a handful of keepers that you can rely on.
If you think your child may need a little extra help meeting their vitamin and mineral goals, talk to your pediatrician about introducing a multivitamin supplement into your child’s routine. It can help to keep your child growing and thriving while they’re still learning to navigate the great green world of vegetables.
Hiya’s children's multivitamin was made with your little picky eater in mind. We spoke with pediatricians for insight into the micronutrients that picky eaters could use a little more of, and we formulated our multivitamin according to their advice.
It’s a catch-all for kids two years and up who need a little help getting the things they need to grow and thrive.
Kids love Hiya. Our vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO multivitamin is naturally sweetened with monk fruit. There’s no sugar or gummy junk. It’s just a simple chewable multivitamin that kids are happy to take.