If your child eats only plain spaghetti or toast or fish fingers, you might rightfully be concerned that a lack of variety and nutrients could be hindering their development.
Anne-Marié De Beer, a registered dietitian and nutrition health and wellness manager at Nestlé, explained to Parent24 that the nutrition children receive in their early years does certainly determine their health status as adults, and also directly affects their ability to perform in school.
She explains "Studies have shown that micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron deficiency, impacts on children's ability to complete school, due to reading difficulties and behaviour problems."
This directly affects their earning ability as adults, and as such, nutrition is key to ensure a child’s healthy development, she says.
"Encouraging kids to eat more veggies and fruits, ensuring their meals are as nutritious as possible and incorporating diversified protein sources – including plant-based options – is very important, but can sometimes prove challenging for parents and caregivers," she agrees.
Opportunities to improve
De Beer encourages parents to look for opportunities to improve the nutritional qualities of the foods their children enjoy.
Picky eating is a common phenomena amongst children, but provided healthy options are available, your child gets at least two glasses of milk a day, and the less healthy options are limited, you can feel assured that your best is going to be good enough, she says.
De Beer told Parent24 that provided there are healthy food options available in the house and you limit the selection of sugar sweetened beverages and empty calorie snacks, and your child continues to grow well, there would not be a reason for concern.
Don't make a fuss
Most kids, as is the case with adults, will go through a picky period at some stage, and we should take it in our stride and try not to make a big fuss about it, she advised.
It is important to equip yourself with the knowledge and tools to make sure our kids eat nutritious foods.
"Spending time together, setting the healthy eating example as caregivers and involving them in the preparation and food choices for a meal or snack will go a very long way in getting them to eat a wider variety of foods," she says.
If you remain concerned, it is wise to consult a registered dietitian for more support, she adds.
How to ensure variety?
So, we asked, how can a parent be sure their child is eating a varied enough diet though? And what does a minimum amount of variety look like?
To ensure variety look at the colours on the plate – if every thing is white, such as chicken, cauliflower and white rice, it will firstly, not look very appetising, De Beer says.
And secondly, is not as nutritious as it could be when you have three or more colours such as chicken, mixed veggies and brown rice.
If you have Meat Free Monday and have lentil patties, mashed potato and a green salad you have variety. So a good rule of thumb is to have at least three colours in every meal/lunchbox or even snack.
The colourful Sunday lunch is a a great example of variety, but you do not have to go to that extent with every meal, she adds.
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