“You are what you eat” is a popular saying that rings true for all, especially in the first few years of life. Good nutrition is one of the most important factors for ensuring that your child reaches optimal development. The eating patterns and habits established in the first few years of life have an impact on a child’s cognitive, behavioural, and physical growth. Now, you may be wondering, what should you encourage and avoid when it comes to your child’s diet? Here are some tips on how you can encourage healthy eating in Singapore in your children.
Guidelines for healthy eating in Singaporean children
School-aged children are recommended to eat foods from the below five good groups . Each food group aims to provide essential nutrients for your child’s body needs to grow and work properly:
- Vegetables. Leafy greens like spinach and lettuce provide children with important vitamins and fibre content. Vegetables are also available in many varieties, ranging from canned, and frozen to fresh vegetables. When opting for canned or frozen vegetables, look for options with lower salt content. Try to aim for variety to get the most nutrients and appeal.
- Fruits. Fruits provide your child with the right vitamins, antioxidants and fibre content! Encourage your child to include a serving of fruit at every meal, as this will provide essential nutrients to protect your child from diseases later in life.
- Whole-grain foods. Whole-grain foods are not only delicious but they provide children with the energy they need to grow, develop and learn. Whole grains are full of iron, nutrition minerals and fibre which help with digestion and metabolism. Spice up your child’s meals with various types of whole-grain food such as oatmeal, quinoa, barley, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta!
- Dairy. Reduced-fat dairy foods are generally recommended for children over the age of two years. Cheese, milk and yoghurt are excellent sources of dairy and they provide important nutrients such as calcium and potassium in a readily absorbable form/
- Protein. Protein-rich foods include fish, poultry, eggs, chickpeas, tofu, nuts and lean meat. Not only is this group of foods essential for your child’s growth and muscle development, but it is also a source of important minerals like omega-3 fatty acids which are important for your child’s eye-brain development.
Foods to avoid are generally foods which are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat:
- Added sugar. Naturally occurring sugars that are commonly found in fruits are not added sugars, but rather sugar found in a piece of cookie or sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
- Saturated fats. Saturated fats are usually found in meat, dairy products and fried foods like fries or chips. Try to replace these fats with healthier fats such as olives, nuts, and avocado whenever possible.
- Sodium. Foods high in sodium can include frozen burgers and processed meats such as sausages and meatballs. Check for nutritional labels to opt for foods with less sodium content and avoid adding salt to foods during cooking or at the dining table.
Now that you are more aware of the right foods for your kids, how do you implement those foods into their diet?
Simple tips to get your kids to eat right!
We all agree that it can be extremely challenging to encourage your little ones to take in their fruits and veggies. Trying out these simple tips can ensure your children eat right without turning mealtimes into a battle zone:
- Be a good role model and lead by example. Kids see their parents as influential figures and they tend to imitate the behaviours of adults. Asking your child to eat their fruits and veggies while you binge on fries is probably the last thing you would want to do.
- Educate your kids and get them involved. While preparing meals or grocery shopping, you can teach your child about different foods and how to read food labels to increase their awareness.
- Think of creative ways to spice up the taste of healthier foods. For example, add a few sticks of celery or carrots into a beef soup, or spread some peanut butter to slices of banana.
- Make healthy snacks available. Snacks are a way to fit in healthy foods and offer additional exposure to healthy food that a child may resist during meal times. Keep a variety of healthy snacks such as fresh fruits and vegetables around the house so that your kids can be exposed to them.
- Avoid creating food restrictions. For instance, banning sweet foods enticing is an invitation to cravings and overindulging and children may come to form an unhealthy relationship with food as well.
- Offer choices. Give your child the freedom and autonomy to choose. Although the choice between banana with peanut butter or apple slices may not seem like a big difference, it allows your child to exercise the autonomy they crave while still getting the right nutrition.
By educating your child about healthy eating and encouraging them to eat a well-balanced diet with the six simple tips above, you can ensure proper growth and nutrition in the most crucial developmental stage of their life. If you’re concerned about your child’s diet or nutrition, speak to your child’s doctor about your options. Most of these problems can be treated and improved through simple diet and lifestyle changes.
 Kranz S, Mitchell DC, Smiciklas-Wright H, Huang SH, Kumanyika SK, Stettler N. Consumption of recommended food groups among children from medically underserved communities. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Apr;109(4):702-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.018. PMID: 19328266; PMCID: PMC2696191.