Identify balanced meals, snacks and drinks for children in their early years, following current government guidance on nutritional needs. Children should be encouraged to eat a varied diet. Setting a schedule for meals and snacks will help keep the children satisfied through the day and avoid them asking at various hours for food. They should eat foods from each of the five main food groups every day. The five main food groups are:
1. bread, other cereals and potatoes
2. fruit and vegetables
3. milk and dairy foods
4. meat, fish and alternatives (e.g. eggs, pulses, peas, beans and lentils and soya).
5. Foods containing fat and/or sugar.
The Food Standards Agency recommends that a healthy nutritious diet should contain foods from the following groups each day – starchy foods, fruit and vegetables, protein-rich foods and dairy products. A balanced diet should contain foods from these groups, all meals snacks and drinks taken throughout the day must provide children with the sufficient nutrients to make up a balanced diet. When planning meals for children, there are several things to take into consideration to ensure that meals contain sufficient nutrients and calories. Some foods are higher in nutrients than others if a food is high in calories it should also be high in nutrients. Foods such as crisps, biscuits and sweets are high in calories but low in nutrients and so an unhealthy option. Children’s stomachs are tiny and so have a limited capacity in can sometimes be hard to make sure they eat enough nutrients before they are full. Also it is important to ensure children take enough drinks throughout the day to prevent them from becoming dehydrated. Water should always be made available throughout the day and at meal times.
Other drinks such as milk, fruit juices and smoothies can also be offered. These drinks all contain nutrients and calories so need to be included in a child’s daily intake. Fruit juices contain a lot of natural sugar so should be given in moderation to help prevent tooth decay. Fruit drinks, squashes and fizzy drinks also contain a lot of sugar and are high in calories and low in nutrients so should not be offered to children on a daily basis. As children’s stomachs are small they may require snacks between meals so that they can take in sufficient nutrients. Snacks should also be included in the overall daily food intake and should be nutritious. Good healthy snacks for children include fruit and vegetable, dried fruit, cheese and crackers, yoghurt, breadsticks and rice cakes. When planning meals for children it may be useful to look at their food intake for a whole week to ensure that they are eating a varied healthy diet and to consult with the child’s parents.