1. Minimal sugar intake

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, on average, sugar constitutes 17% of a child’s daily food and beverage consumption (1). Children who receive more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar are at a higher risk of several health issues, including high cholesterol. There is also a risk of dental problems, in the long term.

It is essential to avoid high-sugar food and, instead, focus on providing the child with healthy alternatives, such as fruits, vegetables, sprouts salad, and homemade cookies.

2. Drink plenty of water

A significant chunk of our body is made up of water. Water also performs several biological functions, such as excretion of waste, lubrication of joints, and protection of sensitive tissues, such as the spinal cord (2).

Adequate water intake keeps the body hydrated, helps in the regulation of body temperature, and may even help avoid health problems, such as constipation and kidney stones. Experts recommend about two liters of water per day for children older than eight years (3). The quantity may change based on the ambient temperature and physical activity. The simple rule is to teach your child to reach out for water instead of any other beverage each time they feel thirsty.

3. Check the beverages

Soda and fruit juices with added sugar contain a high amount of sugar and compounds, which may affect the overall health. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, soda contains a high level of phosphates, which can have adverse effects on bone health (4).

Avoid soda and high-sugar fruit juices, and serve your child healthy beverages instead. A few healthy alternatives are coconut water, low-fat, fortified cow milk, and homemade lemonade. You can also encourage your child to have whole fruit instead of having fruit juices.

4. Avoid the ‘clean plate’ rule

Did you ever set a clean plate rule? If yes, then it is time to change the rules. Children often eat based on their hunger and their sensation of fullness. Forcing a child to clean their plate could lead to overeating. Also, parents who reward a clean plate with a dessert or other attractive food items may unknowingly cause the child to develop unhealthy food habits.

Experts state that there is no reason to force a child to clean their plate, and children should be left to their own accord when it comes to finishing their meal (5). If your child is a fussy eater, you may experiment with different types of food preparations. However, if your child is underweight, has developmental problems, or consistently eats poorly, speak to a pediatrician or pediatric nutritionist.

5. Occasional desserts

It is okay to have dessert once in a while but avoid serving it regularly. Maintaining an ideal sugar intake is essential. Many parents and guardians use candies and chocolates to display affection. Keep this practice occasional and limited to special occasions, such as birthdays.

If your child has a sweet tooth, then several naturally sweet food items could be healthy alternatives. A few naturally sweet food items that you could consider to prepare desserts are bananas, sweet potatoes, mangoes, custard apples, and coconut milk.

6. Balanced diet

Children need the right balance of proteins, vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, and carbohydrates for healthy growth. You can balance each meal with the right amounts of food items that provide all the essential nutrients.

The following are some essential tips for a balanced diet recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (6) (7).

There are five food groups, namely vegetables, fruits, protein foods, grains, and dairy. Try serving each meal with a balanced quantity of food items from each food group.

  • Preferably about half of a plate/meal should consist of fruits and vegetables. Keep varying between fruits and vegetables so that the child receives wholesome nutrition.
  • About half of the child’s daily grain intake should consist of whole grains.
  • You can serve low-fat yogurt or milk with a meal. Children aged eight years and older can consume three cups of low-fat milk a day.
  • You can vary between several protein-rich foods, such as meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  • Ask them to chew their food properly. This ensures good digestion, and the child can sense a full belly as they eat slowly. This reduces the chance of overeating.

7. Frequent meals

You may break the three meals of the day into multiple small servings/portions based on your child’s preference. This method could be useful if the child is a fussy eater. Break the meals into small servings at regular intervals.

For instance, you could break the breakfast into two small meals across the morning. You may serve a light lunch followed by a mid-afternoon snack. You could have a pre-dinner food item served, such as a soup, followed by the meal later. You can experiment with multiple combinations and see what works for your child. You may also speak to a pediatric nutritionist to learn what best works for your child.

8. More fruits and veggies

Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for healthy organs and immunity (8). Most children tend to avoid eating fruits and vegetables. However, there are ways that you could encourage your child to get their daily dose of fruits and vegetables.

  • Keep fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges in a basket and place it on the dining table. This will grab the child’s attention when they are hungry. It could make the child more likely to reach out for fruits for snacking than eating junk food.
  • Sneak vegetables in other food. You can stuff shredded vegetables in sandwiches and dumplings. Alternatively, cook stew or soup using vegetables such as carrots, corn, tomatoes, and spinach.
  • Prepare vegetable sauce to serve it as an accompaniment with each meal or snack.
  • You may also use your imagination to get young children to eat vegetables. For example, serve broccoli pieces by calling them “wonder trees.”  Also, try cutting and dressing salads to make them appear interesting.

9. Adequate sleep

Sleep is essential for mental and physical health. It is in sleep that the body repairs itself and improves immune function. Children need adequate sleep for healthy growth (9). Therefore, make sure your child is getting enough sleep each night.

Children between the ages of six and 12 need 9-12 hours of night’s sleep, while teens between 13 and 18 need 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Set a routine of turning off the lights at a fixed time each night. Avoid screen time a few hours before bedtime. If your child has trouble going to sleep, you may observe a relaxing nighttime routine, such as reading a book or listening to music for a fixed duration.

10. Encourage sports

Teenagers can spend about seven to nine hours each day in front of screens, such as television and smartphone (10). An increase in screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which could increase the risk of excess weight gain.

Experts recommend limiting screen time in children to a couple of hours a day (11). Encourage the child to get at least an hour of physical activity a day through sports and other activities, such as cycling (12). If you do not have a facility for outdoor sports, you may play simple indoor games that involve movement. A few examples include indoor hopscotch, hula hoop, treasure hunt, and building a tunnel with old cartons. You could also use exercise equipment, such as indoor cycles, to get the child active.

11. Correct supplementation

It is common for parents to serve a malt-based supplement dissolved in milk to children. A few other examples of supplements include chewable calcium candies, vitamin candies, and fish oil tablets. Most supplements contain nutrients necessary for the child’s growth. However, the child’s nutritional requirements could vary based on their age, weight, gender, and physical activity.

Most children can get their daily nutrition from a balanced diet without the need for supplements. Also, the use of incorrect supplements may provide no benefits and may increase the risk of weight gain (13). Therefore, if you wish to give your child nutritional supplements, take a pediatrician’s opinion first.