Diversity in diet
It is widely understood and promoted that a child’s diet should include a diverse amount of different foods to nurture their growth and development. Diversity in a child’s diet also helps to ensure that your child gets all of the nutrients that they require. Please note it is recommended in the UK that all children aged 6 months- 4 years old should be given a supplement containing vitamins A, C, and D such as the Healthy Start Vitamin Drop. It is also recommended that all children over the age of one should have a vitamin containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months. Please note that this is general advice and that all nutrition concerns and questions regarding your child’s nutrition should be discussed with an appropriate practitioner.
So whilst the above is largely understood and promoted, in practice parents/carers may find diversity often comes with a higher price tag, and that is where this blog post comes in! During the recent cost of living crisis, many families are feeling the pinch of an increasing food shop and often focus has understandably been placed on affordability. Having a diverse diet packed full of vitamins and minerals, as well as complex carbohydrates, fibre, fat, and protein doesn’t have to increase the cost of your average food shop. Here are some top tips for promoting diversity in your child’s diet for less.
fruits and veg
Including 5 portions of different fruit and vegetables each day in your child’s diet helps to ensure that they get enough fibre as well as vitamins and minerals. Whilst many people believe only fresh fruit and vegetables count this actually isn’t the case! A great way to reduce the cost of fruit and vegetables is to opt for frozen, tinned (in their own juice) or dried products. These often also have a longer shelf life – reducing the risk of spoiling. Try and include both fruit and vegetables during meal times, and snacks. For example, using tinned fruit (in its fruit juice) as a mid morning snack or using frozen mixed vegetables during meal times. Another great way to increase diversity and save money is to eat fruit and vegetables which are in season. A seasonal calendar can be found here: Seasonal calendar – BBC Good Food Why not even try growing your own?
It is also recommended that children should have a number of different plant based foods each week – for example different herbs, seeds, nuts, legumes, beans, as well as fruit and vegetables. Adding tins of mixed beans to your child’s diet is a great way to increase the plant content in your child’s diet – they are often sold for less than £1 in most supermarkets.
*please note that whole nuts and peanuts should not be given to children under 5 years old, as it may be a choking hazard. You can give your baby nuts and peanuts from 6 months old, as long as they are crushed, grounded or a smooth nut or peanut butter.
It is recommended that the majority of your child’s meals should be based upon starchy carbohydrates to provide energy. These foods include: bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals and grains (e.g. couscous and quinoa). It is also noted that for children over 5 years old that whole grain varieties may be a healthier alternative as they often contain high amounts of fibre. Starchy carbohydrates are often sold by multiple different brands at supermarkets. To save money why not opt for “supermarket value” brands. Additionally, items such as bread can often be frozen to prevent spoilage before consumption, again helping to reduce unnecessary costs. Please always check the label to ensure it is safe to do so. To increase diversity try and mix up the starchy carbohydrates you are offering your child- for example a lunch time meal may contain quinoa where a tea time meal may contain potatoes.
Calcium containing foods
Calcium-containing foods are essential for growth as well as healthy bone and teeth development in children. They are also often a good source of protein. It is recommended that a child should consume 3 servings of calcium-rich food each day. For example, this may look like a 150ml glass of milk, a small pot of yoghurt, and a small matchbox-sized piece of cheese. If you opt for a plant based alternative try and opt for products containing 120mg of calcium per 100mls where possible. As noted above, for personalised nutrition advice please seek 1:1 support from an appropriate practitioner.
To increase diversity in your child’s diet try and include different forms of calcium containing foods. Whilst calcium containing foods can be expensive using savvy methods like meal planning your week can help keep costs down as it helps to prevent unnecessary purchases. To prevent yoghurts from being wasted (due to short dates) you can put them in ice lolly moulds and freeze them for a yummy snack- you could even add some frozen berries!
protein based foods
Protein is needed in a child’s diet for growth, and iron is needed to prevent anaemia which is commonly seen in children. Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, pulses (beans, lentils, and peas), tofu, hummus, and soya mince are excellent sources of iron and protein and should be included twice a day in your child’s diet. Again utilising tinned pulses is a great way to include diversity without breaking the bank. Similarly exploring plant-based protein sources such as tofu, and soya mince can be a great way to diversify your child’s diet and can often be cheaper in price than meat alternatives. For those who wish to explore plant-based options and meat, why not do half and half? For example in a bolognese why not do ½ the portion of beef mince and make up the remaining ½ using plant-based mince or lentils? The remaining products can then be frozen for next time, or why not batch cook and freeze the meal for a quick and easy meal another day? (Please ensure it is safe to freeze before doing so). Batch cooking is a great way to save costs as often bulk buying works out cheaper per gram.
Adding fish is a great way to get plenty of protein and iron into your child’s diet. However, fresh fish can often be expensive- unless it is found in the reduced section. Utilising tinned and frozen fish is a great way to save money. Adding different fish into your child’s diet is a great way to increase diversity. Your child should eat as least 2 portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, trout, or sardines). Oily fish contains omega 3 which is important for brain development.
To conclude, adding diversity into your child’s diet doesn’t need to feel daunting, and it certainly doesn’t need to increase your food budget. This also doesn’t need to be a change made solely for your child; it could be a whole family approach.
- BDA (Healthy eating for children | British Dietetic Association (BDA))
- British Nutrition Foundation (Children – British Nutrition Foundation)
Contribution by Associate Nutritionist, Georgia Spence BSc ANutr