Ensuring young kids get the right food can seem like an uphill struggle as the battle-lines are drawn over broccoli and bananas. But what actually makes a healthy diet for your three to five year-olds?
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need to give your preschooler a balanced diet which contains a mix of lean proteins, wholegrains, fruit, veg and dairy so they get the nutrients they need for a strong immune system.
If they don't consume the amount, or range of foods needed, the Department of Health says all children aged six months to five years need to be given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.Shop Children's Health
Not getting enough vit DGuidelines say kids should be given vitamin D from birth for healthy development, immune function and bones.
The main source of this is from the sun, but this is only effective during the summer months. Vitamin D can be hard to get from food as it’s only found in useful quantities in oily fish, mushrooms and eggs – no surprise that one in five kids suffers from vitamin D deficiency.
A daily supplement of 10 micrograms is recommend by the NHS for those aged 1 to 4 to help prevent poor immunity, weak bones and rickets.
Missing out on A and CVitamin A is vital for healthy eyes, skin and immunity, and vitamin C for general health and good skin. You’ll find A in meat, oily fish, eggs, milk and yellow and orange veg, and C in most fruit and veg.
It’s a good idea to have an easily reachable fruit bowl at home to encourage pre-schoolers to help themselves, boosting their chances of getting their five a day, and laying down the foundations for healthy snacking habits (double win!).
Lacking in omega-3A study on pre-school children with developmental difficulties revealed startling improvements in their concentration when given a 500mg supplement of omega-3 daily. Children who were six months behind in their learning made seven-and-a-half months' progress in the five months they took the supplements – an epic catch-up by anyone’s standards.
You’ll find omega-3 naturally in oily fish, flaxseed, rapeseed and some nut oils.
Essential for bone strength and healthy teeth, you’ll find calcium in dairy, nuts, seeds and green leafy veg.
Smoothies are a really easy and yummy way to add this to their diet and are a smart way to boost friendly gut bacteria, which may help ease tummy troubles if children have digestive issues, and boost immunity if they frequently pick up infections.
The best of the rest
Nearly half of children are lacking in selenium, which is important for all-round health – brown rice, mushrooms, broccoli and Brazil nuts all contain it (though don’t give whole nuts to under-fives; try a nut butter instead).
Magnesium supports bone density and muscle function; get this from potatoes, beans, wholegrains, green leafy veg, apricots, peas, soya and peanut butter.
Iron is needed for immunity and cognition, and you’ll find it in red meat, greens, beans and pulses.
Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron from plant sources, so having a drink containing vitamin C with an iron-rich meal will boost the benefit – try a fruit juice with a bowl of iron-fortified cereal.
One in 10 young children are found to have low levels of zinc, which is important for growth and a healthy immune system. The best sources are red meat, fish, dairy and wholegrain bread.
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What Parents Know and Want to Learn About Healthy Eating and Body Image in Preschool Children: a Triangulated Qualitative Study with Parents and Early Childhood Professionals, Laura M. Hart, Stephanie R. Damiano, Chelsea Cornell, and Susan J. Paxton
Health Problems of Infants and Preschool Children: Report of a Study, Helen M. Wallace, Evelyn Hartman, Vernon Weckwerth, and Eunice Davis
The Essential Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and Herbal Supplements, Dr Sarah Brewer
Zinc Treatment to Under-five Children: Applications to Improve Child Survival and Reduce Burden of Disease, Charles P. Larson, S.K. Roy, Azharul Islam Khan, Ahmed Shafiqur Rahman, and Firdausi Qadri