Childhood obesity, which has tripled over the past 30 years, can cause negative health effects such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Learning about healthy eating at an early age and knowing the food groups can help kids make healthy food choices. Foods are grouped together based on similar nutritional properties. MyPyramid is an interactive website that helps determine how many servings of each food group a child needs for a balanced diet.
Grains are foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal or another cereal grains, and they are a good sources of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are used as a primary energy source for the body. Grains are classified as either whole-grains or refined grains. Whole-grains, such as whole-wheat flour and pasta, bulgar and brown rice are healthier options compared to white flour, white bread and white rice. Whole-grains are rich in fibre, which aids in digestion, relieves constipation and reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
Fruits such as apples, bananas, grapes, strawberries and peaches are healthy food options for kids because they are low in fat, sodium and calories and have no cholesterol. Like grains, they are also high in fibre and may reduce the risk for certain chronic diseases. Fruits provide nutrients that are essential for a balanced diet. For example, bananas, prunes, apricots and cantaloupe are good sources of potassium, which helps maintain a healthy blood pressure, while fruits rich in vitamin C are important for the growth and repair of body tissues.
Broccoli, carrots, kale, 100 per cent vegetable juice, dry beans and peas are part of the vegetable group. Kids can eat vegetables raw or cooked and they are a good source of fibre, potassium and vitamins A, C and E. Potassium-rich vegetables include sweet and white potatoes, white beans, squash and lentils. Vitamin A keeps the eyes and skin healthy, vitamin C aids in iron absorption and vitamin E provides protection against cell oxidation.
Milk and foods made from milk, such as cheese or yoghurt, make up the dairy food group. Most dairy choices should be fat-free or low in fat because whole milk products and cheeses are high in saturated fats, which increase bad cholesterol levels in the blood. Dairy foods are high in calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin D. Calcium helps build bones and teeth and is especially important during childhood and adolescence, and vitamin D helps maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorous.
Many foods contain protein, but the best sources are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds and legumes. Protein builds, maintains and replaces the tissues in the body and comprises the muscles, organs and immune system. Proteins provide essential nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Iron is good for teenage girls who may have iron-deficiency anaemia, and zinc helps the immune system function properly. Kids should eat lean cuts of meat or skinless poultry to limit fat intake.