Advice on your child's diet and fat

Some fats are necessary for the body, especially for children’s bodies during growth periods. They also help with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. These necessary fats are mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated and are found in seeds, grains, vegetable oils and soft margarines. Saturated fats are less desirable and are found in animal fats in meat and in dairy products. Small portions of these are required in the diet because of the protein they contain. However, saturated fats are also found in many bought foods, such as cakes, biscuits, pastries, chocolate and ready meals.

Saturated and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats all contain the same amount of calories (energy value of food), but saturated fats affect blood cholesterol more. It has been found that some children have high deposits from cholesterol consumption which makes them vulnerable to early heart disease in adulthood. Many people have turned to low fat diets as awareness of about fats is increasing. However, do not put children on any diet. Children need calories for growth and development. Just limit processed foods, such as hamburgers, which contain hidden fats.

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Tips for pre-school children and mealtimes at home

  • Little children are copy cats and if they see you and their older siblings eating your food with enjoyment, even potentially faddy/reluctant eaters will get the message eventually.
  • Cook family meals carefully as grown-up food, cut-up for a very young child, can be higher in fat, salt and sugar than the pureed food they were used to as a baby.
  • Put less on a child’s plate and also use a smaller plate so that everything is in proportion and they do not feel overwhelmed at mealtimes.
  • Some children eat little and often so offer snacks.
  • Try to avoid making comments like “this will make you strong”; “it’s good for you” or “eat your crusts, it’ll make your hair curl” as this can make them resistant to eating certain foods.
  • Serve fruit after a meal, or just give a small quantity of pudding or dessert. Try not to bribe a reluctant meat or vegetable eater with the promise of pudding or a sweet thing as this will reinforce the idea that sweet things are more desirable.
  • Remember that young children have smaller appetites than their older siblings and parents, so try giving them food and drink in small portions more often through the day.
  • Try to provide two courses at meal times, this way if they do not eat one of the dishes; at least they get another opportunity to try again and ingest some calories, even if it is dessert! And if they eat both, then that’s a bonus.
  • If you put food in different dishes on the table for people to help themselves, your children can choose how much and what they want to eat and they can always come back for more. They might even end up eating more salad this way!
  • Don’t make food a big issue. If food is picked at or refused for a long time, don’t force the issue. Mealtimes should never be a battleground but rather about enjoying the food and company of the rest of the family.

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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