by Denise Phang - 3rd Jun 2019
How do we know if our children are eating a balanced meal? Is there enough variety?
Most parents struggle to get their children to finish their food, especially when it comes to vegetables and sometimes, even meat. Some try their best to limit their child when it comes to snacks, sweets and junk food too – hoping that this keeps their child healthier. They are usually concerned when their child is too thin, and in some cases – when their child is too chubby. So how do we know if we're providing the right amount and variety of food for our children?
Well, here’s a great way to understand what food and how much food your child should be eating — The Healthy Plate! The plate is designed to help everyone eat healthy with different food groups, by our Ministry of Health. In fact, you may have heard of it, or seen it somewhere already.
What is a healthy plate?
When serving food to our children, we should bear in mind the concept of balance, variety and moderation. A plate full of one food group is not suitable for our children, as it may lack in certain nutrients. So, when feeding our child, we should bear in mind about the variety of food groups and the right portion – as this is crucial to ensure they consume sufficient nutrients. A healthy plate should consist of carbohydrate, protein and fiber, with minimal amount of fat.
Do you know the importance of these nutrients?
- Carbohydrate is the main source of energy for our body. It’s crucial for brain function too!
- Protein helps to build and repair the cells in our body and helps to maintain strong bones and muscles
- Fiber helps to promote good digestive health and helps in regulating bowel movements (or poo poo) – especially important if your child is always constipated.
- Fat is a source of stored energy, cushions your skin, keeps your body warm in the cold and helps to develop brain and eyes.
Now you might be thinking – What are carbohydrates, protein, fiber and fat food sources? How much should we be eating? Fret not, here’s the answer.
Quarter quarter half!
Repeat after me, quarter quarter half!
These 3 words are the magical term used for the healthy plate.
Imagine your plate being drawn into half, and a half of the plate is further drawn to quarters. So, there’ll be a half, a quarter and another quarter on your plate, easy right?
Let’s fill up your plate accordingly to the food groups now:
Let's start with carbohydrates!
A quarter of the plate should be filled up with starchy food which is the main carbohydrate source. The most common one will be rice, which is the staple food in Malaysia. Perhaps most of you will start questioning, ‘So little rice? Not filling la…’
Don’t worry, the healthy plate has other food groups to provide a more energy (calories) and nutrients to your child. (We will discuss this further!)
Besides rice, other cereal and grains also fall into the carbohydrate category – such as noodles, bread, oats, pasta and more. Not only that, starchy vegetables also fall under this quarter. What are starchy vegetables? Some examples are corns, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, yam, carrots. (basically, the tubers which grow underneath the soil) To make things easier, one scoop of rice = one small potato. Most people mistaken that all vegetables are the same and should be encouraged to eat more. The more, the better! But, starchy vegetables contribute to more calories and starch content than the green leafy vegetables, so it belongs to the carbohydrate food group, together with cereal and grains.
Moving on to the next quarter of the plate. Yes, fill it up with protein! Protein is important for your child’s growth, so ensure they eat enough protein food every day.
There are 2 types of protein, we have animal protein and plant protein. Is there a difference? Well, animal protein has all the essential amino acids our body needs, but for those avoiding meat, a combination of plant protein sources such as tofu, bean, legumes, fucuk (fried beancurd skin) are good too. Animal protein(chicken, fish, red meat, egg, cheese) or plant protein should be incorporated in the diet as well along with the starchy food.
Of course, a healthy plate isn’t complete or balanced without any fruits and vegetables. which makes up half of your plate. They are great source of energy, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
This half of your plate should be filled with a variety of vegetables such as leafy green vegetables (spinach, lettuce), fruit vegetables (tomato, avocado), cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli), legume vegetables (long beans, bean sprouts).
It may be challenging to get your child to eat even the smallest bite of vegetables, so get creative with your vegetable dishes and incorporate more color into their plate – eg. mix leafy greens with carrots, corn and more. Not to forget that fruits is a wonderful source of fiber too! Encouraging your child to eat more fruits and vegetables from young leads to many health benefits such as giving them wonderful skin as these are great source of vitamin C, keeping you full longer and build their immune system so they won’t fall sick as often.
After a hearty and healthy meal, one must drink something to clean the palate, right? A glass of water is the perfect drink to quench the thirst and complete the meal. Sugary drink or carbonated beverage should be restricted or kept for special occasions and should not be taken every day as we don’t want our child to develop a ‘sweet tooth’ (dental caries) and consuming more calorie than he needs, as habits like these will contribute to obesity or diabetes in adulthood, if continued long term. If your child is not keen to drink water, plain milk is a good choice for additional calcium intake.
The healthy plate concept can be used at any main meals of the day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. You may wonder if your child should take vegetables in their breakfast. It’s not a must, but the healthy plate concept encourages your child to eat a different food groups at each meal. Even in breakfast meals, there are ways to add some vegetables too – you may prepare a sandwich with bread, egg / chicken slices and vegetables to fit the criteria of the healthy plate. Otherwise, you may bring the vegetables forward and include vegetables as snack or add more portions during lunch and dinner. Let’s look at some examples of menu that fits the healthy plate concept!
Isn’t it easy? Therefore, starting from today, let’s make sure our children eat right and be bright!
Use the healthy plate concept; quarter quarter half!
- Ministry of Health Malaysia, National Coordinating Committee on Food and Nutrition. Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Malaysia. 2017
Article originally written by Denise Phang for Vease Nutrition.
Article edited by Jowynna Yeo, Founder & Dietitian at Vease Nutrition