Because of the busy life patterns of the parents, the kids’ nutrition is always left unattended. As far as the kids do take some food in each mealtime, then it is okay for the parents. It becomes more “convenient” if the parents could just buy any fast food that is easy to reach out to or ready-made one. The question about the important nutrients for their optimal growth? Do the kids have enough nutrient-dense food? Does this kind of food have it all?

The Prevalence

There is an increase in the prevalence of overweight and obese children aged 6 to 12 years in Peninsular Malaysia from 11.0 to12.8% and from 9.7 to 13.7%, respectively

Among 4 to 6-year-olds, the majority of the pre-school children consumed breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, but, some 17%, 13%, and 18% skipped these meals respectively.
The food groups that become concerned were fruits and vegetables. 26% and 32% of preschoolers consumed fruits and vegetables only twice a week, with 12% not eating vegetables at all.
This might reflect that some of the kids will eat more at a certain mealtime and skip the other mealtime. And the food that is available for them to eat or the choices that they have are only those from fast food or ready-made ones. The food that they eat is only calorie-dense food but not nutrient-dense. How unhealthy is that?

Effects of Malnutrition on Kids

High risk to get chronic diseases i.e obesity, diabetes Mellitus

Impact cognitive and mental health

Moody and less interested to communicate

Easily get sick

It is crucial to keep track of the food and the nutrients needed by your kids especially during their early age because there is where their growth and development strike the highest. 

So what’s the best formula to fuel your child’s growth and development?

Check out these 5 tips…

#1: Eat a whole meal

A whole meal means it consists of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber. Do not forget to drink a glass of plain water too. These nutrients are crucial in the growth of kids. 

How to achieve adequate carbohydrate intake?
  • Consume a variety of cereals (including rice) and cereal-based food for main meals.
  • Gradually increase the number of servings according to age:

  • Ensure that at least half of daily cereal intake includes whole grains such as choosing whole grain alternatives for bread, biscuits, and cereal products and cooking white rice mixed with brown rice/ unpolished rice

The next important nutrient is protein. Protein is essential for children and adolescents as it is needed to build tissues and promote healthy growth. Foods that are high in protein include fish, meat, poultry, milk, eggs, legumes, and nuts.

How to achieve adequate protein intake?
  • Consume 2 to 3 servings of milk and milk products every day.
  • Drink milk such as fresh milk, sterilized milk, ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk, pasteurized milk, or milk prepared from milk powder every day. Sweetened condensed milk and sweetened condensed filled milk are not considered as milk and should be discouraged.
  • Consume a serving of fish daily and choose a variety of fish

  • Choose or prepare either meat, poultry, or egg dishes daily to the recommended amount. 

  • Fresh or frozen poultry or meat should be consumed instead of the processed form, such as chicken ball, meatball, nugget, or burger patties, due to the high content of salt and preservatives.

  • Choose lower-fat cooking methods such as poaching, steaming, boiling, braising, grilling, or roasting.

  • Add legumes, nuts, and seeds whenever possible in the dishes.
How to achieve adequate fiber intake?
  • For children below 7 years old, give 2 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily.
  • For children and adolescents aged 7 to 18 years, eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits daily.
  • Choose fresh fruits over fruit juices. Fruit juices should not replace more than 1 serving of fruit.
  • Serve fruits and vegetables creatively to encourage consumption.

To make it simpler and easy to implement on daily basis, it is suggested to use the quarter quarter half concept using healthy plate sample that has been introduced by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia as below:

#2: Don't miss any of the meal time

Sticking to eat at each mealtime is important to keep the kids energetic. Skipping any of the main meals that are either breakfast, lunch or dinner is not a good idea as it causes the kids to feel hunger and tend to overeat at the next mealtime. Overeating causes the energy and calorie intake to be way higher than it should daily. 

#3: Limit sugary food & beverages

A study by Zahara, Fashihah & Nurul (2010) found that the majority of the preschoolers in Kuala Lumpur consumed sugary food and drinks more than 3 times a day.

High sugary food and beverages should be reduced in the mealtime because it causes the kids to feel full faster but the kid didn’t get any beneficial nutrient out of it. It is also agreed that a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages may increase the risk of obesity by contributing to the total energy and sugar intake.

Thus, limit added sugars.  Examples of added sugars include white sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey, and others. 

  • Replace high-sugar cereals, snacks, and desserts with better choices such as fresh fruits, steamed corn, chickpeas, or groundnuts.
  • If you choose kuih, cakes, and biscuits, select varieties with fewer sugars and without cream/ filling/ icing.
  • Avoid sugary foods in between meals and close to bedtime.
  • If consuming sugary snacks as desserts, limit them to smaller portions and not more than once a day
  • Limit intake of table sugar or sweetened condensed milk or sweetened creamer to 1 teaspoon per cup of drink.

  • Refrain from giving sweets, candies, chocolates, cookies, and ice cream as rewards to children.

  • Check the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) on product labels for sugar content, if available. Choose products labeled as lower sugar or sugar-free.

#4: Slowly shift to healthier fat choices

As discussed in the first tips, fat is also considered an important nutrient for the growth of kids. However, there are several extra tips in choosing which type of fat to incorporate into the daily diet. 

How to achieve?
  • Cook food using a blended vegetable oil high in PUFAs, e.g. Palm oil with soy oil or palm oil with corn oil

  • Encourage children to eat corn, nuts (e.g. cashew nuts, almonds, pistachios, and chestnuts), legumes (e.g. chickpeas, soybean, or dhal), seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds).

  • Serve children’s sandwiches with sardine and tuna fillings.

  • Encourage consumption of fresh local fish containing PUFAs, such as tenggiri, siakap, kembung, cencaru, bawal hitam, selar kuning and tongkol

  • Avoid food products with the words ‘partially hydrogenated fat’ on the food label.

  • Remove the skin from poultry during food preparation.

  • Limit intake of foods rich in coconut milk or santan (e.g masak lemak, bubur kacang, nasi lemak, curry or kaya spread) to 2 to 3 times per week.

  • Limit intake of foods containing and prepared with, saturated fat, e.s. biscuits, traditional kuih such as dodol, and briyani rice 

  • Limit intake of spreads (butter/ margarine/ peanut butter/ chocolate) to not more than 2 teaspoons per day.

#5: Limit food high in salt

It seems that children’s food preferences are influenced by food exposure, parents’ food preferences, parental role modeling, family approaches to food purchasing and cooking, media exposure, and parent-child interactions regarding food (Campbell & Crawford, 2001). Thus, it is essential to impart education on low-salt and low-sauce intake to the younger age groups, to prevent undesirable health consequences of high sodium intake on the health of children.

How to achieve?
  • Eat home-cooked meals more frequently rather than eating out
  • Limit the intake of salty snacks e.g. potato chips, crackers, and fish crackers.
  • Choose fresh fruits and foods low in salt as snacks, e.g. wholemeal crackers, buns, and low-salt crackers.
  • Cut down on consumption of salty processed foods (e.g. sausages, nuggets, meat/ chicken burgers, instant noodles), pickles, and preserved fruits (e.g. jeruk or Asam boi).
  • Read food labels for the sodium content of food. Choose products with claims of ‘low’ or ‘lower’ sodium/ salt.
  • Avoid adding salt or sauces at the table.
  • Iodised salt is also salt. Limit the intake just like the normal table salt. 


Being a kid is only one life experience and the crucial part of growth is in this phase. They are not gonna repeat this stage of life anymore. As a good parent, providing them with what is good for their growth, physically, mentally, or spiritually is a must. 

Don’t miss any of it as they grow fast!