If you tie yourself in knots about whether your children are eating well enough, nutrient density is something that just might give you a bit more confidence in your food decisions. Although most foods provide us with energy (and by that I mean kilojoules, or calories if you prefer the imperial measure), nutrient density takes into account just how many nutrients you get for those kilojoules. If a food has plenty of nutrients for the energy then it’s nutrient dense, or nutrient rich. If a food has few nutrients it’s nutrient poor.
In general, dairy foods, wholegrains, protein, fruit and veg are sure bets for nutrient dense or nutrient rich foods. Take a glass of reduced fat milk. It gives you 540 kilojoules (130cals), 9.5g of protein plus potassium, magnesium, calcium and a number of other essential nutrients. The same nutrients are in flavoured milk. Compare it to a glass of lemonade. 390kJ (93cal), and no nutrients whatsoever.
A small cinnamon doughnut provides 1000kJ (250cal) and zero nutrients, whereas 2 Anzac biscuits have 640kJ (150cals) and fibre from the oats. A bowl of fruit has vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, a packet of tiny teddies has none of those. You may feel you’re giving your children the short shift when you give them vegemite on toast, in fact you’re topping up their B vitamins; a margarita pizza? The cheese has protein, calcium and other dairy nutrients, while the red pasta sauce has lycopene, an antioxidant. Eggs and soldiers is a fantastic way of getting protein and baked beans provides protein and fibre.
Take a walk through your child’s day, and look at how often they are getting foods without nutrients. Where can you make a few adjustments? Can you switch to wholegrain, add in some protein, some fruit or veg or dairy? Every little change helps edge out the empty calories and put nutrients back in their place.