All children need a balanced diet full of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals to help in their mental and physical development.
Proper Nutrition can stabilise children’s energy, sharpen their minds and even out their moods. and it makes a huge impact on your children’s lifelong relationship with food while giving them the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults. Inadequate nuttrition can result in short stature and delayed puberty, nutrient deficiencies and dehydration, menstrual irregularities, poor bone health, increased risk of injuries, poor academic performance and increased risk of eating disorders.
Children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most, so the challenge is to start them off with make healthy choices and a good way to do this is to be a role model for them and let them see you eating healthy.
Although their growth is slower than in infancy, school-aged children still have high nutritional needs but fairly small appetites. So it's crucial all meals and snacks continue to be rich in nutrients and energy. The food choices children make during the crucial years of development can influence their future health risk and can also influence food habits in later life.
A structured eating plan with regular meals and snacks is important to establish good eating habits. Ensure there's also plenty of variety - burgers and chips are fine occasionally, but not for every meal. A limited number of foods make it difficult to obtain the full range of nutrients. Make sure your child has a range of foods based on each of the main food groups.
School children still have a high energy requirement for growth and activity, but increasing numbers are becoming overweight. This is because they’re eating too many calories and not being active enough to use up the extra energy they’ve eaten.
If you think your child is putting on too much weight, don't make a big issue of it. Instead, encourage physical activity in whatever form (football, netball, walking the dog, cycling, swimming and so on). Base meals and snacks on the five main food groups, but limit fatty and sugary snacks.
An overweight child still needs a nutrient-packed diet that provides all the essential building blocks for growth and development. Encouraging healthy eating should ensure children maintain a healthy weight. Make sure the whole family is eating healthily to provide good role models.
This mineral is important for healthy bone development. Good sources include dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais, as well as fortified orange juice, green leafy vegetables, cereals, sesame seeds and tofu. Your child should ideally aim for three servings of calcium-rich food a day - for example, a 150ml glass of milk, a small pot of yoghurt and a small matchbox-sized piece of cheese.
This vitamin is important for growth, but intake is low in some children, especially those who skip breakfast because fortified cereals are a good source of folate. Other sources include bread, green leafy vegetables and pulses.
This mineral helps to keep red blood cells healthy. Insufficient iron intake can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia, but this is much less common in primary school–aged children than their younger and older siblings. Good sources of iron include red meat, liver, fortified breakfast cereals, beans and pulses. To help absorb the iron more effectively from non-meat sources, combine it with vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits and fruit juice.
Fatty and sugary foods
This group includes spreading fats (such as butter), cooking oils, sugar, biscuits, cakes, crisps, sweets, cream and ice cream, chocolate and sugary drinks. These foods shouldn't be eaten too often and, when they are, should only be consumed in small amounts.
They're loaded with calories, fat and sugar, and don't necessarily contain many vitamins and minerals. Also, sugary foods and drinks (including fruit juice) can increase the risk of dental decay.
Limit the amount of sugar and sweets eaten, and offer them at the end of meals, rather than in-between. Some sugar-free or diet drinks can also cause decay because of their acidity. Milk or water is the best drink between meals.
The special nutritional needs of teenagers
This is growth spurt time: Children gain about 20% of adult height and 50% of adult weight during adolescence. Growth and change is so rapid during this period, that the requirements for all nutrients increase. This is especially true of calcium and iron.
Eating disorders in teens - Adolescents and teens are at a high risk of developing anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. Eating habits, however, are pretty well set by now, and if your child's choices are less than ideal, it can be a challenging time for a course correction.
The best way to make teen dietary changes is to present information about short-term consequences of a poor diet: appearance, athletic ability, energy, and enjoyment of life. These are more important to most teens than long-term health. For example, “Calcium will help you grow taller.” “Iron will help you do better on tests and stay up later.”
Calories - Due to all the growth and activity, adolescent boys need 2,500-2,800 per day, while girls need around 2,200 per day. It’s best to get these calories from lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and fruits and veggies.
Protein - In order for the body to grow and maintain muscle, teens need 45-60 grams per day. Most teenagers easily meet this need from eating meat, fish, and dairy, but vegetarians may need to increase their protein intake from non-animal sources like soy foods, beans, and nuts.
Calcium - Many teens do not get sufficient amounts of calcium, leading to weak bones and osteoporosis later in life. Encourage teens to cut back on soda and other overly-sugary foods, which suck calcium from bones. The 1,200 mg of calcium needed per day should come from dairy, calcium-fortified juice and cereal, and other calcium-rich foods such as sesame seeds and leafy greens like spinach.
Iron - Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, and weakness. Boys need 12 mg each day, and teen girls, who often lose iron during menstruation, need 15 mg. Iron-rich foods include red meat, chicken, beans, nuts, enriched whole grains, and leafy greens like spinach and kale.
Go Easy on Sugar - Children seem to love sugary foods like gummy bears, lollipops, candy, ice cream, sodas and sweet pastries. However, an excess intake of sugar in children can cause a number of problems, including early cravings for the sweet stuff, that may affect your child for life. Helping your child view sugar as a special treat, not a part of his everyday diet, can help him stay healthy.
Cavities - Excess sugar intake can contribute to cavities because sugar-containing foods create the right environment in your child's mouth for cavity-causing bacteria to grow. This is true for all sugars, including those added to desserts, candy and fruit juice. To reverse the effects of sugar, have your child brush her teeth after meals and drink plenty of fluoridated water to reduce the risk for cavities.
Salt - There is evidence to show that a high salt intake in children also influences blood pressure and may predispose them to the development of a number of diseases including: high blood pressure, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, stomach cancer and obesity.
Liking salt and salty foods is a ‘learned taste preference’ and the recommendation that the adult population reduce their sodium intake will be more successful if children do not develop a preference for salt in the first place. This can only be achieved if children are given a diet which is low in salt.
Like adults, children consume more salt than the maximum recommendation. Simple measures need to be taken to help reduce salt intake. Giving them healthy snacks such as fruit and yogurt rather than lolipops and sweet biscuits. Use chicken, tuna and sardine sandwiches instead of ham and cheese sandwiches. Get in the habit of checking labels of products for the salt content.
Increased Obesity Risk
Your child gains weight when he takes in more calories than he can burn off in a day. Sugar itself contains calories and is often added to high-calorie foods like cookies, cakes and pies. Sugar also is added to "empty calorie" food sources like fruit juices and sweetened milk. Your child may drink these and take in a high amount of calories, yet still feel hungry.
Drinking one sugary drink most days of the week increases your child's obesity risk. Restricting sugar intake in favour of healthy choices like fresh fruits, whole grains and vegetables can help your child maintain a healthy weight.