Written by Chloe Thurston
Healthy Eating For Children
Nutrition is important for everyone, but it is especially important for children because it is the building blocks that determine their growth and development.
Poor nutrition as a child can lead to health problems, obesity or malnutrition. Children that maintain a healthy weight are more likely to stay at a healthy weight as an adult.
The skills and knowledge that your child receives at a young age are the tools that they will have for a lifetime. The following are some ways that you can help:
✓ Offer healthy options for them at home. Ensure that they are available and visible to your child. You need to make sure that you are persistent because children are not going to want to try new things the first or even second time that they see something.
✓ Offer them fruit and vegetables every day. Even when you are shopping get them involved and let them choose the fruit and veg that they would like to eat.
✓ If you cannot find or afford fresh fruit and vegetables then the canned or frozen ones are the next best things to it.
✓ Make sure that they are getting good sources of protein such as lean meats, eggs and nuts
✓ Serve wholegrain options and cereals
✓ Boil, grill and steam your foods to ensure they retain all the good minerals and vitamins
✓ Offer low-fat milk, cheese and other dairy products
✓ Encourage water or milk instead of fizzy drinks or fruit juices.
Limit the fast food and junk
Getting your child to avoid the fried snacks is vital to reduce the amount of saturated fat that they are eating. Instead of frying your chips for example try using low cal spray and roasting them in the oven. If you do go out for a meal occasionally then it is fine to let them have what they want but it is all about moderation.
Read the food labels
This is where you can decide if this is something that your child should be eating. By looking at the nutritional information you are able to see what is in them and how much is in it. Make sure that you are looking at the serving size because a serving size to us may not be the same as the serving size on the packaging.
Be a good role model
A child is very clever and picks up on every little thing that adults and their parents do. Be sure that you are also making the healthy food choices and are doing the same as you are expecting them to do. Get the whole family involved and make it fun! You can practice good eating habits by:
✓ Eating breakfast in the morning. This is important for children as it gives them the energy that they need for the day
✓ Let you child distinguish when they are full. Don’t push your child into eating everything on their plate because this could lead to trouble in the future.
✓ Eating meals together. Make sure that you don’t have the TV on during this time because this is when mindless eating can happen. It is an important time to catch up with the family and talk about each other’s day.
✓ Avoid using junk food as rewards and treats. This will make your child value those foods more than the nutritious foods.
“What should my child be eating?”
A child’s diet after the age of 5 is based on the eat well plate so that they are able to meet their high-energy needs and nutrient requirements. The list below is to help you see what they should be eating and where you can get it.
|Nutrient||Food types||Why do they need it?|
This is for energy.
The best sources of energy are those that contain starchy carbohydrates
|For growth, maintenance and repair of the body|
Saturated fat: animal products e.g. fatty meat, butter, ghee and dairy products. Cakes and pastries that are made using these are also high in saturated fat.
Unsaturated fat: olive oil. Sunflower oil, nuts and seeds
Fats are needed for brain development and cell growth.
Fats are not the enemy however, it is the type of fat and in the right amount that is important
Green leafy veg
Bread made with fortified flour
|For healthy bones and teeth|
Green leafy veg
|For healthy blood and for transporting oxygen around the body|
|For healthy skin and eyes. It is also beneficial for you immune system|
|For healthy body tissues e.g. skin, gums, bones and teeth|
For growth, development and maintenance of bones and teeth.
Also helps to keep muscles and the immune system healthy
|Long Chain Omega 3 Fatty Acids||Oily fish – mackerel, sardines, salmon||
These are important for brain development.
It is essential, as our bodies cannot make these ourselves.
Diet and Dental health
Your child’s teeth are a very delicate part of their body and once their adult teeth come through then any damage is irreversible. Limiting the amount of sugary drinks and sweets that the child eats is important for teeth. The risk of developing tooth decay increases with the amount of sugary foods and drinks that are consumed. Fizzy drinks, soft drinks and fruit juices are all high in sugars, which are damaging to their teeth. To protect their teeth encourage your child to drink water or milk during the day. Snacks such as cakes, biscuits and crisps needs to be monitored as these are also detrimental to the enamel on their teeth. However, these shouldn’t be completely eliminated from the diet. It is important that these are eaten in moderate and not every day. Ensure that your child is brushing their teeth twice a day for two minutes to ensure any plaque build up is kept at bay.
Stages of life
During this stage, it’s all about the milk. Whether it comes from the mother’s breast or from a formula tin, or a combination of the two, it is vital that your child is getting this. Both will provide all the nutrients that the baby will need for their first year of life. At around 6 months old most babies are ready to be introduced to solid foods like iron-rich cereals and fruits/vegetables. As breast milk may not give the child enough iron and zinc at the age of 6-9 months this is why it is important to introduce iron-fortified cereals and meats. Be sure that you don’t use the low fat options. At this stage in a child’s life their fat intake is still important to ensure they have good brain and nerve development.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
This is the age that the growth spurts start occurring and their appetite can go from non-stop to non-existent. Please do not worry as it is normal for this to happen but just make sure that they are getting a healthy and balanced diet. The foods that you need to be focusing on are:
✓ Calcium – it is the building blocks for their teeth and bones. Children are not going to be interested in why they should drink somethings but it is important that they do. If your child is lactose-intolerant or doesn’t like milk then lactose-free milk, soya milk, tofu, calcium-fortified cereals/oats etc. are your new best friend.
✓ Iron – At this age you will hear the work ‘no’ a lot as they know exactly what they do and don’t like. Bland food like chicken nuggets are their go to and there is nothing that can change their mind. This is when you need to be very patient and try to encourage fruits, vegetables, wholegrain and beans. This will help them fight against heart disease and prevent constipation – you and your child will be thankful for this.
At the age of 6-7 it is common for your child to decide they want to be vegetarian because they are animal lovers. You don’t need to panic! You can still ensure that they are getting enough protein. Rice, beans, egg, milk and peanut butter all have protein. So ‘no meat’ doesn’t mean any protein. During this stage of a child’s life they may become more vocal about wanting sweets and chocolate. You need to encourage your child to eat these in moderation and offer healthier options to them – they will thank you eventually. Packing your child’s lunch or reading through the menu with them is a good way to help them make the healthier choices.
Once puberty kicks in then more calories are needed to meet their new demands. Unfortunately, in this generation those extra calories are coming from pure junk and fast food. However, some teens go the opposite way and decide that they don’t want to eat anything because they are very body conscious. During this stage calcium is vital for them as this is when they are getting the majoring of their bone mass. Encouraging calcium rich food and drinks will help them reach their full potential. Your child’s gender will also have a role in whether they need more or less of a nutrient. Males tend to need more protein in their diet compared to women whereas women need more iron for menstruation.
Although your child is eating healthy – regardless of if they are a baby or a teenager – it can be a constant battle. However, it is a battle worth fighting for because it will ensure that your child grows into a healthy adult.