5 Top Tips for Kids' Nutrition and Healthy Eating
Unhealthy diets have been related to many problems for children ranging from growth abnormalities to learning and behavioral problems at school. A child's diet also sets them up for life as an adult, often with any problems caused by a bad childhood diet only becoming evident when they grow older. If you follow these 5 steps you will be helping to give your kid the best possible start in life. This is particularly important because it is not just their childhood that will be affected by what they eat when they are young.
Firstly it's important to realize that since children are growing their nutritional and calorific needs are different from yours as an adult, in fact children under the age of 5 have very different needs from adults. A child under 5 will need a diet that includes foods with higher fat content than an adult and they should avoid calorie restricted or high fiber (such as whole grain) diets. From the age of 5 a gradual transition to a more 'adult like' diet can be taken with lower fat foods and and more whole grain.
1. A suitable diet for kids should be varied
A kids diet should be varied and should include a selection of foods from all the 5 food groups, this will make sure that they get all the nutrients that they need. The five food groups include:
Starchy foods – for example bread, cereals, potatoes, rice, pasta. These foods should make up a large part of a child's diet and children should be encouraged to eat foods from this group.
Fruit and vegetables – fresh, tinned, frozen and dried fruit and vegetables. To encourage children to like these types of food they should be given 4-5 servings from as wide a range as possible each day.
Dairy foods – milk, yogurt, cheese. Around 1 pint of milk, 125g of yogurt or 30g of cheese a day is a healthy amount of dairy products for a child to consume. Children under the age of 5 should not have fat reduced milk such as semi skimmed milk, while children over 5 can move onto fat reduced varieties.
Meat and proteins – meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts. Children should eat 2 or 3 portions a day.
Fatty and Sugary foods – while fats can be a useful source of energy for children under 5, foods which provide some nutritional value as well as fat should be chosen, for example milk, lean meat, oily fish, cheese and yogurt rather than cake, crisps, chocolate and pastry.
If you choose a good mix of foods from the categories described above this will help make sure that your kid is getting many of the vitamins and minerals they need for good health. However surveys carried out by the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health suggest that many children do not get enough of a large range of vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, vitamin A, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and iron.
Furthermore the same research also suggest that children tend to get too much salt, fat, sugar and saturated fat in their diets, this is particularly a problem for teenagers who have more control over their own diets and needless to say, they tend not to eat what is good for them.
2. Check your kids daily calorific intake
These government figures are guides for the daily requirements of children, as they are guides that they may vary from one child to another. An active child will need more calories than an inactive one, even for the same child calorific intake may be higher on one day and lower the next.
If a child regularly exceed these guidelines they may become over weight (obese), this is a growing problem in many parts of the developed world, for children and adults alike.
Calories per day by age
years – boys – girls
1-3 – 1,230 – 1,165
4-6 – 1,715 – 1,545
7-10 – 1,970 – 1,740
11-14 – 2,220 – 1,845
15-18 – 2,755 – 2,110
Adults – 2,550 – 1,940
Calorie requirement per day adapted from NHS choices
3. Check your kids salt intake
Research suggests that a large intake of salt in adults can cause high blood pressure. While high blood pressure in children is unusual it's also illegally to be healthy for children to have too much salt. While adults should have no more than 6g of salt per day, children should have even less.
It's important to avoid adding salt when cooking or eating meals and foods high in salt should also be avoided. This includes foods such as crisps, sauces, processed foods and many ready meals. Unfortunately salt is often used as a flavor enhancer and so is widely used in the food manufacturing industry, even for food specifically for children.
1-3 years – 2g a day (0.8g sodium)
4-6 years – 3g a day (1.2g sodium)
7-10 years – 5g a day (2g sodium)
11 years upward – 6g a day (2.5g sodium)
Recommended levels of salt for children (1g of salt correspondents to 0.4g of sodium)
4. Check your kids diet includes a source of Vitamin D
Recent research has suggested that many children may be deficient in Vitamin D, particularly in winter as the main source of vitamin D is from the action of sun on our skin. Vitamin D is found in a few natural foods such as oily fish (sardine, salmon, mackerel, pilchard and tuna) and a few foods are fortified with small amounts of Vitamin D (infant formula milk, margarine and some breakfast cereals).
However during winter when sunlight levels are low the main source of Vitamin D is supplements and, in fact, the government recommends that some children take vitamin D as a matter of course, either prescribed or over-the-counter from pharmacies, health food shops and the Internet.
5. Check your kids diet includes sources of Iron rich foods
It is important to include iron rich food in a child's diet, as iron enables blood to carry oxygen around the body. Low levels of iron can typically be a problem for vegetarians as it is more difficult to absorb iron form fruit and vegetables, although adding vitamin C can help with absorption (for example having baked beans with sliced tomatoes).
Excellent – liver and kidney
Very Good – wheat germ bread, dried fruit, beef, pilchard, sardine
Good – whole meal bread, pulses, lentils, beans, lamb, pork, vegetable, fish (including fish fingers)
Sources of iron in food for children (adapted from NHS choices)
Source by Charlie M Perring