What is Nutrition?
Given the large number of essential human nutrients, understanding the nutrient requirements of children is a huge task, but this needs to be taken seriously. A “healthy diet” is one that provides important nutrients in the right quantities that come from a variety of natural foods covering the basic food groups. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, energy, fats and lipids, a host of minerals, a range of vitamins and trace elements. It provides the energy that children need to maintain healthy weight. It does not contain excess of unwanted stuff like sugar, salt or fat.
This child nutrition guide aims at bringing about an understanding of the nutritional needs of children, as kids who don’t have healthy diets when young will mostly continue to make unhealthy choices as adults.
Children and Nutrition
Proper nutrition in childhood can set your child on the path to good eating habits and contribute to the overall well-being of children, leading to a healthy and happy life.
The Department of Nutrition for Health and Development continually reviews new research and information from around the world. Over the past few years, significant new evidence has been documented revealing the link between eating food with high nutritional value and learning.
Source : wikimedi
Lack of nutritious food intake is associated with quantifiable negative consequences for academic, cognitive, health and mental health functioning. In fact, proper nutrition is crucial in the first few years of life for life-long health and well-being.
Healthy eating contributes to overall healthy growth and development, including healthy skin, bones, energy levels; lowered risk of dental caries, constipation, malnutrition, eating disorders and iron deficiency anemia.
Food For Children
Infancy – During infancy, the best gift a mother can give her child is breastfeeding, according to the World Health Organization. WHO recommends starting breastfeeding within one hour of life and continuing it exclusively for 4-6 months. After this, breast milk may not provide enough iron and zinc and iron-fortified infant cereal and strained fruits, vegetables and pureed meats are to be introduced. But breastfeeding needs to be continued for up to two years of age or even beyond. It is also suggested not to go low-fat crazy for children below two. According to Dr. Shu, “You don’t want to restrict fats under age two because a healthy amount of fat is important for babies’ brain and nerve development.”
Young Children – Young and growing children are impressionable and easily influenced by the food preferences of parents and peers. When you find a five-year old eating junk and chocolates, it has to be understood that the child does not go and buy them by himself, he finds them at home.
Dietary style is taught through example and by enabling the child to find proper food at home. You would be surprised to note that it has been demonstrated how mothers’ eating style during pregnancy, along with the diet followed during toddler years can modify genes expressivity (this is the way genes influence the characteristics of individual’s lives) and predispose the appearance of chronic metabolic disease. This brings to light the importance of a good nutritional diet and how this should start during childhood and involve the child’s entire family.
What Are Macronutrients?
Proteins, fats and carbohydrates are the structural elements on which our life is based and they are called macronutrients. Proteins are needed to form the structure of the human body and to repair eventual damages; fats and carbohydrates help produce the energy our body needs to live.
They play a structural and functional role. The daily need of protein depends on the age of the person, and it is inversely proportional – younger the child, higher the need. But it is not all about quantity; it is also about the quality of proteins.
The daily protein ration has to provide the essential amino acids that the body cannot produce by itself. The best thing to do is to balance your child’s diet with both animal and vegetal proteins. Vegetal proteins are derived from cereals and pulses and in smaller quantities from vegetables and fruits, but they lack a few essential amino acids. Animal proteins have a higher biologic value because they provide all the essential amino acids in the right quantities. They are found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
- Alternate between animal and vegetal proteins and combine them with cereals and pulses.
- Do not serve meat twice a day and do not serve meat or pork fat.
- Serve fish frequently, even fatty fish is good for kids.
- If you’re feeding a vegetarian meal, balance both the vegetal and animal protein like butter, cheese and milk.
- Do not combine meat and cheese proteins at the same meal.
- Do not give your children butter and fermented cheese together at any meal.
They form the energy base for our children and are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are complex and simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates have a sweeter taste and are easily digested and absorbed by the body.
Complex carbohydrates are less sweet, absorb slowly and are the main energy source for the body. Maintain a balance between animal and vegetal carbs, such as honey, fruits, vegetables, liver and meat etc.
- Do not add sugar to any drinks or food you feed your kids.
- Get them used to brown sugar or raw honey at an early age.
- Avoid sugared canned fruits and juices.
- Serve only whole cereals containing complex or slow absorption sugars.
- Get them used to eating brown bread or whole wheat bread and brown rice.
- Include plenty of pulses in their meals
Fats are found in all foods and they improve their taste and consistency. In a balanced diet there should be 25% of fat intake, with a presence of essential fat acids. As opposed to popular belief that fat is bad for children, fat intake is essential for their growth and development. Children need fat for their nervous system and brain to develop. What parents need to concentrate on is to ensure kids eat the right kinds of fat in the recommended amounts.
Fiber is found in cereals, fruit, pulses and vegetables. In children, although fiber is extremely useful for the regulation of intestinal transit, care has to be taken not to overdo it as fiber can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients, which are necessary for rapidly growing bodies. It can also lead to constipation, abdominal pain and gas, as well as resulting in overweight because of the high glycemic load.
This is the reason, it is suggested that whole foods should not be given in large quantities during the first year of life to ensure there is no interference of mineral and vitamin absorption. Child nutrition suggests a balance of refined foods and foods rich in fibers in the growing years.
What are Micronutrients?
These are substances that our body contains but in smaller quantities and they are very important. Vitamins, mineral salts and other substances like antioxidants fall under this category. They are fundamental sources of energy producing chemical reactions that happen in our body.
Foods rich in proteins are seen to represent our children’s well being; however, if they are not properly balanced with fats and carbohydrates, it provokes increased degenerative and metabolic diseases.
Research shows that children should be eating at least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day, as they are rich in antioxidant substances.
By doing this, parents are introducing the right amount of minerals and vitamins that are extremely useful in preventing almost all sorts of metabolic and degenerative diseases, and perhaps some types of tumors too.
The following fruits and vegetables should form the base of the diet for children and of course it goes without saying, parents too.
Amla; Guava; Citrus Fruits like Oranges and lemons etc.; Mango; Papaya; Pomegranate; Apricot; Pineapple; Watermelon; Kiwi; Banana; Grapes; Apple; Melon; Lemon; Mint; Aubergine; Spinach; Pumpkin and Zucchini; Beetroot; Broccoli; Carrot; Cabbage; Cucumber; Capsicum; Tomato; Turnip; Onion; Garlic; Milk; Cheese; and Buttermilk.
Other foods that are needed for growing children are fish, dry fruits, almonds, walnuts, coconut, sesame, olives, and whole foods.
Source : wikimedia
Source : wikimedia
Source : wikimedia
Source : wikimedia
Healthy Eating For Children
All the studies done in the field of nutrition have shown that the existing habits of children and adolescents are far from the advised ones and lead to cardiovascular and metabolic problems as adults.
Here is a simple plan for children that parents can follow
- Serve breakfast every morning at leisure (wake them up 15 minutes earlier if needed), regular lunch and dinner, morning snack at 10 am and afternoon snack at 5 pm.
- Ensure the child does not eat out of these main meals.
- Do not serve snacks or sweets as prizes.
- Avoid all snacks rich in sugars, calories, fats, aerated and sweetened drinks.
- Do not insist if your child feels full and does not want to eat. (Of course, if this happens all the time, you will need to consult a doctor).
- Limit the use of proteins, reduce eggs, cheese and meat and increase fish. Never mix the different kinds of proteins like meat, cheese, fish and eggs.
- Let the child play a lot in the open air and during winters also, allow him to play outside in the cold. Natural cold and movement will help burn a lot of calories. (not artificial cold from A/C.)
Child Nutrition Overview
As you have seen thus far in this child nutrition guide, a healthy diet helps children grow and learn. It keeps weight-related diseases and obesity at bay.
- Ensure your children get five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Eggs, lean meat and nuts are healthy sources of protein.
- Whole-grain breads and cereals high in fiber content are good for kids.
- Reduce serving fried foods. Try and grill, steam or broil them instead.
- Keep children away from junk and fast food as much as possible.
- Substitute milk and water for sodas and sugary drinks.
We hope this child nutrition guide helps you learn about your children’s nutrient requirements. It is important to know that the iron and calcium requirements change as children grow older. Concentrate on giving them a diet that contains foods from different food groups, such as breads and grains, fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy. This will help prevent nutrient deficiencies. The American Medical Association recommends that children get all their nutrients from foods rather than vitamin supplements, unless the pediatrician advices otherwise.
We suggest you take a look at my plate which is the latest in child nutrition. My plate tells parents all about children and nutrition, of the different food groups, and how they are to be served to their children for optimum child nutrition.
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