We all want our children to have a happy and healthy life with a normal lifespan. It is not an exaggeration to say that providing your kids with a healthy diet is one of the most momentous things you can do for their future.
A child’s proper growth and development is largely dependent on whether or not they receive all the nutrients they need in the appropriate amounts for their age, gender and activity level.
In addition, the food patterns that you establish for your kids while they are young, will have a lasting effect on their health.
Calories do count in child nutrition
After the first year, when a child has left infancy behind, gains in height and weight will be fairly steady with a few growth spurts on their way to adolescence. Although individual calorie needs may vary during this period, here is a general calorie guideline to help you plan your child’s diet. The lower number is for kids who are not very active and female, and the higher number for very active children and males, with all of the variations in between. Boys generally require about 15% more calories than girls.
Planning child nutrition by food group
If you don't like counting calories, another way to approach the daily food requirements for kids is to look at the five food groups. These include Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Dairy and Protein. Your children should be eating foods from all of these food groups each day, with a particular emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with some dairy and protein foods as part of each meal.
What about low fat?
There is some controversy about whether children should be given low fat or non-fat dairy products, especially when they are very young, but if they're getting enough fat from other sources, this should not be a problem. It is almost never advisable to put your child on an extremely low fat diet, since they need sufficient fat in their diet for proper development.
One easy way to do this is to make sure that at least three different food groups are represented in each meal and two with snacks. You should mix and match the food groups so that you include several servings from each category throughout the day. Snacks are an important part of your child’s diet, so be sure make them count towards the day’s nutritional requirements.
Child nutrition and fats?
Although fats are not listed as a food group, they do play a part in child nutrition. It is generally recommended that fat intake should not exceed 30% of a child’s total calorie intake, and their fat intake should emphasize unsaturated oils, nut butters (not for very young kids), and fish.
Kids need to eat fiber foods.
In addition to promoting good digestion and elimination, the fiber in many carb foods can contribute to a healthy colon and decreased exposure to harmful toxins. Sufficient fiber in the diet has also been associated with decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and irritable bowel syndrome.
Since children are being diagnosed with these diseases at younger and younger ages, anything you can do to insure their overall good health will help your kids stay healthy into adulthood.
Children need less fiber than adults, depending on age. A rule of thumb for determining the amount of fiber a child needs is “age-plus-five,” meaning add five to the child’s age to determine the amount of fiber they need. (i.e. a seven-year-old would need about 12 grams of fiber [7+5] each day.)
Since kids are developing so fast, they use up nutrients very quickly. Each meal and snack throughout the day is important in maintaining a steady flow of energy and nutrition that the child needs to grow, develop, learn and avoid sickness. For this reason, skipping meals shouldn't be a regular occurrence in your child’s life. Breakfast, in particular is important, since they will need to replenish their store of nutrients after a night’s sleep.
School-age children are more vulnerable to the problems associated with skipping breakfast, since it affects their ability to concentrate and absorb new concepts as well as make them more susceptible to any illness among their classmates.
There are definite indicators that point to a well-nourished child:
--Is the child growing taller and putting on weight proportionate with his height?
--Is the child’s hair shiny and firmly attached to his/her scalp?
--Are the child’s teeth white and firmly attached to his/her gums?
--Does the child have bright eyes that properly adjust to changes in light?
--Is the child’s skin firm and smooth with a healthy color, free of dryness or scaliness?
--Does the child have good muscle tone and posture?
--Is the child’s tongue red and bumpy?
--Does the child digest food well, have a regular heart beat and good reflexes?
--Does the child seem cooperative, cheerful and engaged, at least much of the time?
If you answered yes to these questions, your child is most likely eating a healthy diet. However, if you answered no to one or more of them, you may want to take a look at your child’s eating habits or consult a professional to determine if there is a nutrient deficiency.
Child obesity becoming more common
No one is happy to hear that obesity has become a serious health problem in our society, but it is especially difficult to hear that this problem is affecting the most vulnerable in the population—our kids.
Obesity related disorders, such as Diabetes and Hypertension, are being diagnosed at younger ages. In addition, overweight kids are experiencing difficulties that used to be associated only with adults, such as heart disorders, joint pain, and even social isolation.
What you can do about child nutrition
Here are some tips to help you make sure your kids are eating healthy:
--Take your child for a physical check-up with a pediatrician to rule out any problems.
--Eat more meals at home, since fast food is generally loaded with unhealthy fat-and empty calories.
--Eat together as a family whenever you can. A recent study showed a connection between the decline of family meals and the increase in childhood obesity.
--Educate yourself and your kids about which foods are healthy, along with the matchless benefits of healthy eating.
--Limit or eliminate, soda and sugary fruit drinks, from your child's diet, and encourage them to drink water instead.
--Model healthy eating habits, by choosing healthy foods yourself.
--Make healthy eating fun by creating attractive and even whimsical menu items.
--Resist rewarding your kids with sugary treats, but reward them instead with attention and other non-food incentives.
Child nutrition is not as difficult as you think!
In simple terms, child nutrition involves providing your kids with a variety of nutritious foods from all of the food groups on a daily basis. Teaching them to choose and enjoy foods that are good for them will give them a huge advantage as they grow up and take on the challenges of adulthood.