Healthy Eating for Kids

Healthy eating for kids - Investment in the future

Most people would agree that feeding your children a healthy diet is one of the most beneficial things you can do for their future. Proper growth and development in children is mostly dependent on whether or not they receive all the nutrients they need in the appropriate amounts for their age, gender and activity level. It is important that you know which foods in what amounts will form a healthy diet for children, as well as those foods you should limit or avoid altogether.

Also, the food patterns that you establish for your children while they are young, will have a long lasting effect on their health as they go through their lives.

Counting calories

Once a child has left infancy behind (after the first year), gains in height and weight will be fairly steady with a few growth spurts as they approach adolescence. Although individual calorie needs may vary during this time, here is a general calorie guideline to help you plan your child’s diet.

The lower number is for children who are less active and females, and the higher number is for more active children and males, with all of the variations in between. As a rule, boys require approximately 15% more calories than girls.

Planning healthy eating for kids

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines and not a strict requirement.

-2-3 year olds 1,000-1,400 calories each day

-4-8 year olds 1,200-2,000 calories each day

-9-13 year olds 1,600-2,600 calories each day

Knowing the food groups

If counting calories doesn't appeal to you, another way to approach the daily food requirements for children is to consider the five food groups. These include Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Dairy and Protein. Your child should have foods from all of these food groups every day with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with some dairy and protein foods as part of each meal.

An easy way to do this is to make sure that at least three different food groups are included with each meal and two with snacks. Mix and match the food groups so that you be sure to include several servings from each throughout the day. Snacks are an important part of a child’s diet, so make them count towards the day’s nutritional needs.Do kids need fats?

Although fats are not listed as a food group, they do play a part in healthy eating for children. It is generally recommended that fat intake should not exceed 30% of a kid's total calorie intake, with an emphasis on unsaturated oils, nut butters (not for very young children), and fish (although fish has its own problems due to contamination with toxic chemicals that can be harmful to children.)

There is some controversy about whether children should ever be given low-fat or non-fat dairy products, especially when they are very young, but if they are getting enough fat from other sources this should not be a problem.

It is almost never advisable to put children on an extremely low fat diet, since they need sufficient fat in their diet for proper development.

Check with your health care professional, particularly a dietitian,  for advice in this regard.

Fiber is important.

In addition to promoting good digestion and elimination, the fiber in many carbohydrate foods may contribute to a healthy colon and decreased exposure to harmful toxins. Fiber in the diet has also been associated with decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and irritable bowel syndrome.

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. an eight-year-old would need about 13 grams of fiber [8+5] each day.)

Is skipping meals okay?

Since children are busy growing and developing, they use up nutrients very quickly. Each meal and snack throughout the day is important in maintaining a steady flow of energy and nutrients that the child needs to grow, learn and avoid sickness. For this reason, skipping meals should not be a common occurrence in your kid’s life. Breakfast, is of particular importance, since they will need to replenish their store of nutrients after sleeping.

School-age children are particularly affected when they skip breakfast, since it will affect their ability to concentrate and learn, as well as make them more vulnerable to any illness among their classmates.

Telltale signs that your child is well-nourished.

(1) Are the child’s teeth white and firmly attached to his/her gums?

(2) Does the child have bright eyes that properly adjust to changes in light?

(3) Is the child growing taller and putting on weight proportionate with his height? 

(4) Is the child’s hair shiny and firmly attached to his/her scalp?

(5) Is the child’s skin firm and smooth with a healthy color, free of dryness or scaliness?

(6) Does the child have good muscle tone and posture?

(7) Does the child seem cooperative, cheerful and engaged, at least much of the time?

(8) Is the child’s tongue red and bumpy?

(9) Does the child digest food well, have a regular heart beat and good reflexes?

If you answered yes to these questions, your child is most likely eating an adequate 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 health care professional to discover if there is a nutrient deficiency.

Obesity is a health risk.

No one is happy to hear that obesity has become a serious health problem in our society, but it is particularly difficult to hear that this problem is affecting the most vulnerable in the population—our children. Even with all the scientific and medical advances, it may be that this current generation of children will be the first group not to live longer, healthier lives than their parents.

Obesity related disorders, such as Type II 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 joint pain, heart problems and even social isolation.

Click here for information on how to prevent childhood obesity.

Healthy eating for kids - Steps you can take

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.

-Make healthy eating fun by creating attractive and even whimsical menu items.

-Limit or eliminate, soda and sugary fruit drinks, from your children's diet, and encourage them to drink water instead.

-Model healthy eating habits, by choosing healthy foods yourself.

-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.

-Resist rewarding your kids with sugary treats, but reward them instead with attention and other non-food incentives.

-Educate yourself and your children about which foods are healthy, along with the matchless benefits of healthy eating.

In a nutshell!

In the simplest terms, healthy eating for kids means providing your kids with a variety of nutritious foods from all of the food groups on a daily basis. Helping them to choose and enjoy foods that are good for them, will give them a distinct advantage as they take on the challenges of growing up.

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