For decades a child’s diet, especially the kids’ menus in a majority of restaurants (in the western world), has been thought of as basically anything salty and tasty, with chips. Chicken nuggets, sausages, battered and fried fish; with chips as standard, or pasta with some sort of sauce – not one mention of a vegetable or fruit. The lack of nutrition in what is assumed to be “what kids like to eat” is incredible. I have never quite understood why children’s meals aren’t in fact more important as far as nutritional value is concerned and why they are considered to be less interested in taste and fresh food.
It is often the case that as babies and toddlers, as their taste develops, children can be quite particular when it comes to their palate. However, so many of us make the mistake of giving them something sweet or something processed or salty as it will appeal to their tastebuds and actually inspire them to eat something. Many children worldwide are becoming obese, sick and addicted to sugar and salt due to bad diet.
If we never gave them anything other than fresh, healthy and nutritious foods, there would be nothing for them to compare it to. This is food, this is good for you, that is all there is. Surely this would ultimately encourage a very healthy diet? This and explaining to the child why the food is good for them, and why not to eat other unhealthy foods. Education is paramount.
What do children need diet-wise?
In order to encourage a healthy body and mind, and optimum development a child needs to achieve daily requirements of certain nutrients and proteins. This varies throughout different age groups – and of course different children have different intolerances or allergies – but generally we all (adults too) require the same types of nutrients for our body to work efficiently;
Vitamins and Minerals: Children need at least four or more servings of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Not processed, packaged foods that include fruit and vegetables; rather actual fresh produce. Raw is best, juiced, steamed, roasted or stir-fried is next and boiled or made into soup for example, still provides benefits but the concentration of nutrients will be reduced. It is important to note that they will be obtaining simple carbohydrates from their fruit and veg – this is “healthy” sugar.
Carbohydrates: Children need a slightly higher intake of carbohydrate than your average adult due to their naturally high energy which burns off sugars quickly and easily – the body breaks the carbs down into sugars which provide energy. Simple carbohydrates are found naturally in their fruit and vegetables, complex carbs are best sourced through unrefined grains, which still contain their original vitamins and minerals, they are also high in fibre which is good for digestion and slowly release energy over a longer period of time.
Protein: An essential tool for building, maintaining and replacing the body’s tissue; a child’s muscle, organs and immune system rely on this, as do our cells which need the oxygen carried to them by haemoglobin (powered by protein). This also helps to protect us from disease. Out of the 22 essential Amino Acids the body needs we need to source 9 of them ourselves by eating protein-rich foods.
Fats: A very important part of a child’s daily diet – for energy, to help absorb vitamins, and help with hormones which insulate the body. Unsaturated fats, good for heart health, are found in salmon, lean meats, avocado, heart-healthy oils, and nuts. There are also trans fats and saturated fats which are not so good for you. These can be avoided by steering clear of too much butter, cheese, full-fat milk, hydrogenated oils, margarine, fried foods, junk foods, unhealthy snacks, and aiming for foods containing the unsaturated fats. Make fat your friend not your enemy!
Top Foods for Nutrition in Children:
- Kiwi fruit
- Lemon or orange
- Leafy green vegetables
- Beans and peas
- Leafy green vegetables
- Red peppers
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Quality (sustainable) fish and seafood
- Quality (sustainable) poultry and meats
Children should definitely be being educated on what nutrition means, what it does to benefit you in the short and long term but also the personal deficits implied by eating badly. We can only guide them for so long, ultimately it will be their choice as to what and how they eat. This is why nutritional education should start early at home, throughout their schooling and beyond.
The boom in varied intolerances to foodstuffs and diseases and illnesses brought on by bad diet has increased enormously in recent years; this correlates to the rise of processed foods taking their toll on children, and adults, and these effects being passed down to the next generation. This cycle can be stopped if we educate ourselves and our children. Such defects can be wiped out if we choose better, and take better care of ourselves. All the information is out there, we just need to want to source it and utilise it to ensure that this unnecessary deterioration of the human immune system is stopped.
See our courses on Child and Adolescent Nutrition and Clinical Nutrition to further educate yourself and ultimately others on the importance of nutrition, and how to enforce a better diet and therefore a better life for yourself and future generations.