(BY DIETITIAN, JULIETTE KELLOW BSc RD)
It’s vitally important that children learn the habit of healthy eating when they are young. Good eating habits last a lifetime and diet is one of the most important steps towards a lifetime of good health.
Eating well makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight, increases your child’s chance of doing well at school, and improves concentration and behaviour. Learning good table manners also helps improve social skills, too.
Follow these 10 steps to encourage a healthy diet for your child:
How your children eat can be as important as what they eat. There are several strategies that can help your child learn good eating habits:
Whilst it’s best to encourage healthy eating among the whole family, some children may be reluctant to change their eating habits. Here are some tips to get children eating healthily without them even realising…
For children who are resistant to brown rice or wholemeal pasta, cook half of each and then mix together.
Nutrition guidelines recommended for adults are inappropriate for most children under the age of five. This is because young children only have small tummies and so need plenty of calories and nutrients in a small amount of food to ensure they grow properly.
While low-fat diets are recommended for older children and adults, under-fives need diets that contain good amounts of fat.
This fat should come from foods that contain plenty of other nutrients like meat, oily fish and full-fat milk (semi-skimmed milk is unsuitable for children under the age of two, and skimmed unsuitable for under-fives), rather than from high-fat foods that contain few vitamins and minerals like cakes, biscuits and chocolate.
Meanwhile, young children shouldn’t eat too many fibre-rich foods, either, as these may fill them up so much they can’t eat enough to provide them with adequate calories and nutrients.
However, as kids approach school age, they should gradually move towards a diet that’s lower in fat and higher in fibre. And by the age of five, their diet should be low in fat, sugar and salt and high in fibre with five fruit and veg a day – just like adults.
Fortunately, whatever their age, children can easily get a balanced diet – and lower their risk of becoming overweight or obese – by eating a variety of foods from four main food groups:
Children's Vitamin and Mineral Intake
Choosing foods from each of the four main food groups will help to ensure that kids receive all the vitamins and minerals they need for good nutrition and health.
Worryingly, figures from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Young People reveals that many children have inadequate intakes of many nutrients, including vitamin A, riboflavin (vitamin B2), zinc, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron, particularly once they reach the teenage years and have more control over what they eat.
In contrast, the survey showed these poor intakes of vitamins and minerals were combined with too much salt, sugar and saturated fat.
It’s particularly important that children and teenagers eat a diet that’s packed with vitamins and minerals. In fact, older children often have higher requirements for nutrients than even adults in order to support growth – for example, 15 to 18 year old boys need more thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, calcium, phosphorus and iron that adult men! Similarly, 15 to 18 year old girls need more niacin, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium than adult women.
Calorie Intake for Children
Although obesity is a major problem, children and teenagers still need enough calories to grow and develop into healthy adults. This chart gives a rough guideline to the daily calorie needs of boys and girls at different ages. Kids who are really active may need more; those who are inactive may need less.
Salt Intake for Children
It’s important to ensure that children don’t have too much salt. While adults should have no more than 6g of salt a day, children need even less as they have smaller bodies.
So don’t add salt to cooking or meals and check information on labels when you buy processed foods such as crisps, ready meals and sauces – even if they’re aimed at children. Opt for those with the least sodium – it’s the sodium in salt that’s linked to health problems like high blood pressure. Bacon, ham, sausages and cheese are also high in salt so limit these, too.
The maximum amounts of salt children should have at different ages are…