Nutrition for children is based on the same principles as nutrition for adults: for their bodies to function properly, they need a diet that gives them a steady supply of nutrients including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. However, unlike adults, whose bodies have already reached maturity, kids require different amounts of specific nutrients at different ages in order to develop to their full potential. Here are some general guidelines for growing children:
Whether you chose to breastfeed or use infant formula milk for your newborn, both provide baby with the right quantities of all of the nutrients he or she needs during the first year of life. From about six months onwards, most babies are ready to try out solid foods while continuing on breast milk or formula. Experiment with a variety of puréed fruits, meats and vegetables or specially formulated baby cereal to get your baby started.
Pre-schoolers typically go through significant growth spurts. Use the opportunity to introduce them to a wide variety of different foods with a range of flavours and textures, especially fruit and vegetables. Milk and other dairy products are particularly important to supply the calcium needed for growing strong bones and teeth.
Try to limit the intake of sugar, fat and sodium (salt) while ensuring that your youngster consumes enough protein from sources such as meat, eggs, beans, milk, rice and peanut butter.
Rapid growth during this stage of their life requires an increase in all nutrients. As young people reach puberty, they need more calories to support the many changes they are going through. Calcium remains important as does iron for both boys and girls (who regularly lose iron during menstruation). Iron-rich foods include red meat, leafy greens like spinach, nuts, chicken and beans. As teenagers start to become conscious of issues such as weight and body image, some may be tempted to adopt unhealthy eating habits or even dangerous eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Trusted adults can help guide them through this difficult and confusing period with encouragement and good advice on a healthy lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise and a balanced diet.
Good food for kids
A healthy diet for children consist of a number of components:
Vegetables: Ideally, all kids should regularly eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark green (e.g. kale, spinach), red (e.g. red peppers, tomatoes) and yellow or orange (e.g. carrots, yellow peppers) ones along with peas and beans. Fresh veggies are best, but try frozen and canned ones for variety.
Fruit: Encourage you children to take in a range of fresh fruits, although frozen, dried and canned fruit is also valuable, but limit their consumption of fruit juices which are frequently rich in sugar. School lunch boxes should include at least one piece of fruit every day.
Dairy products: About one quarter of a child’s adult bone mineral content is laid down between the of ages of 12 and 13 years for girls and at about 14 years for boys. This makes the consumption of dairy products which are rich in bone-building calcium crucial.But dairy products offer more than just calcium: they are packed with a unique combination of good protein and essential vitamins and minerals. It is recommended that children consume at least three servings of dairy per day, where typical single serving sizes include:
- 1 cup (250ml) milk
- 200g (2 small tubs) yoghurt
- 200ml maas (amasi)
- 40g cheese.
Grains: Whenever possible, select whole grain products like whole wheat bread and brown or wild rice.
Proteins: Choose lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, seafood, seeds and dairy as ideal protein sources for your child.
Fats: Healthy fats are important and should include mono-unsaturated fats from plant oils like canola oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, as well as poly-unsaturated fats, including omega 3 and 6 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, sardines and mackerels.