Proper nutrition is important at any age, but it is especially important when children are growing and changing.
The human body is only able to grow stronger if the right vitamins and minerals are taken in, because the body uses these “ingredients” to perform vital processes. Because growing bodies are changing rapidly, they have very different nutritional needs to the needs of adult bodies.
It is most important to introduce variety into a child’s diet, so that they can get a wide range of different vitamins and minerals from their food. Developing a wide range of tastes as a younger child can prevent children from becoming fussy eaters as adults.
Milk and Dairy Products
During the first year of your child’s life, they should only be given breast milk or a substitute infant formula. This will give them all of the nutrients that they need and will be suitable for their developing digestive system. Gradually begin to introduce solid foods from around six months.
From the age of one, you can start to give your child cow’s milk to drink. Cow’s milk is much better for your child than sodas and fizzy drinks are, and are better for their teeth than natural fruit juices are. It is full of calcium, which is required to build healthy teeth and bones. Whole milk products are also a good source of vitamin A, which helps the body to resist infection and build strong skin and eye cells.
Your child should have whole milk rather than semi-skimmed or skimmed milk products, because whole milk has more nutritional benefits and will help them to reach their target weight more easily. If you would prefer to give your child semi-skimmed milk, you should only give them it after the age of 2 and only if they have achieved the target weights for their age group.
Cheese and other dairy products such as yogurt are also good snack foods. Speak to your GP if you suspect that your child may have an intolerance to cow’s milk, as they will be able to suggest suitable non-lactose alternatives.
Fruit and Vegetables
Introduce your children to a wide range of fruits and vegetables as early as possible. Although children may not like some cooked vegetables the first time that they eat them, if you offer them the same food a few more times, it is likely that they will start to enjoy it more.
Dried fruits should not be consumed as a snack food, because they contain high levels of natural sugar which can stick to the teeth and cause tooth decay.
Bread, cereals, potatoes, rice, and other grains all contain high levels of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a good source of energy for children, and should help to keep your children active throughout the day.
Although wholegrain foods are often championed for adult eaters, wholegrain foods are not ideal for children under the age of two. Wholegrain foods are normally higher in fibre, which can lead to your child getting full up more quickly. If they are full up, they may struggle to take in as many calories and nutrients as they actually need. High fibre contents can also lead to children needing to defecate more frequently.
Protein is required for muscle growth and cell recovery following periods of activity. Children who are involved in sports or intense physical games are advised to consume more protein.
Children can get protein from beans, fish, meat, eggs, pulses and soya produce. Protein is also available from nuts, but parents are advised to avoid giving nuts to young children, because they can be a choking hazard.
Oily fish should be eaten in moderation (no more than 2 portions per week for girls and 4 for boys), because these types of fish tend to include low levels of pollutants which can build up over time. However, the benefits for oily fish outweigh the risks when the recommended levels are consumed.
Children need to consume iron for physical and mental well-being. Iron-deficiency can lead to weakness, fatigue and digestive issues.
Iron is found in most animal protein, but it can also be found in some plant foods. It is harder for the body to absorb iron from plant sources, so larger amounts may need to be consumed. Some breakfast cereals are fortified with iron to help to increase the uptake of iron in children.
Fat, Sugar and Salt
Children need to consume fat, sugar and salt because all three are required by the body, however they all need to be consumed in moderation.
Fats are particularly important for children under the age of 2, but you should start to cut down after this age. There is no need to add extra salt to food, as most foods already contain enough sodium. Sugar content must be monitored as infant teeth are particularly susceptible to decay.