Every parent wishes to see her kids in pink of health, stay strong and grow tall. Food and exercise are
two pillars of a child’s well-being. While the children get moving in school and at the play zone in the
evening, it’s often food that they neglect. Some kids are picky eaters while at times due to lack of
knowledge parents tend to leave certain foods that can contribute to their child’s exponential growth.
When parents send their children off to school, many breathe a sigh of relief. They think gone are the
daily hassles over meal times, what to eat for snacks, introducing new foods, and encouraging children
to eat healthy food choices. If only that could be true! Children beginning their school years still have
many nutritional needs to meet. Children entering school face new choices about eating. Decisions
about what to eat from the school lunch menu, influences from friends at school, and opportunities to
select their after-school snacks will affect nutritional habits that may last a lifetime.
School-aged children are still growing. Growth requirements combined with physical activity play a role
in determining a child’s nutritional needs. Genetic background, gender, body size and shape are some
other factors. The nutrients needed by children are the same needed by adults, but the amounts vary.
Carbohydrates and fats provide energy for growing and physical activity. There are times when children
hit periods of rapid growth. At these times their appetites expand, and they may appear to be constantly
eating. When growth slows, appetites diminish, and children will eat less food at meal times. They will
require fewer snacks.
Protein builds, maintains and repairs body tissue. It is especially important for growth. It is important, to
encourage children to eat two to three servings of meat, fish, poultry or other protein-rich food each
day. Milk and other dairy products also are good protein sources for children.
There are a variety of vitamins and minerals which support growth and development during childhood.
Calcium, obtained from milk and dairy products and from dark green, leafy vegetables, is usually
sufficient nutritionally in the diets of young children. As children approach teen years, their dietary
calcium intakes do not always keep up with recommended daily allowances. Calcium is particularly
important in building strong bones and teeth. Bone density suffers when calcium needs are not met
during childhood years. Osteoporosis, a brittle bone disease that affects older adults, begins in
childhood if diets are not providing adequate calcium-rich foods.
Iron-deficiency anemia can be a problem for some children. Iron is an oxygen-carrying component of
blood. Children need iron for expanding blood volume which is accompanied during periods of rapid
growth. For girls, the beginning of menstruation in late childhood adds an extra demand for iron due to
the regular loss of iron in menstrual blood. Meats, fish, poultry, and enriched breads and cereals are the
best sources of dietary iron. A vitamin and mineral supplement may be necessary to meet the iron
needs of menstruating female teens.
Most children eat diets that are adequate in Vitamins A and C. When children do not eat enough fruits
and vegetables they run the risk of having low intakes of vitamins A and C. B Complex Vitamins (thiamin,
niacin, riboflavin and other B vitamins) come from a variety of foods, including grain products, meat and
meat substitutes and dairy products. Generally, children do not have trouble getting adequate intakes of
the B Complex vitamins.
When appetites slow down, and children do not seem to be eating nutritiously, concerned parents
consider using a vitamin-mineral supplement. Generally, children do not need vitamin-mineral
supplements. If one is being used, select a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. Parents should
provide a variety of foods and establish regular meal and snack times. In most cases, the nutrient needs
will be adequately met. If parents feel there is a reason to be concerned about a child’s poor nutrient
intake they should consult a physician or trained nutrition professional.
The “Food Guide Pyramid” provides guidance in planning daily food intakes for children. Plan meals and
snacks that provide the recommended number of servings each day.
Tips for child nutrition
Teach the importance of good nutrition, and help your children establish healthy eating habits.
The more your child understands about nutrition, the more excited he will be about eating
Nutrients are important, but portion size matters too.
Half of your child’s plate should be fruits and vegetables.
Choose fresh foods over highly processed foods.
How you cook and prepare foods can affect the nutritional value. For example, try grilling,
steaming, baking, or broiling vegetables instead of frying or boiling them.
It’s not just food that’s important. Drink water or low-fat milk instead of sugary, sweetened
Different foods provide different nutrients, so make sure your child gets a good variety of fruits
Find nutritious foods that children enjoy.
Try fruit for dessert.
Nutrition plays an important role in the growth and development of children, with a healthy diet
synergistically enhancing physical and mental abilities. Malnutrition in children is detrimental to the
development of their physical growth, cognitive abilities, and psychosocial skills, with multiple
downstream effects in the short-term and long-term. Healthcare professionals are ideally placed to have
a frank, open, and respectful conversation with parents about child nutrition, and should be encouraged
to do so.