Nutrition for Children
Bringing a new life into the world brings with it new responsibility. And as a parent, the health of your growing child is of utmost importance. But it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the conflicting and convoluted information. Do fussy eating, hyperactivity and excessive screen-use make you want to pull your hair out? You’re not alone.
We know vegetables and children don’t always mix well. But there’s more to raising a healthy child than cramming in greens. Balance is key – as is diversifying food choices. Accordingly, you need to make room for dairy, protein, fibre and essential fatty acids. Sure, it’s hard, but try to keep junk food to a minimum, too. Nutritionally empty, these calorie-grenades are addictive and chock-full of unhealthy ingredients that you probably can’t even pronounce. Arming your little one with healthy eating habits from an early age will set them up for life – not to mention help ward off the lurgies that do the rounds in the school corridors. Diet aside, these formative years can also see huge developmental and behavioural changes. New pressures from school, friendships, and even wider society can lead to cumulative stress and anxiety. As your child inches closer to being a full-fledged teenager, you may have to explore more creative avenues with your parenting.
Eating & Lifestyle Habits
Think Healthy Fats
Empirical data suggests omega 3 essential fatty acids are important for cognitive development and vision. (1) With this in mind, try to cram 2-3 portions of oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel) into your little one’s diet weekly. Consider hiding in fish tacos, homemade fish fingers, and salmon-fried rice.
Veto Junk Food
Although your child’s eyes may light up at the prospect of chips, junk food has zilch nutritional value. The likes of chips, pizza, and sweets are extraordinarily high in sugar, salt and calories – not much else. Offer smoothies over fizzy drinks, and homemade bean burgers instead of their fast-food counterpart.
Power Up Packed Lunches
To ensure your child is nourished during the school day, choose packed lunches over canteen meals. Well-balanced lunch box suggestions may include a sandwich with cheese, hummus and salad; crackers with spread; fresh fruit and raw veggies. Packed lunches are another great way to teach your child about healthy food.
Diversify food choices
One antidote to fussy eating is diversifying food choices from a young age. Kids are new-foodphobic by nature. Disguising fruit and veggies in smoothies and sauces is a smart way to mask health credentials. And, when in doubt, dip it! If your children don’t enjoy vegetables, try serving with dips and condiments, like hummus or salsa. Remember, your child’s taste will change. One day they’ll ate something; a week later they may love it. The phrase ‘balanced-diet’ is often batted around in the child-rearing sphere. But what does this really mean? Well, it’s certainly not a barrage of burritos, burgers and baked goods, that’s for sure. Instead, a truly balanced diet calls for variety, colour and a range of delicious wholefoods from all the major food groups: fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy, and protein.
Support Digestive Issues
While tender tummies are common in childhood, it can still prompt parental anxiety. If constipation is the perpetrator, try upping your little one’s fibre intake with wholegrain cereals, bread and plenty of vegetables to get their bowel movements regular. Other digestive disturbances (especially those that cause impolite bodily noises) may be the result of a lactose-intolerance. Try keeping a food diary to determine the offender.
Young skin is delicate and easily damaged; it’s more prone to irritation and sensitivity. To support the needs of your little one, choose child-friendly products that are free from perfumes and dyes. Equally, try to limit your child’s exposure to other household irritants, like air-freshening sprays, pet hair, dust, or furniture polish. Remember to keep sensitive skin well moisturised, too.
Limit Screen Use
Yes, unlimited screen-time may keep your little ones distracted and quiet, but too much tech isn’t good for kids. Try setting boundaries: create technology-free zones that are reserved for family conversations and meals; set aside time for a digital-detox, like the hour before bedtime; and make screen time a privilege, not a right. You should model healthy electronic use, too.
Bouncing from activity to activity with unbounded energy, a hyperactive child can be challenging. As a parent, establishing a healthy sense of order in your household can be hugely beneficial for your child. Beyond this, it can also help to break down complex instructions, minimize distractions (goodbye screens), and use positive reinforcement.
Vitamins & Supplements
Building a body for life needs to start in childhood. Adopting healthy habits early helps to hone the bone-building process and ensures young people attain their maximum bone mass potential. Besides being physically active, this means following a bone-friendly diet, with calcium taking centre stage. However, children often fail to consume adequate amounts of this mineral from diet alone. The British Medical Association revealed many children in the UK have worryingly low intakes of calcium (2).
Calcium isn’t the only important nutrient for healthy bones. This mineral can’t do its job without the aid of vitamin D. Crucially, this sunshine nutrient supports the absorption of calcium, thereby helping to maintain normal bone health. Better still, vitamin D also contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Between March and September, encourage your child to bask in 15 minutes of sunlight daily to synthesise enough vitamin D. To plug any nutritional gaps, try your little ones on a liquid vitamin D.
Studying, socialising and screen-time can be pretty exhausting work for kids. Known to support the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, magnesium is another important mineral to stash in your little one’s nutrition toolbox. Better still, there’s some evidence to suggest magnesium may also support growing bones and teeth. Alongside packing more green veggies, pulses and nuts into your child’s diet, look for a supplement that delivers between 120mg and 200mg of mighty magnesium.
Omega 3/Cod Liver Oil
Exams. Assignments. Homework. Learning new stuff. Let’s be honest: school makes little brains work hard. To give little ones the best start in academia, it can help to optimise their diet and nutrition. Increasingly, evidence purports the omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, support the maintenance of cognitive function. (3) For tots who aren’t a fan of swallowing supplements, try omega 3s in a chewable form.
Noticed that your little one is more weary, fatigued and irritable than usual? Supporting metabolic activities and energy production, a plentiful intake of B vitamins is essential to keep your child on the right nutritional track. Crucially, if you’re raising a child on a plant-based diet, you’ll need to ensure vitamin B12 supplementation since this nutrient is naturally found in animal foods. Choose a multivitamin that delivers a comprehensive spread of the B vitamins.
Playing and making new friends is fun, but it also means coughs and colds regularly do the rounds at school. Interestingly, children prime their immune systems by fighting on-going scores of viruses, germs and other organisms, which is why sniffles are a fact of life for kids. Beyond keeping little hands clean as much as possible, cramming more fruit and veggies into your child’s diet, and exercising regularly as a family, vitamin C is a great insurance policy that may further support immunity. Here’s to more playground antics, and less runny noses.
Beta-carotene (Vitamin A)
How often do you urge your kids to eat their carrots because of their purported benefits? Found in carrots and hailed as one of the most potent and health promoting antioxidants, beta-carotene – which is converted into vitamin A in the body – may help to maintain normal vision, skin, and immune function. To support your child’s growth and development, look for around 400μg of vitamin A in a quality multivitamin. Other food sources of vitamin A include sweet potato, broccoli and red pepper.
Modern-day diets are often alarmingly low in zinc because of our food-refining processes, particularly in your child’s favourite cereals, which can remove up to 90% of the available zinc content. Involved in hundreds of biological processes; zinc is often recommended for its key role in immunity, making it the perfect partner to vitamin C. Bonus: zinc also contributes to normal cognitive function, helping to complement the ever-growing demands of school.
Stonehouse W. et al., Does Consumption of LC Omega-3 PUFA Enhance Cognitive Performance in Healthy School-Aged Children and throughout Adulthood? Evidence from Clinical Trials. Nutrients. 2014;6(7):2730-2758.
Food for thought: promoting healthy diets among children and young people. (2015). [Ebook].Available online: http://file:///Users/user/Downloads/PO-FoodForThoughtreport-09-07-2015.pdf
Dyall S. et al., Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 2015;7.
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.