|Healthy Eating For Children
|Changes in Growth Patterns
Your child has just gone through a large growth spurt in his/her first year of life where their weight
tripled. In the next 5 to 6 years, their weight will only increase 5 – 6 pounds per year. Their
growth will slow, and their food intake will change accordingly. Do not be alarmed if your child is
not eating as much as before or does not seem to be hungry at times. It is crucial at this stage that
you do not overfeed your child which could lead to childhood obesity. If your child is within the
healthy weight range (check height-weight charts), he is eating
enough for his growth requirements. If you have any concerns, check with your doctor or paediatrician.
Children often develop irregular eating patterns during this stage. They may become bored with their
usual foods or may want the same food every day. Between the ages of 1 and 6, children are usually
less interested in food than in exploring their world. Young children will not comfortably conform to
an adult three meal-a-day pattern. They may want small amounts of food or snacks frequently throughout
the day. They may eat one meal, e.g. breakfast, and reject other formal meals. Don't be upset or view
it as a challenge to your parental authority. It is frequently a normal pattern for the child that the
parents should feel comfortable with and accommodate. Appetite decreases until the growth spurt that
comes with puberty.
Like adults, children need to eat a variety of foods from different food groups to get all the nutrients
necessary for growth and good health. In addition, young children are influenced by their parents'
eating habits. If you feast on fried foods and have sweet tooth, or if your idea of a vegetable is
ketchup, then don't be surprised if your child does the same. You can help develop healthy eating
habits by keeping on hand a wide variety of foods in the forms your child prefers. Kids generally prefer
foods with milder flavour, in particular vegetables. So they may prefer cooked carrot to cabbage or
plain salad to marinated salad. They may prefer dairy products more than you do, so offer them milk,
yoghurt or cheese (children need about two servings of high calcium foods per day: one cup of
milk, two ounces of sliced cheese, or 1 tub of yoghurt is equivalent to one serving).
Because heart disease can start in childhood, children 2 years and older should start eating a lower
fat diet--lean meats, poultry, fish, less fried foods, chocolate, and desserts--along with the rest
of the family. But this does not mean putting a preschooler on a low-calorie diet. Health experts
recommend that children wait until the age of two to start on low-fat dairy products. Always get
professional advice before putting a child on any type of special diet. If you think your child is
overweight, talk to your pediatrician. Like adults, children's calorie needs vary widely, depending
on height, weight and individual activity levels:
Refer to the Recommended Dietary Allowances for more
detailed breakdown of nutrient needs.
- The average 1-year-old needs about 1000 calories a day
- The average 3-year-old needs about 1300 calories a day
- By age 7, a child needs approximately 1800 calories a day.
Children in this age bracket can be picky eaters. If your child plays with her food or refuses to eat
more than a mouthful, take the food away and let her leave the table. You probably do not have to
worry as long as your child is gaining weight and growing properly. All you can do is have a wide
variety of healthy foods on hand and keep offering them, even after they are refused (children
do change their minds).
If your child consistently refuses a particular food, try it in a different form, or offer a substitute
within the same food group. For instance, if your child refuses cooked carrots, try raw carrot sticks
or cooked sweet potato. Keep in mind that fresh fruit contains many of the same nutrients as vegetables
and can be used as a substitute, if necessary. If your child does not drink plain milk, try milk with
a little cocoa or make a fruit smoothie with milk and yoghurt.
It helps to keep your child on a regular eating schedule. Avoid too many quick snacks, so there is
enough time to build up an appetite between meals. On the other hand, young children may need to eat
5 or 6 small meals instead of three big ones, since they can eat only so much at each meal.
Well-rounded, nutritious snacks, such as a bowl of noodle soup, or crackers with peanut butter can be
served as a mini-meal.
The school-aged child from age 6 until the onset of puberty experiences a slow rate of growth and only
gradual changes in body size and dimensions. The slow rate of growth during this period of "latent
growth" results in a slow decline in food requirements per pound of body weight. Nevertheless,
nutrients are being laid down to fuel the impending increase in growth during adolescence. The quality
and completeness of the diet remain as critical as ever to the nutritional health and well being of
the child. A satisfactory diet must include the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients.
All the known nutrients are supplied by a daily diet that is varied and reflects selections from each
of the food groups:
||½ cup or 1 slice
Food habits, patterns, practices and preferences evolve during childhood. One way to set your children
on a lifetime track of healthy eating is to make meal preparation a team effort. Let kids in this age
group help with grocery shopping, meal planning and food preparation. Learn to read the Nutrition
Information Panel and ingredient list on food packages with your child. Be patient, recognize that
distractions will occur, and be flexible in your approach. The body requires an appropriate balance of
calories and nutrients. Certain snack foods like apples & cheese, peanut butter and crackers, and
yoghurt can given in place of more traditional meals occasionally. Also, understand that there is an
increase in interest and participation in other activities that will compete with meal times and your
child's interest in eating.
Breakfast is still the most important meal because it provides the fuel children need for school
and play during the early part of the day. It breaks the fast of the sleep hours and prepares the child
for the learning period at school. Children who eat breakfast are more alert, energetic and creative,
and they perform better in school than children who skip the meal. To make mornings less hectic, set
out breakfast bowls, cups, utensils and cereal boxes the night before. If your child do not want to
sit down to breakfast, have quick, portable breakfast foods available, such as cereal bars, cheese
bread, fresh fruit, and juice boxes (make sure it is 100% unsweetened fruit juice) and milk cartons
with straws or have juice/milk containers ready to go.
Lunches and munchies are also important to kids in this age group. Pack a lunch for them if
they will not be home or guide them on what to choose at the school cafeteria. Growing children also
need the extra calories that snacks provide. Some suggestions:
Dinners can be the most trying meal, since many kids have an after-school snack. In this age
group, never overload the plate or force children to eat if they are not hungry. Also, if you know
your child dislikes the meal you plan to serve, serve at least one food she likes and try to involve
her in food preparation. Food is more fun to eat if the child helped cook or shop for it.
- Hot soup in a wide-mouth thermos is a welcome treat on a cold day;
- Include a salad or vegetable sticks with their meal;
- Make sandwiches with whole-wheat bread and use less butter/margarine;
- Encourage them to add fresh fruits and vegetables to their meal. For instance, add sliced
tomato or cucumber to a sandwich or have an apple or peach with their meal.
- Set a good nutritional example when you make your own lunch.
- Stock the refrigerator with healthy snacks, such as milk, fresh fruit, low-fat yoghurts and
100% juices; stock the cupboard with soda crackers, low sugar biscuits and pretzels.