Children need to be offered a variety of foods every day. Breakfast contributes significantly to a child’s nutritional needs. Lunch, dinner, morning and afternoon snacks also provide opportunities for children to get the nutrients they need.
Your child’s nutritional needs
A child’s dietary needs will vary depending on age, growth rate, amount of exercise and eating habits. The advice given here is intended as a guideline. A wide variety of foods will give your children all they need to grow up healthy.
What children need to make them full of energy
To enjoy good health, grow normally and meet their daily energy needs, children need:
- Protein: used to build and repair cells in the body. Found in dairy products, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, legumes, grains and cereals.
- Carbohydrates: provide fuel for the brain and muscles. Obtained from breads, cereals, potatoes, rice, pasta, legumes, fruit and sugar.
- Fats: provide the body with reserves of energy and are important for healthy cells. Found in oils, butter, margarine, full cream dairy products, nuts, seeds and avocado.
- Water: the main component of the human body. Obtained from drinks but also from foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- Minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron etc.): for good teeth, energy, strong bones and healthy blood cells. Calcium can be found in dairy products; phosphorus in dairy products, meat and fish; magnesium in cereals; and iron in meat, legumes and cereals.
- Vitamins are important to ensure that the processes in the body function optimally. Vitamins are essential because the body cannot make many of them and, therefore, we need to get them from food. There are several types of vitamins and any one food does not contain all of them in adequate amounts. Eat a variety of foods from the core food groups in order to meet your daily requirements for all vitamins.
Balancing energy intake
Children need to be in top form and feeling good all day long. If they are going to concentrate at school and lay the foundations of lifelong good health, then they will need a nutritious diet with energy at every meal.
Food energy is most effective when it is spread over three meals and two snacks:
- Morning tea
- Afternoon tea
- Evening meal
Sticking to this pattern can help prevent constant nibbling and bingeing, which are eating behaviours that can contribute to weight gain and health problems.
Should I give my child soft drinks with meals?
Soft drinks are made of sugar, water and flavourings. The occasional soft drink is fine as a treat at parties. For everyday drinks, offer your child water, or a more nutritious beverage such as milk.
Isn’t a mid-morning snack plus another snack at afternoon tea a bit much?
Morning and afternoon tea are important meals during the day. Children’s stomachs are small and they need to have five opportunities to eat each day. Some children eat more at afternoon tea than at dinner. This means they have had enough food during the day and aren’t hungry at dinner time. Snack times are an opportunity to offer a variety of healthy foods such as fresh fruit, dried fruit, yogurt, milkshakes, cheese and crackers.
My child is tired. Should I give vitamin pills to help my child get back into condition?
Vitamin supplements shouldn’t be necessary as long as your child is not suffering from any deficiency. Check that your child is eating foods rich in iron such as red meat, legumes, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, wholegrain cereals and bread. If you are still concerned, have your child´s diet assessed by an accredited practising dietitian.
My child only likes rice and pasta. How can I make sure their vitamin needs are being met?
Rice and pasta contain the fuel your children need. Offer them these foods as part of a meal which also includes meat, fish, chicken or legumes as well as a variety of vegetables, (e.g. rice or pasta topped with bolognaise and vegetable sauce – vegetables like carrot, zucchini and broccoli can easily be grated into the beef bolognaise sauce).
My children won’t eat milk and yogurt. What other calcium-rich foods can I give them?
Try cheese on toast, grated cheese on pasta, milk-based desserts such as custard with fruit, rice pudding, hot chocolate, milkshakes, fruit smoothies or frozen yogurt.