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A Child's Nutritional Needs

iStock_nutritional_needs.jpgThe following content should only be used as a guideline and is provided for general information only. Any advice or information on this website is based on our personal opinion. Always seek professional advice or medical opinion as required. 

The Importance of food

Nutrition can be an anxious subject for many parents. As parents we have worried about whether our children are eating enough good food, are overeating or whether we as parents are providing the right foods.   Young children need to eat well for energy and growth. Many children are fussy eaters but vital nutrients are found in a wide variety of foods – so try to relax, think outside the square and most importantly have fun!
 
The following information may help you understand how to best help your child.
 
A healthy child appears to be the best judge of how much they should eat.
 
Children are actually very good at judging how much food they need. As long as you are offering a variety of healthy food, you needn’t worry – children will eat when they are hungry and won’t starve themselves. 
 
When it comes to children and food it’s all about team work – you control the menu and your child decides what gets eaten. The main thing is to try to avoid mealtime turning into a battlefield – it’s all about trying to develop a positive, fun association with food. Patience and perseverance is the key - if your child stops eating or refuses to eat certain foods – don’t push it. They may be full...or simply not hungry - just clear the food away calmly and don’t offer anything else. Don’t give up – offer the refused food at a later time, praise children for trying new foods or eating well, but don’t make a big deal of it.
 
Yum Yum Tip:
  • Some children have very small stomachs, so they need food little and often. Offer small servings and if they want more of anything, encourage them to ask for it. Between meals offer healthy snacks to keep them going.
  • Children’s’ appetites vary constantly because of growth spurts and variations in activity. Forcing your child to eat is stressful for everyone and can contribute to the development of unhealthy attitudes towards food.

 


 

Basic Nutritional Needs for Children

Children need to eat lots of different food to get energy, stay healthy and grow. Children have their individual special food needs.
 
As a guide, try to provide children:
  • a variety and range of different of food
  • enough food for growth
  • plenty of healthy snacks
  • small meals often
  • plenty to drink (water or milk)
  • treat foods now and then
  • opportunity to be physically active
  • a positive relationship with food.

Energy Requirements

Toddlers need about 1000 calories a day (the daily intake for adult women is 2000 and 2500 for men) from across all the major food groups. 
 
 
 

If you have the following areas covered, you can't really go wrong:

  • Meat, fish, poultry, eggs or alternatives – 2 portions daily
  • Bread, cereals, rice, potatoes and pasta (preferably wholegrain) –pre schoolers 4 potions daily, school children 5 portions daily
  • Fruit and vegetables – 5 plus portions daily
  • Dairy produce and other calcium-rich foods – 4 portions daily
For more age specific feeding guidelines - see Yum Yum Kids Age by Age Feeding Guide
 

Toddlers and small children vary in the amount they eat – as a general guide portion sizes is what can fit in the palm of a child’s hand or approximately a quarter to half an adult portion size.

Yum Yum Tip:

 
  • Food Play is an excellent fun way to teach children about a range of healthy food.  A great game is to role play grocery shopping together - ask your little one to choose the food and you can highlight the importance of including all the major food groups. It makes it much easier when you actually go to the supermarket together!
  • Yum Yum Kids has a fantastic range of educational activities that help teach children about nutrition and make the experience fun and interactive for all!

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide children with much of the energy they need every day – it is recommended that carbohydrates should make up between 45 and 65 % of total energy intake for toddlers and young children. Sugars, starches and fibre are the three types of carbohydrates that make up most of the carbohydrates we eat. Starch and fibre are referred to as complex carbohydrates while sugars are called simple carbohydrates. 
 
Generally, starchy carbohydrates provide more energy and the more fibre contained in a carbohydrate, the slower they burn (therefore fibre makes you feel full and the energy lasts longer).   The glycaemic index (G.I) is a measure of how fast carbohydrates hit the blood stream. More complex carbohydrates that break down slowly and release energy slowly into the bloodstream are ideal as they provide sustained energy and have many long term health benefits.
 
For children and toddlers try carbohydrates with low GI such as starchy foods with fibre - cereal grains, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta (wholegrains are best); whole fruits and dried fruit such as apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, peaches, melons; vegetables such as corn, taro, kumara; pulses/legumes, peas and beans such as baked beans, lentils, chickpeas; and milk is also an excellent source of carbohydrate.

Fats

Fat is an essential component in a child's diet it plays a vital role in providing energy, carrying vitamins around the body and helping build cell membranes. Children need more fats than adults. 

 
Toddlers need fat in their diet to make up to a third of their total food intake – a low-fat diet is not appropriate.
  
Fat can come from saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Children can eat both but it is preferable if the majority of fat intake is from unsaturated fats. Many toddlers eat too much saturated fat, which can cause obesity and lead to health problems in later life. Poor sources of saturated fats are fried foods and snacks like chips, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and pastries.  For more information see Junk Food & Children article.
 
 
Good sources of saturated fat for children are foods like cheese, whole milk, yoghurt and lean red meat. Good sources of unsaturated fats are oily fish; olive, vegetable and nut oils and spreads; avocados, nuts and seeds.

Protein

Protein is an essential component of the diet required for growth. Unlike fat and carbohydrate, most protein is used for growth and NOT for generating energy. The good news is that research suggests that nearly all freely-chosen diets which supply adequate energy will also supply adequate protein.
 
Satisfactory growth in children is widely regarded as a good indication of optimum protein intake.
 
Both animal and plant foods provide protein. Good sources of protein include milk and milk products, lean meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, nuts and pulses. Regardless of the protein type, children should be encouraged to choose food from a wide variety of sources.
 

Yum Yum Tip

  • It is not uncommon for parents to underestimate just how much their child is eating. A food diary is an excellent tool to use to understand exactly what and how much your child is eating.

Sugar and Salt

Sugar and salt in themselves are not inherently bad but children (and adults for that matter) only require very small quantities. Kids are often enthusiastic consumers of junk food which is loaded with sugar and salt (and saturated fat) and offers very little nutritional or health benefits.
Moderation is the key – understand and teach your child about nutrition and try to only have foods high in fat, salt or sugar as occasional treats.
 
For more information read the articles: