According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data, 17.6 million children under five years of age suffer from obesity. 43% of children between the ages of 6 and 9 are overweight or obese.
This disease, which often starts in childhood, causes serious damage in adulthood. Specifically, obesity and overweight can lead to serious health problems such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and even some cancer types. Therefore, a healthy diet to children from childhood is decisive to protect us from these ailments. In addition, it is at that age when you learn to eat and adopt the main eating habits.
What Benefits Does A Balanced Diet Bring To Children’s Health?
A healthy diet provides children and adolescents with all the essential nutrients for the proper growth of bones and muscles to develop strong and healthy. It prevents typical ailments of this age, such as iron deficiency, anemia, malnutrition, or constipation, and decreases cardiovascular diseases.
A balanced and varied diet is also important to maintain the balance of the bacterial flora, strengthen any person’s immune system, and more in children. Likewise, it helps maintain high defenses and helps prevent and combat colds, flu, and other infections, easily spread in nurseries, nursery schools, and schools.
What Nutritional Needs Do Children Have?
During childhood and adolescence, energy and nutritional needs are especially high since the body is in a constant state of development and growth. And food contains the different nutrients that it needs. Therefore, the child or adolescent must consume the appropriate products to obtain the necessary contribution of:
During the first year of life, energy needs are very high and drop very significantly to increase until adolescence gradually.
Protein needs are very high in infants, decrease after that, and rise again at puberty. They are present in meat, fish, dairy products, legumes, cereals, and nuts, among other foods, increasing progressively until adolescence.
Consuming carbohydrates, both complex (cereals or rice) and simple (sugar or honey), is essential during childhood.
They usually carry out the following operation to calculate the little ones’ fiber needs: add the number 5 to the child’s age. For example, an eight-year-old child will need 13 grams of fiber per day (8+5). This formula is applicable from the age of two. Fiber is contained in legumes, cereals -fundamentally whole grains-, dried fruits and vegetables, fruits and vegetables. Fiber, among other benefits, helps to regulate cholesterol and glycemic levels.
It is important to control what amount and type of fats we include in their healthy diet for children from childhood. Above all, children and adolescents should avoid excess saturated fats present in foods of animal origin with fat, such as milk, butter, dairy products, fatty meats, sausages, and sauces. Instead, vegetable-based fats (monounsaturated), especially olive oil, are recommended.
Adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables – at least five pieces or servings a day – will ensure the necessary intake of vitamins C and A. On the other hand, consuming meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products provide vitamin B.
For example, calcium is essential for the formation of the skeleton, so children should consume plenty of dairies and oily fish. During periods of fast growth, children need higher amounts of iron, so the diets of children should include beef, legumes, and grains. And finally, in puberty, iodine needs increase, mainly in girls. Consequently, moderate consumption of iodized salt in meals may be advisable, although it should never abuse.
Do These Needs Change Throughout Childhood?
Age is a determining factor in nutrition. The supply of nutrients that a child needs must be different from that of an adult and varies over time. The Ministry of Health establishes three differentiated stages:
From 3 To 6 Years
Energy needs are especially high because it is a period of growth and development and great physical activity. At this time, children need proportionately more high-quality protein than adults, so their diet should include enough meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. At this age, should also introduce the child to the habit of eating a full breakfast.
From 7 To 12 Years Old
Given that growth needs continue to be crucial, children of this age should eat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, salads, and bread daily, alternate meats, white and bluefish, and combine legumes, rice, and paste. It is also necessary to guide the child not to eat what he likes and prevent him from abusing sweets and soft drinks.
From 13 To 16 Years Old
Given that at this stage, the so-called “growth spurt” occurs. The muscles and skeleton finish forming. The diet must provide the adolescent with sufficient calories and include high-quality protein and calcium in dairy products, vegetables, legumes, and many fish and shellfish. It is also important to get enough physical activity to avoid becoming overweight.
On the other hand, the amount of food that children need to eat can also vary greatly depending on the growth phase. Still, it is worth remembering that it will never be similar to an adult. It is common to see how we force a child to eat more than he wants. Still, they do not recommend it because only they know how hungry they are simultaneous. They are also responsible for learning to regulate their appetite. In this sense, nutrition experts assure that it is normal for children to go through seasons where they eat more, and others feel less hungry, just as it happens in adults.
What Food Routine Should A Child Follow To Get All The Nutrients They Need?
The child must ingest all these essential nutrients in the right amount and frequency throughout the day for their age. They must follow proper eating habits every day. Experts recommend that school children cover at least 25-30% of their nutritional needs at breakfast and lunch. However, between 10% and 15% of Spanish children do not eat breakfast and between 20% and 30% do so insufficiently.
To avoid this, families must organize themselves to allow the little ones to enjoy a healthy breakfast. It must include at least one dairy product (milk, yogurt, cheese), bread, toast, cereal, cookies, muffins or homemade cakes; a fruit or its juice; jams or honey; a supplement fat such as olive oil; and, sometimes, ham or a cold cut. For lunch, a piece of fruit, a yogurt, or a cheese sandwich, for example, is recommended.
Secondly, food must provide the child with 30% of his nutritional needs, so both parents and the school can conveniently design healthy and balanced menus to satisfy the children’s tastes. The main dishes should alternate between vegetables, legumes, pasta, rice, soups, and meat and fish. The dessert should normally be a fruit or a dairy product.
The snack should not be excessive since it must provide the student with 15% of their food needs. This meal of the day is usually very well accepted by children. It adequately complements their diet because it includes nutritious foods like dairy products or natural fruit. In addition, it helps to avoid unnecessary snacks between meals. It makes sure that our children do not arrive at dinner excessively hungry.
Finally, dinner should provide the child with 30% of the nutrients and energy he needs and be decided based on the food eaten at noon. For this meal, purées, soup or salads are recommended, and, as a complement, meat, eggs, and fish.
How Do Get Children To Eat Well?
Education is also the basis of proper nutrition. For this reason, the family plays a fundamental role in promoting healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits and is the perfect environment to ensure that children follow a balanced healthy diet.
To achieve this, the behavior of the different family members must be consistent with the verbal recommendations. That made it difficult for the child to instill a healthy eating habit when the person who advises it never practices it.
Likewise, the family nucleus must also organize the schedules. Therefore, they eat some of the important meals with the children.
Finally, we must remember that we should not force a child to eat something that he does not like or present food as a reward or punishment or with threats. Since in this way, they transmit the wrong messages to the children or adolescent about what foods are good or bad, when they are all healthy, and they must include in a balanced diet.