By school age, it is when eating habits start to be developed, therefore, it is important to make children aware of what a balanced and healthy diet is.
The basic recommendations are to provide them with foods from each group of nutrients and to control the intake of fat caused by excessive consumption of pastries that cause high cholesterol levels among school pupils.
Nutrition and children
Proper nutrition for children is based on the same principles as that of an adult. At any age, the body needs vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats to function properly. Children, however, need different amounts of specific nutrients depending on their age.
It is important that the parents are aware of the importance of nutrition in the growth of their children and try to bring them up on a healthy diet, starting from a very early age. Children follow their parents’ example in nutrition (overweight is common in children with obese parents). This does not mean that they never eat a pizza, a hamburger, sweets or chocolates, but it should be reduced to certain occasions, and in a moderate way.
In particular, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting the consumption of foods and drinks with a high sugar content such as soft drinks, sweets… etc. and substituting these sweet snacks with pieces of fruits and raw vegetables.
The day begins with breakfast
We have to remember that breakfast is the first meal of the day, since it breaks the “fasting” at night. It should provide the body with all the nutrients and energy neccesary to start off the day with strength.
It is therefore recommended that children have a full breakfast every day before going to school. Avoiding breakfast and waiting until mid-morning for ‘lunch’ means that one important daily meal would be missed.
Both breakfast as well as other meals of the day should be varied, so that all the nutrients provided by the food, and required by the body, can be obtained.
Guidelines for a healthy diet in children
It is essential for a proper child nutrition to consume fruits and vegetables as a source of vitamins, minerals and fibres on, a daily basis.
WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommendations has stated that children should eat about 400 grams of fruits and vegetables a day. This would be, in children aged 1 to 2 years, about three portions per day, and in those above 2 years of age, about five portions per day. While children above 4 years, as well as teenagers, should take as much fruits and vegetables as possible.
It should not be forgotten that children are growing up and their bodies have special needs and that they require energy. When we talk about energy sources we cannot forget carbohydrates or cereals, which should be abundant in our diet. It is recommended to include them especially in the daily routines of children who practise a lot of sport, for example, taking foods such as bread, rice or pasta before any physical activity.
In recent years, nutrition of school pupils in developed countries has changed considerably. The increase in refined sugars has resulted in a decrease in the intake of cereals, vegetables and fruits. As a consequence, cases of child obesity and overweight have been increased.
When overweight is present at an early age, it is more likely to continue as an adult. Going to a dietician or nutritionist could be a good option for helping children to maintain healthy eating habits.
So… what should children eat?
- Protein. It is found in fish, lean beef and poultry, eggs, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
- Fruits. It is advisable to include them every day in school meals or snacks and to try to avoid packaged fruit juices, due to their high sugar content.
- Vegetables. Add vegetables to the main meals, even if it is a small amount, ensuring that they are eaten daily.
- Grains. Use whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, oats, popcorn, quinoa or brown or wild rice. Reduce the consumption of refined cereals, such as white bread, pasta and rice.
- Dairy. Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt or cheese are recommended.
- Avoid ultra-processed or packaged products and added sugars. Saturated fat-rich foods such as butter, lard, cheese or ice cream have also to be avoided.