It’s nothing new that children need to eat proper food to have growth. When it comes to eating, balanced diet not only applies to adults but also to the little ones. Your little one needs a balanced portion of all the nutrients to have adequate strength and growth. Let us discuss more in detail the most important nutrients for your children.
Why Is Childhood Nutrition Important?
Nutrients are essential for the proper growth and development of our little ones. Nutrition is the substance that is consumed when we eat food. Our body uses these nutrients for growth, metabolism, and immunity. Our body has six steps while absorbing the nutrients, namely
Having said that, there are more reasons why your child requires proper nutrients. Let us look at the importance of childhood nutrition more in detail.
1. Brain nourishment
The medical guidelines have proven that more than 20% of our daily energy intake is consumed by the brain. Our brain uses the maximum energy compared to all the other organs in our body. Brain Development is an ongoing and continuous phase of children. A properly balanced and nutrition-rich diet helps them understand the world around them.
Related Reading: 12 Best Foods For Baby Brain Development
2. Strong and healthy lifestyle
Toddlers often keep running and climbing up and down. They are often excited about digging the mud, playing with the dirt, and all other strenuous activities. They require an adequate bundle of nutrition to help them support the activities. It makes them strong and helps to lead a healthy lifestyle.
3. To promote healthy eating habits
As children get used to eating nutrition-rich food, they begin to enjoy them. It helps in promoting healthy eating habits right from a young age. When they are older, they are able to maintain a healthy lifestyle by making the right choices in terms of food.
What Are The Nutritional Needs Of A Child?
Nutrition is essential for both the physical and mental development of your child – either toddler or teen. Now, let us know what the child needs at different stages of childhood.
1. Nutrient needs of babies
Breast milk is a major source of all the nutrients that your baby needs. So, for the first six months, your baby may very well dwell exclusively on breast milk, formula, or a combination of both.
After six months, babies are ready to begin their adventure into solids. This is because breast milk and the formula might not provide enough iron and zinc. Introducing iron-fortified cereals, strained fruits and vegetables and pureed meats can help them meet adequate nutrients.
Related Reading: 10 Foods That Make Breast Milk Taste Good (Indian)
2. Nutrient needs for toddlers and preschoolers
Toddlers and pre-schoolers face a lot of growth spurts. You may notice that they would be very keen on food one day and reject them completely another day. During this phase, children would mostly miss out on the calcium and fiber portion.
Milk is the best source of calcium for toddlers. You might find toddlers saying a big “No” to milk. If your toddler is milk-allergic, lactose-intolerant, or does not like milk, you can go with options like lactose-free milk, soy milk, tofu, sardines, calcium-fortified orange juices, waffles, and oatmeal. You can also give calcium supplements upon pediatrician nutrition guidelines.
Related Reading: Cow Milk For Babies – Benefits, Risks, and Precautions
Similarly, toddlers might prefer starchy diets over fibrous ones. Nevertheless, we need to try and introduce fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber helps in digestion and prevents constipation.
3. Grade schoolers
It is common for children around 6 – 7 years to avoid meat. They may prefer to go vegetarian. But that does not mean they will not get adequate protein. Rice, beans, milk, eggs, and peanut butter all contain protein. So, if your child rejects meat, do not worry. Plan their lunch box wisely and nutritionally balanced.
4. Preteens & teens
The teens are usually attracted to fast food and junk food. They may end up adding that few extra calories to your daily intake. Parents need to be extra cautious about the change in the eating pattern. Encouraging children to have home-cooked food helps in regularizing the eating pattern. It is certainly a difficult task for parents to make their children eat a healthy balanced diet. But we should never stop trying.
10 Most Important Nutrients for Children
According to the pediatric nutrition guidelines, the following are the basic most important nutrients required for children.
Proteins help in breaking down the food into energy. It helps in building the body cells, carrying oxygen, and building immunity. The following are some of the foods that are rich in protein. Height and weight at age 10 are positively correlated with protein intake during early life1.
- Dairy Products
Related Reading: 15 Most Common Unhealthy Foods For Toddlers
Carbohydrates are one of the most important sources of energy. According to studies, during childhood and adolescence, carbohydrates meet the majority of dietary energy needs of children and are essential to their growth and development. They help in preparing the child’s body to build and repair the tissues. The latest trend goes “cut the carbs”. In reality, they are the much-needed nutrients.
Carbs are available in various forms, sugar, starch, and fiber. Children must be exposed to foods that are starchy and fibrous. The following are foods that are rich in carbs.
Fats are the best source of energy for the kids and get easily stored in the body. It helps the child’s body to use other nutrients efficiently. The growth of the brain and neurological development require fat, especially during early childhood. Approximately 40-50 percent of the energy in infant formula and mother’s milk is provided as fat2.
The following are fat-rich foods that can be offered to kids.
- Whole-milk dairy products
During childhood, calcium is essential for the growth and development of strong bones and teeth. Calcium is primarily found in bones. 99% of the calcium in the body is stored in the bones3. It must be replenished daily through diet.
Children might develop weak bones and fractures as adults if they don’t consume enough calcium in childhood. Calcium also helps in the proper functioning of the nerves, muscles, and heart. Foods that are rich in calcium include the following.
- Dairy products
Related Reading: 10 Safety Rules To Teach Your Kids At Home
Iron is an essential mineral for growth and development. Iron helps in building up healthy blood in the child’s body that carries oxygen to all the body cells. In addition to facilitating oxygen transfer from the lungs to the rest of the body, iron helps muscles store and use oxygen. Iron is also required for the body to produce some hormones. During the brain growth spurt in children, an iron deficiency affects their metabolism and neurotransmission4. It may impact cognitive development. The following are foods that are rich in iron.
- Red meat
- Whole grains
- Iron-fortified cereals
One of the vitamins B, folic acid, is important for good health. Folate, the natural form of this vitamin, is found in citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, and nuts and beans. Folate is equally important for the children as it is to the moms-to-be. Folic acid is crucial for the formation of red blood cells It aids in the growth and development of the child`s cells. It also prevents anemia in children. The folate-rich foods that can be offered to children include the following.
- Whole-grain cereals
- Black or kidney beans
- Brussels sprouts
Constipation is a very common problem among toddlers. Fiber helps in regulating bowel movements in children. It also helps to reduce the risk of many common issues like childhood obesity5. The following food items are fiber-rich.
- Whole-grain cereals
- Kidney beans
Related Reading: How And When To Use Apple Juice For Baby Constipation (Till 2 Years)
8. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a very important nutrient that contributes to the excellent eye-sight for children. It helps in adjusting the sight to different light levels, maintaining healthy skin, and building immunity6. The following foods are rich in vitamin A.
- Sweet potatoes
- Fish Oils
- Egg Yolks
9. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is the most sought nutrient while trying to treat the common cold. But, it can do much more to your little one. It helps in holding the body cells together, strengthening the blood vessels, healing the wounds, and building strong bones and teeth. Iron deficiency can be prevented by vitamin C, as absorbing iron is facilitated by vitamin C. Foods that are rich in vitamin C include the following.
- Citrus fruits
According to WHO, micronutrient zinc is involved in many vital body functions. Biochemical processes involving cells, such as cell division, differentiation, and metabolism, require zinc. Deficiencies in this micronutrient cause stunted growth in childhood, decreased resistance to infection, and significant morbidity and mortality among children
Many foods contain zinc, including:
- Whole-grain bread and cereals
- Dried beans
- Red meat
Note*: Water contributes to half of the child’s weight. It is also essential to keep all the parts of the body functioning appropriately. You can encourage your child to drink water now and then throughout the day rather than giving them only when they feel thirsty.
We have discussed the importance of childhood nutrition in detail. Nutrients are the key players in keeping the child’s body at a good pace. The deficiency of any one of them might put your child’s health at risk.
So, make sure you plan your child’s meal well ahead and with utmost care. Give balanced nutrition and enrich a healthy lifestyle within them.
A balanced diet of all the nutrients discussed above is required for the proper growth and development of children.
Whether you have a teen or toddler, you can follow the following strategies to encourage your children to eat healthily.
-Make sure you have family meals regularly
-Offer them a variety of healthy food and snacks
-You may also practice a healthy food habit and become a role model
-Ensure that you do not have any battles while eating
-Involve the kids in the process of preparing nutritious food
The major problem with school-aged children is the fast food and junk food culture. Some of the nutritional problems include the following-
–Obesity: The major reason for obesity is eating less nutritious food and a reduction in physical activities
–Eating disorders: There is an increase in the trend of cases for anorexia and bulimia associated with school-aged children
–Blood cholesterol levels: It is surprising to know that children at a very young age have varied blood-cholesterol levels. Further, any other problems might lead to varied blood cholesterol levels in the future
–Tooth decay: Children who are engaged in sugary food items are prone to get cavities
–Anemia: Anemia is very common among children whose diet is not balanced and is iron-deficient. Iron deficiency may also lead to impaired cognitive development, poor attention rate, and general fatigue