The daily challenges of full school days, homework and extra-murals often means that our children’s nutrition becomes less of a concern, especially true to full time, working parents! One needs to remember though, that the knowledge of sound nutrition principles starts from a young age and sets a firm foundation for a healthy body, healthy self-image and overall better performance, both in the classroom and on the sports field. What children consume on a daily basis affects how they feel, think, act and perform. Teachers will tell you how poor concentration in the classroom is so often linked to whether the child has eaten or not!
All children have unique nutritional requirements for growth, bone deposition and muscle development. Furthermore, their age, gender, rate of growth and physical activity levels also determine their ultimate nutritional needs. They require more energy, protein and certain vitamins and minerals, compared to adults and with smaller tummies, they need smaller meals and snacks more often than we do.
Inappropriate diets for children include those that are too low in energy/ carbohydrates, those that are fat-free or too low in healthy fats and those that are too high in protein.
A well balanced diet in children should:
1) Sustain energy levels through more even glucose concentrations in the bloodstream, to assist with behaviour, concentration and improved performance on the sports field. Peaks and dips in energy levels are a major factor in affecting focus and endurance in young children.
2) Promote optimal growth and development; particularly important for children as they enter their teen years, where boys grow vastly in height while girls are often more prone to gain weight quickly, due to all the hormone changes in their bodies.
3) Optimise fibre content – constipation is a problem in many children and we need to gain knowledge on how to read food labels, what constitutes fibre in the diet and how much your child should be eating. Adequate fluid intake goes hand in hand with fibre recommendations.
The excessive addition of sugar to so many of our foods these days, is wreaking havoc with many of our children’s weights. Many children turn to sugary foods as a means of satisfying emotions, and these foods are an integral part of the childhood obesity that we are seeing today. When youngsters develop the habit of eating in response to emotions, they may face difficulty succeeding at losing weight effectively.
With the firm, loving support of involved and empowered parents, a child does not need to become the victim of a lifestyle of poor food choices, resulting in poor health and disease. We are role models to our children in so many ways, and good nutrition and healthy food choices are an integral part of this!
If you are concerned about your child’s eating, consider consulting a Registered Dietitian in assisting you to determine where the source of the problem lies. Refer to www.adsa.org.za to find a Dietitian in your area.
Julie Peacock, Registered Dietitian,
(w)/ 082 5199 636 (cell),