While healthy diets are important for everyone, good nutrition for children is critical. From day one, in the womb, a new baby is not just simply growing, but developing as well. As these tiny body parts are created, the sustenance provided will greatly affect his ultimate success.
Children vs. Adults
As it is often mentioned, children are not miniature adults, and this fact is even more important when it comes to nutrition for children. You cannot simply take the standard adult guidelines for nutrition and healthy diet and cut it by a percentage based on a child's size. It is more complicated than that.
Children's bodies are in the process of rapid growth and development. This progression creates a nutritional demand which is different than an adult's needs. A perfect example is found in the need for fats. A developing brain requires an adequate supply of fat in the diet to grow properly. In an adult diet, on the other hand, fat is the enemy. For a child, it can be the difference between high intelligence and average. With the concern over weight gain, many parents are trying to substitute lower fat foods for their kids. This seemly smart choice can actually be detrimental to their health over the long haul. Therefore, it is important to study and learn the correct guidelines for children's nutrition.
Correct Nutrition for Children
When it comes to nutrition for children, keeping it simple is always best. Raising children is complicated enough without having to calculate recommended daily allowances (RDAs) and total up calories. To ensure a healthy diet for your kids, start with these eight key ingredient categories.
The brain is made up of 60% fat. Simply look at the small head of a baby and it is quick to see how much growing happens in early childhood brain development. For this reason, babies and young children should shoot for a diet that includes 50% fats. Breast milk and formulas already know this requirement, but once your child is weaned, it is still important to ensure they continue to receive enough fats too. Under the age of three is the most critical brain growth, so target the full 50%. Once they hit kindergarten, you can cut the fat content down some, but still keep it to around 30% to 40% until they reach the preteens. Then you can start to follow the same guidelines as an adult.
Not all fat is made the same. When you select the best foods for your children, avoid trans-fats and hydronated oils. Instead stick to dairy foods, vegetable oils and meats for the best nutrition and fat combinations.
As adults, fiber has received a lot of press for its ability to control weight and prevent disease. But, it is a different story for children. A child's digestive system is not mature enough to handle a diet high in fiber. While whole grains are definitely a good healthy trend to get kids hooked on, don't go overboard on the higher fiber cereals and breads. The best sources of fiber for kids are found in healthy cereals and whole grain flours.
The definite calorie needs of kids can range widely. Generally speaking, it is best to provide them with healthy food choices and not worry too much about how much they are actually eating. As a guide, young children need approximately 850 to 1600 calories a day, while older children need 1000 to 2000. These ranges vary based on your child's actual size and activity level.
As a nutrient, iron stands alone in importance. In addition to fat, it is the number one most important component of food for the brain. Iron is responsible for bringing adequate oxygen to the brain through the red blood cells. Even a slight case of anemia in childhood can cause permanent damage to the I.Q. Therefore, ensuring appropriate iron in the diet and testing your children for anemia are critical early health concerns.
The best sources of iron for children are found in beef, eggs and fortified cereal.
An obvious ingredient for most parents, growing bones need adequate calcium. With a focus on calcium from the milk industry, most families provide an ample supply at home.The best sources of calcium for kids are found in milk, yogurt, fortified orange juice and broccoli.
While calcium gets all the hype, many parents don't realize how important zinc is for overall growth as well. Zinc is critical to cell growth and complete enzyme function. Zinc deficiency can actually cause a child to stop growing entirely! As a mineral, zinc is often complicated to track and ensure it is part of proper nutrition for children. Keep the following good sources in mind or consider a multivitamin:
- Egg Yolk
- Peanut Butter
- Fortified Cereals
Folate and B Vitamins
This category of vitamins has long range impact to your child. Proper nutrition for children reduces the risk of disease in childhood and later in life. Avoid unnecessary chemicals, like nitrates in hot dogs and bacon, and increase foods high in the B vitamins for a longer and healthier life.Good sources of these vitamins are found in beans, oatmeal, peanut butter and tuna.
This category of vitamins includes A, C and E. Antioxidants are proven to reduce the risk of cancer in children and adults. Luckily they are found in abundance in most healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oils.Specific sources of antioxidants in a child's diet include sweet potatoes, kiwi, oranges, canola oil, carrots and avocado.
As a parent or caregiver of a child, understanding proper nutrition for children doesn't have to be complicated. Teach your children about healthy eating and be a good role model in the process. Offer a variety of foods, keeping treats to a minimum, and you will find your whole family engaged in a healthier lifestyle overall.