Children and Nutrition
Children are our pride and joy and bring us endless sources of happiness. For that, we want the very best for our kids. What is more, we also want our kids to be the best for us because lets be honest, our kids can run us into the ground, be loud, demanding, irritable and unreasonable just to name a few.
With so much to worry about when it comes to bringing up our children, many parents have little time to focus on their children getting ideal nutrition. They may even comment, “They aren’t in the Olympics yet, they don’t need to eat as if they were”. But eating right is not just for serious athletes. Did you know your child’s diet affects their sleep patterns, their social skills, and their mood? That’s right, even their mood! That alone can be caused to read further. I won’t deny it, managing your child’s nutrition can be a bit of a juggling act. But one need only look at the motivating factors to realize it’s a subject worth investigating.
The Problems We Can Easily See
The latest figures for overweight young children and teenagers is alarming. A child who suffers from weight problems only has one person to blame…their parents. The problem is that we all have different opinions of what ‘overweight’ really is. Some feel it is obesity while others see a tiny bit of flab and ‘freak out’. We don’t want to give our kids a complex (fashion magazines are doing that for us), but a child does not have to be obese to be considered overweight. Some parents may usher it off as ‘baby fat’. This is often the case, and while baby fat can be lost quite easily, you still need to look into their diet because a poor diet will not see baby fat disappear. What’s more, you should be aware that the eating habits kids develop are most likely those they will stick with for life.
The Problems We Can’t See
Looking past their future eating habits, which we can all agree can be changed, a more saddening fact is that kids can be cruel. Overweight children are often ostracized or bullied at school. This often leaves them out of the ultra-important playground activity – where they develop many of their social skills and feeling of belonging, not to mention the place they get the majority of their exercise from. Parents seldom realize their children are bullied or more so, ostracized at school. Some children make their school problems apparent at home through depression, yet others manage to differentiate one from the other. They may be miserable at school but they love playing at home so the parent is unable to tell.
Speaking with your children regularly about their day is important as it can reveal so much. And speaking goes beyond ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ answers, such as “Did you have fun playing at school today?” A simple “Yes’ answer is an easy way to end a potentially uncomfortable conversation. You could go further and ask, ‘so what did you play?’ ‘What position were you?’ etc. An enthusiastic response generally implies truth and is great for bond building amongst you and your child. A dismissive response can reveal something darker, although it does not imply they are always lying. This can lead you to have a heart to heart talk which could reveal much more. Furthermore, you can speak to the teachers at school.
“Overweight children are often ostracized or bullied at school and left out of playground activity – where they develop many of their social skills and feeling of belonging.”
The Problems You Don’t Realise
When it comes to children’s nutrition, most parents use their kid’s waist size as a measure of whether or not it is ok. While there is no simple test for identifying all nutrient deficiencies in children, fussy eaters and kids that often indulge in convenience foods and snack foods would certainly be at risk. Your child’s behavior may give you clues that they are not getting all they need. Things to look out for include:
- Any behavior that is out of character
- Sleep problems
- Physical symptoms such as slow-healing wounds or frequent infections
Statistics tell us most children in the Western World are getting less than their recommended dietary intake of essential vitamins and minerals. According to the latest Dietary Survey …
Kids 4 – 7 years
50% of boys get less than the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for calcium
75% of girls get less than the RDI for calcium
Kids 8 – 11 years
20% of boys get less than the RDI for vitamin A
75% of girls get less than the RDI for calcium
70% of girls get less than the RDI for zinc
Kids 12 – 15 years
84% of girls get less than the RDI for zinc
62% of girls get less than the RDI for iron
31% of boys get less than the RDI for vitamin A
Why Do kids need these essential vitamins and minerals?
- Calcium is essential for growing bones and teeth.
- Vitamins A and C, zinc and iron help build a strong immune system to protect your kids from illness.
- Vitamin B’s help them draw energy out of their food.
- Iron, folate and vitamin B12 are needed for growth and development.
- Vitamin A is essential for eye health.
- Iron deficiency can be associated with impaired physical performance as well as affecting memory, concentration and performance.
Improving Their Diet
You don’t have to change directions completely and swear them off takeaway food or snacks. The main objective is a balanced diet and the best way to achieve this is through variety. Constantly introduce your kids to new foods and ensure there are plenty of different colors on their plate. Even take them shopping with you and give them assignments to select the different foods available for their meals…especially the fruits and vegetables.
Remember when our parents told us, “You won’t get dessert until you eat all your vegetables?” Perhaps you swore you would never do that to your kids. Perhaps you don’t, but what your parents did was great for your health so you should introduce it. Kids will eat as little variety as possible so sometimes a little evil (like dessert) goes a long way to achieving a greater good.
Zinc can be found in whole-grains and eggs; yellow and orange vegetables like carrots are brimming with vitamin A. Dairy, nuts and soy products will ensure your child gets plenty of calcium, and leafy green vegetables and red meat (not including processed meats such as pies and sausages) transport iron into growing bodies.
Make Sure They Are Exercising
Though we’re constantly warned about the dangers of the sun, it remains the best source for vitamin D. Vitamin D is necessary for the body’s absorption of calcium. Spending ‘responsible’ time in the sun, 15 minutes without sunblock 4 times a week – either early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the sun is kinder, provide your child with all the vitamin D they need. On top of this, regular exercise helps children build a positive image of their body. It also boosts immunity, gives your kids a better appetite, and is necessary for growing strong and healthy bones. Team sports (such as cricket) develop their sense of teamwork and belonging while individual sports (such as karate) are great because they can develop at their own pace without team pressure.
No parent has the right to tell another parent how to raise their child, so I will just add, let’s not let our own lack of time-management be what stops our children getting a properly balanced diet – their future depends on it.
By Claire Delaney