Child Nutrition: Basic Principles
Proper nutrition and physical activity are essential at all stages of life, and a balanced lifestyle is especially important for the growth and development of infants, children, and adolescents.
Optimal nutrition and regular physical activity can prevent health problems such as iron-deficiency anemia, obesity, eating disorders, undernutrition, and dental caries. And, over the long term, they can help lower the risk of developing chronic disease (e.g., heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes mellitus, stroke, osteoporosis) or risk factors for disease (e.g., high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels).
Unfortunately, there are many barriers to getting the proper nutrition....
Low-nutrient foods are plentiful, inexpensive, and widely available. Viewed as quick and cheap, such foods are attractive to families facing time and money pressures.
And, with so many media messages encouraging such, children and adolescents may have more negative than positive influences on their eating behavior.
However, it is important to keep in mind that practicing gentle, balanced eating behaviors during childhood is essential for:
- Promoting optimal growth, development, and health;
- Preventing immediate health problems (e.g., iron-deficiency anemia, undernutrition, early childhood caries); and
- Laying the foundation for lifelong health and reducing the risk of chronic disease.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure that your child’s daily diet contains plenty of foods that are rich in all nutrients:
Basic Principles of a Balanced Diet:
Because no single food supplies all nutrients, a healthy diet needs to include a variety of foods from the major food groups. To meet nutrition recommendations, meals need to include fiber-rich, whole grain products (i.e., bread, cereal, rice, pasta) accompanied by vegetables, fruits, legumes, and healthy fats.
A balanced diet incorporates appropriate amounts of foods from the five major food groups every day (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and/or legumes and beans, and milk and/or milk alternatives).
Age, sex, and level of physical activity make a difference in the number of servings needed to maintain a well-balanced diet. Children can maintain or improve their weight by balancing what they eat with regular physical activity.
Eating nutrient dense foods helps promote nutritional status, and because young children often eat small amounts of food at one time, they should be offered nutritious options as much as possible.
Limiting the intake of low nutrient dense options is important because children who consume foods (e.g., candy) and beverages high in sugar (e.g., fruit punch) in unlimited amounts are likely to fill up on these foods rather than eat nutrient dense foods.
Remember that as parents, we are responsible for what, when, and where the child eats. Children are responsible for deciding whether to eat and how much.
Finally (and most importantly!)... Regardless of what your child eats today, or what they refuse to eat today - may you feel blessed for the work that you are doing within the four walls of your home!
They are never without purpose, and your sacrifices are beautiful and meaningful!
* Vegan Families: Click here for a free PDF provided by The Vegan Society with more information about plant-based nutrition for children aged one to four years.
* Kid-Friendly Meal Ideas and Recipes:
Reach out to me if you could use some extra help!
- Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. by American Academy of Pediatrics, Joseph F. Hagan Jr. MD FAAP, et al.