Children are growing and developing very quickly- which means they have high nutrient needs. Their diet requires plenty of foods which provide not just the energy they need to be active, but also foods which deliver vitamins and minerals too.
Very young children, who are weaned, can eat the same types of foods as adults but because their tummies are relatively small, it is easy for them to quickly fill up. Try giving your child small frequent meals and regular snacks containing nutrient dense foods - for example milk and egg.
Children over the age of 5 can eat the same meals as the rest of the family, including more starchy foods and plenty of fruit and vegetables- but watch their portion sizes and the amount of saturated fat they are eating.
Nutrients and Foods For Growing Kids
The nutrients which are particularly important for all children include:
Protein is essential for the growth and repair
Calcium to help with bone and tooth development
Iron for the formation of blood cells
Zinc assists the immune system
Vitamin A is essential for vision and healthy immune system
Vitamin C another immune system helper, assisting the body fight off infections
Vitamin D works with calcium to make bones, children not getting enough may develop rickets.
B vitamins help to release the energy from food.
Folic acid helps makes blood cells.
Studies on toddlers and pre-school children have shown that some children don't have enough of these nutrients- because they don't eat enough of the foods which supply them. For further information on what foods contain these nutrients and our top tips on ways to make sure they are getting enough click here
A varied and healthy diet should provide all the nutrients your child needs. Every day you should include:
Some protein - this can be meat, fish, eggs, poultry, beans, lentils, nut butters, etc. Iron from red meat is the easiest to absorb and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are the best source of essential omega 3 fats. Boys can eat up to four portions of oily fish a week but it's best to give girls no more than two portions of oily fish a week.
Starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereal, potatoes, crackers, noodles etc. These don't all need to be wholemeal or wholegrain but try to include some.
A high fibre diet is not suitable for toddlers- as it can be too much for their stomachs to cope with. Also eating too much can sometimes reduce the amount of minerals they can absorb, such as calcium and iron.
Fruit and vegetables. Young children either love them or hate them, so if you are having trouble getting your little one to eat their 5 a day have a look at our top tips. A child size handful is recommended as a portion, and it doesn't matter if it is fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Click here for further information on 5 a day
Each day young children should also have some dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt or fromage frais. Whole cows milk is recommended over the age of 12 months however children who are growing normally can move to semi skimmed after they are two. Skimmed milk is not suitable for children under 5 as it does not provide enough energy or vitamin A for a growing child. Try to include dairy at meal times, as a glass of milk or some cheese cubes for nutritious snacks.
Water is the best drink for children. It doesn't harm teeth, or give them calories without vitamins and minerals. Milk is also a great option for in between meals. Fruit juice can be diluted for meal times only, as this will be less damaging to teeth.
Remember that children can quickly fill up on drink which may mean they become full before meal times- so make sure they are eating a balanced diet with a regular eating pattern of mini meals and snacks.
Many children are given treats such as crisps, biscuits, cakes, sweetened drinks and chocolate more often than is good for them. These foods can be high in sugar, salt and saturated fat so try to only offer them occasionally or opt for smaller portion sizes.
It is also not necessary to add sugar, honey or salt to your child's foods. If they are eating foods or drinks containing sugar try to include them at meal times as this will be less damaging to their teeth.
Foods to Avoid
As very young children and toddlers are still developing, some foods are not suitable for their diet:
Shark, swordfish and marlin - contain relatively high levels of mercury which may affect their nervous system.
Raw eggs and foods which contain raw egg - make sure egg and egg products are cooked thoroughly to prevent food poisoning from salmonella.
Whole nuts- can be easy for young children to choke on so make sure to crush or flake them when feeding to your child.