Good nutrition is very important for growth. In general good nutrition means eating foods that are balanced and have a good range of vitamins and minerals.
There are 5 main food groups:
- Carbohydrates – foods that give long lasting energy as well as fibre. Examples include grains, such as wheat, barley, and oats.
- Fruits and vegetables – these are a good source of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre. It is generally accepted that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day provides a good balance of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
- Proteins – these are important for muscle development and growth. Sources of protein include meat, fish, nuts, beans and dairy foods.
- Fats – a very dense source of energy. Fats are found in dairy food and oils. Although excess fat intake should be avoided, ‘good fats’, or unsaturated fats, such as those found in mackerel and avocado, are necessary for the body to function properly, and certain types of fats (omega 3, 6, 9) are believed to help with joint pain.
- Sugars – a short acting source of energy. Examples include sweets and chocolates. These should be eaten sparingly.
Remember that drinking enough fluid, preferably water, is essential for proper functioning of the body. Avoid fizzy drinks and fruit juices as much as possible.
At different stages your child will need different types of foods to help them to grow and develop. Below is an outline of the changing eating habits of children as they grow. A nutritionist or dietician can always advise you if you have specific concerns or worries.
Illustration adapted from USDA Food Pyramid
Once children are able to eat solid food they are able to join the rest of the family for mealtime. Not only is this an important nutritional activity but it also builds social skills.
Toddlers will usually need three meals and four snacks a day. Always provide a variety of vegetables and fruits as these will provide vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, which are essential for growth.
Also ensure you provide your child with enough complex carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and oats (these provide energy). Wholegrain and wholemeal options are normally less processed and provide more dietary fibre, so are an important component of good nutrition. Remember to include plenty of protein (from beans,, lentils, meat or fish) to help with muscle development and growth.
As children grow...
As children grow, it is important to maintain good eating habits. A healthy diet together with regular exercise can help with energy levels and concentration.
In the morning, make sure your child has a good breakfast. This should include a complex carbohydrate that is able to release energy slowly throughout the day. A good example of this is oats, such as in porridge. Be careful of sugar intake as many cereals (even adult cereals) have high sugar and salt content.
If your child has lunch at school, talk to them about making good choices in what they eat. If your child understands what different foods contain they will begin to make good food choices. Offer your child healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts, avoid high sugar, high fat snacks such as chocolate, crisps and sweets.
At dinnertime, ensure that the meal contains a mixture of foods from each food group, to ensure your child is able to grow and develop healthily.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that occur naturally in our food. They are essential for good health as well as normal growth and development.
- Vitamins: A, B, C, D and E - These are essential for many processes in the body including the immune system, eyesight, the nervous system as well as bones and joints.
- Minerals: These occur in nature, for example in rocks and in the soil. Plants and animals absorb these minerals, which eventually end up in our food. Minerals include: calcium, chloride, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and magnesium. They are needed for the nervous system, bones and teeth, as well as many other processes in the body.
Your body also needs things known as trace elements. These are minerals that are needed in very little (or trace) amounts, and include chromium, fluoride, iron, iodine, copper, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.
Vitamin D is especially important to the growth of small children as it is involved in bone and teeth development. Exposure to sunlight helps your body to make its own vitamin D, but it is also found in certain foods and in particular oily fish such as salmon and mackerel.
Iodine is important as it is involved in the production of thyroid hormones. These hormones are very important and are involved in many metabolic functions, including growth.
Iodine can be found naturally in foods such as seaweed and sea food. Some types of salt also have iodine added to them, but all types of salt should always be used sparingly.
If you feel that your child is not getting enough vitamins and minerals, talk to your doctor about multivitamin supplements.
Remember the best way for your child to get their vitamins and minerals is from their food, so always make sure your child is eating their “5-a-day” as well as getting adequate nutrition from each of the food groups mentioned above.
Use the links below to find out more about: