Nutrient requirements of children

food Jun 4, 2021
House Fried Rice on a small plate with Rembrandt lighting
Photo by Obi Onyeador / Unsplash

How can you make sure that your child is growing very strong and healthy?

By adopting healthy eating habits, one can make sure that their children are growing healthy and very strong. It is essential that the food of a child should meet all the nutritional values. Eating should be one of life’s pleasures and children should be encouraged to enjoy a family meal.

Intense changes will take place in the bodies between the ages of 1 and 20. During this period, height and weight increase by three and ten folds respectively due to the elongation of bones and strengthening of muscles. So, the nutrient requirements of children depend largely on age, size, weight, gender and activity levels.

In children the food requirement is mainly influenced by appetite. Children should not be forced to eat more than they can.
The common saying of the past “Cleaning your plate” has become old fashioned and encourages obesity and indigestion in children and may lead to lifelong dislikes of certain foods.
They need to eat a good variety of healthy foods such as Bread, Cereals, Fruits and vegetables as the major part of their diet.
Protein foods can include meat, fish, soya products, pulses and cereals.  
Milk is an important source of calories and children under five years should drink 600ml a day. At this age, they need extra calories and no need to restrict fat and cholesterol.
If sweets are eaten too frequently, they can spoil the appetite and may also cause tooth decay. No doubt, they can provide energy but they do not contain valuable nutrients. There is no harm in allowing children to have occasional sweets after meals.

Photo by Sam Moqadam / Unsplash

Nutritional needs are high particularly during puberty.  Adolescents need more nutrients, especially calories and protein for a strong and healthy body.
Calcium intake should be more during this period. Both calcium and exercise are important for the formation of strong healthy bones to prevent osteoporosis in later life.

All teenagers need at least three 200ml. of milk a day and 45g of cheese or 125ml. of yoghurt to meet their daily requirements. Calcium is also found in fish (especially sardines bones), fortified breakfast cereals and green leafy vegetables. Protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D are required for proper bone formation.
It is very important that children at this age should take a variety of healthy foods at home.  They should be given fruits, fish, vegetables, whole grains and pulses such as beans, peas and lentils. Obesity is the major problem at this stage. To avoid this, children at this stage are encouraged to increase physical activity rather than to go on a diet.
Teenagers often consume fatty and sugary foods such as chips, chocolates, hamburgers and fizzy drinks. Instead of eating chips, chocolates, hamburgers and fizzy drinks, healthy snacks that make them feel hungry should be eaten.
The healthy snacks may include,

  • Bread, rolls with fillings such as peanut butter, low fat cheese, tinned tuna or sardines and  lean cooked meat,
  • Rice cakes, oat cakes,
  • Fresh and dry fruits,
  • Yoghurt, sticks of carrots or cherry,
  • Plain popcorn,
  • Breakfast cereals,
  • Baked beans on toast,
  • Pasta,
  • Milk, water, fruit juice,
  • Home-made soup, and vegetable salads.
    Children who depend mainly on vegetarian food and do not take dairy products have to take supplements of vitamin B12, or eat refreshed breakfast cereals served with soya milk or fruit juice.
Photo by Jonathan Borba / Unsplash

Dos and Don’ts to encourage good eating habits

  • Discourage junk foods
  • Give a fruit, raw carrot or cheese between meals
  • Encourage children to enjoy fruit and vegetables of different varieties from an early age.
  • Invite children to help prepare food at home.
  • Don’t encourage a sweet tooth and don’t add sugar to drinks and foods
  • Don’t condition children to eat extra salt by sprinkling it over food
  • Don’t give skimmed or semi- skimmed milk to under fives
  • Don’t give whole nuts to children under four year’s age
  • Don’t use lectures about the starving millions to try children to eat
  • Don’t make children feel guilty about eating any type of food.


A. Sandhya

M.Sc Zoology

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