Good nutrition - for life
Question: What are the rules regarding nutrition for children?
Answer: There aren’t any — but a balanced diet is important and can help protect against diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
When it comes to nutrition for children, the rule is simple. There ARE no rules. Not hard and fast ones, anyway. “The only exception is that low-fat isn’t recommended for children under the age of five,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist, Angie Jefferson. “Otherwise, it comes down to following sensible, healthy eating guidelines. That means a balanced diet.”
Angie stresses the importance of four main food groups: bread, cereals and potatoes at every meal; two or three servings of milk or dairy food a day (which is calcium-rich and good for bone health); a couple of servings of protein a day (milk, fish, beans, pulses, nuts, etc); and a minimum of five portions of fruit and veg a day. “People forget that five is the minimum,” says Angie. “More than five a day is recommended.”
Different colours of fruit and veg generally reflect different nutrition; so encourage your children to eat a rainbow — everything from red peppers, tomatoes and strawberries, through to apples, oranges, blueberries, bananas, plums and purple broccoli. Under ones who are weaning shouldn’t have too much fibre, says Angie; but for children on a normal diet, fibre is fine. Avoid processed food where you can.
Avoiding health problems
Ensuring that children eat nutritious, healthy foods can protect them against Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer in later life. But while it’s true the UK is facing an obesity epidemic, can be we too hung up on the food our kids are consuming?
Well, it depends on the individual. “If your child is on the go all day with various sports and games, they need calories,” says Angie. “If that means they have some foods that are a little higher in fat and sugar, it’s generally OK.
“But for the child who sits around all day watching TV and eating sweets, crisps and biscuits, then that can be a problem. They are the ones who will become overweight and at risk of diabetes.” Restricting sugary treats to the weekend, holidays or after sports such as swimming may be an option — and it’s certainly a good way to look after young teeth.
“What we need to do is encourage our children to get into good eating habits,” says Angie, “which will establish healthy eating for life.”