Us parents love talking about our children’s education. But aside from the right schools, the right teachers and keeping on top of the homework, what more do our children need to shine at school?
How about a diet enriched with vitamins, minerals and fatty acids? Perhaps it’s time to ditch the Nutella, Frosties, chicken nuggets and Coke and start building a healthier relationship with food?
Nutrition plays a vital role in supporting a child’s physical, emotional and cognitive development, so making the right food choices is fundamental in helping kids of all ages achieve their potential.
Healthy eating starts early
The link between food and health is well-documented. Numerous studies show that establishing healthy eating habits early in life encourages healthy eating as an adult. In other words, the food your children eat now will undoubtedly influence their health later in life.
But as children grow and become independent they start making their own food choices – and they’re not always healthy. The media is full of contradictory and confusing messages about food and dieting that are often superficial or just plain wrong. Adolescence is a time when a child’s relationship with food can be at risk.
Eating disorders are on the rise
Adolescents worry about their weight due to insecurities about self-image. Girls especially, often restrict their eating to deal with the growing pressure of being thin. This is detrimental to their health as a lack of nutrients makes normal bodily functions impossible. At the same time, the rate of obesity amongst children and adolescents continues to climb, putting them at risk of heart disease, diabetes, underachievement and low self-esteem.
Childhood anxiety has risen drastically
Children have all their activities planned for them and have little freedom to express themselves. Stress pushes them towards sugary comfort foods that blunt anxious feelings and make them feel temporarily better.
Picky eaters galore
Children have become selective, not just about fruit and vegies, but also protein sources. Some have learned that being “picky” allows them to get the foods they want. Waiting for the problem to resolve itself can cause nutrient deficiencies or worsen the dynamic at the dinner table.
Too much junk food and not enough fruits and vegetables
Many don’t get enough calcium, zinc and iron, essential for strong bones, growth and to prevent anemia. Drinks loaded with artificial additives and sugar contribute to ADHD, hyperactivity and digestive issues. Food intolerances to dairy and gluten may be triggering mood swings and aggression.
Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Children
Iron: Children need iron to make hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from their lungs to the rest of their body. Without enough iron, children can develop anemia which can lead to lethargy and poor cognitive functioning. Adolescence is a time of increased iron needs because of the expansion of blood volume and increases in muscle mass. Teenage boys sometimes develop iron deficiency during the rapid growth of puberty. But teen girls have iron deficiency more often because their bodies can’t store as much iron and lose blood during menstruation. Young athletes who exercise often tend to lose more iron and may also become iron deficient. Good sources include sustainable red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas.
Calcium: Widely recognized as the culprit behind a child’s poor development of strong teeth and bones. However, calcium intake also impacts muscle functioning, heart regulation, blood clotting, enzyme functioning, and the nervous system. Simply put, children have higher calcium needs than the rest of the family. You already know that milk and milk products contain a lot of calcium but there are many other alternatives for vegetarians and those with lactose concerns. Organic dark leafy green vegetables, soy and tofu, nuts (almond butter), seeds, and fortified cereals are all good sources.
Vitamin D: Essential for the absorption of calcium and thus optimal bone growth, as well as mental and immune health. As a parent, you’re probably familiar with the immediate addressing of Vitamin D concerns by pediatricians upon the birth of your child. Newborns sometimes undergo UV light treatment in the maternity ward and mothers are often given a Vitamin D supplement to introduce into breastfeeding. Deficiencies are more common in darker-skinned children and those that have limited exposure to sunlight. Children can obtain some vitamin D by eating oily fish (salmon and sardines), eggs and sustainable foods fortified with vitamin D such as certain dairy products, soy milk, eggs and cereals. Since food is not a good source of vitamin D, I recommend supplements, especially in the winter.
Zinc: Essential to childhood growth, digestion, sex hormone development, and a strong immunity. Zinc is especially important during puberty because it helps cells divide, which happens quickly and frequently during puberty. A deficiency can negatively impact everything from hair, skin, and nails to cognitive functioning and the height of your child. Good sources are sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, peanuts, seafood, meat, cooked beans, peas and lentils. Other options include grains such as amaranth, oats, along with some fruits and vegetables such as avocado, peas, and berries.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Vital for a child’s development, most children (and adults) don’t get enough of these healthy fats. Runny noses, ear infections, constipation, excessive thirst or slow healing wounds are good indicators that your child needs more omega 3’s in their diet. Children with ADHD, allergies, asthma, hay fever, eczema, skin rashes and digestive problems are also likely to be deficient in EFAs. Nuts, seeds, organic free range eggs and oily fish are good food sources. I advise taking a supplement too.
Fortunately, children enjoy learning about food, as the main way they learn the difference between nutritious foods and unhealthy foods is through school and food preparation at home. Knowing where food comes from, how it’s grown, and how food production affects their environment helps them take responsibility for their health and increases their confidence in their ability to make healthier food choices. It’s up to us to encourage our children to develop healthy eating habits that last!
For more information on a wide range of children’s health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114
This is a great breakfast the whole family will love!
Lazy Apple Pie Oats from The Clever Kitchen:
1 cup of oats (keeps kids going strong all morning)
¼ cup almond slivers (good source of protein and calcium)
½ cup raisins (antioxidants)
2 tablespoons flax seeds (soluble fibre to keep feeling fuller longer)
1 peeled grated apple
350 ml non-dairy milk – oat, almond, rice, quinoa, hazelnut, coconut milk (good source of vitamin D if fortified)
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of Himalayan pink salt
Simply add all the ingredients to a Tupperware contain the night before and refrigerate. It really is that simple.
If the mixture is too thick add a little water or more milk. The liquid will be absorbed overnight so it wants to be slightly runny when you refrigerate.
For added sweetness add honey
Try other combinations such as cranberry and apple, goji and walnut, mulberries and pecans, date and almonds, chocolate chips and coconut, brazil nuts and apricots – be adventurous and try out new flavours!
For a super boost add chia seeds, maca or cacao
For extra taste a dash of nutmeg or ground ginger give it a good kick.
Be sure to test before you refrigerate for taste bud satisfaction!
Serve it straight from the fridge or with yoghurt and fruit, or it keeps well too.