A startling 2.5% of children that are between the ages of 5 and 14 eat enough fruits and vegetables (“Children & Youth,” 2018). Proper nutrition is vital for children in helping them to grow and function. From creating good habits at a young age to parents providing nutrient dense foods, nutrition is a key factor in the development of children. It is important to look into why nutritious diets are necessary for children, the essential food groups that children need, as well as the long-term benefits of children’s nutrition.
Primary school years are very busy for children, so they need proper nutrition in order to help them with concentration throughout the school day, as well as fuel their daily activities, like play and sports (“Food and Fitness,” 2018). Children’s diets each day should consist of a wide variety of foods. There should be an array of colour, with fruits and vegetables, while there also needs to protein, dairy, and grains in their diet as well. Although protein deficiency is uncommon in Australian children, parents should still be aware of this if their children are fussy eaters, have certain food allergies, have behaviour problems, or do not have access to certain foods (Gracey, 1991).
There are many different factors that can influence the food a child intakes each day. These factors can range from personal preferences, peers, families, media, and school. Considering a large amount of a child’s day is spent at school, it is important to make sure that they are getting the proper nutrients throughout their day. Taking into account that many parents pack their child’s lunch each day, the foods that a parent puts together for their child to eat at school can make a substantial difference in how much energy and confidence the child carries throughout the rest of their day. A growing issue with this is that many parents feel they do not have enough time to prepare a lunch for their child, let alone one that is healthy and nutrient dense. Therefore, this leads to more children getting canteen lunch, which many children then may choose to eat the less healthy options. A good way to deal with this is for parents to try to pack their child’s lunch every day, except for one day a week allowing their child to buy lunch from the canteen that day. In addition, “Growth failure is the principal manifestation of malnutrition in children” (Brewster, 2001). Children are also largely impacted by their parents, siblings, and friends as well in the decisions that they make and the food that they eat. Family meals are very important in teaching children about eating a balanced meal, while also understanding the importance of time as a family around the table that can be spent sharing about each other’s day of events.
Healthy eating is important in children for reasons beyond growth and development. Children that are overweight are far more likely to be bullied or teased. This can cause emotional damage, which in the end could make the child eat even more to cope with the problems that they are facing. Emotional eating can cause children to overeat, or even under eat, because of factors such as stress, boredom, as well as depression and anxiety, which can lead to unhealthy habits in the long run.
Calcium is an essential nutrient that children should have every single day in order to help them to grow strong bones. As the Better Health website explained, “Good sources of calcium include dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese, calcium fortified foods (such as soy products) and, to a lesser degree, some leafy greens. If you don’t have enough calcium in your diet, you may be at increased risk of developing osteoporosis ” (“Calcium,” 2013). Along with that, iron and vitamin D are important nutrients in children’s diets as well. Focusing on eating a rainbow of foods simplifies the idea for children, as stated on the Nutrition Australia website, “Offering a wide range of colours in children’s food not only looks great but also ensures that children are receiving a great variety of nutrients” (“Eat a Rainbow,” n.d.). There has been a substantial amount of research completed in regards to children’s nutrition in Australia. “For children, national nutrition surveys show: compared to dietary recommendations, most nutrients are adequate, although children are eating too much saturated fat and sugar and not enough calcium, most are not eating enough fruit and vegetables, and older girls (aged 9-16) are not drinking enough milk” (“Australia’s Food and Nutrition,” 2012).
With good nutrition as a child, comes many positive long-term effects. Though a child does naturally gain weight as they continue to grow over the years, excess body weight as a child can cause considerable issues down the road. Several of the long-term benefits of focusing on children’s nutrition can include a higher quality of life, maintaining a healthy body weight, protecting the body against infections, as well as lowering an individual’s risk of chronic diseases (“Australia’s Food and Nutrition,” 2012).
In addition to nutrition, a child should also live a balanced life by staying active and being mentally and emotionally well. Each of these areas are intertwined, and as an article on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website explained, “Children who watch 20 hours of television or more per week (almost 3 hours per day) are twice as likely to be overweight or obese as children who watch less television” (“Australia’s Food and Nutrition,” 2012).
Overall, children need to be eating nutritious foods that are going to help them to develop and grow properly, as well as be able to have enough energy to play and feel good about themselves. Looking further into the importance of healthy foods for children, essential nutrients that should be in a child’s diet, as well as the long-term benefits, are each important factors in helping parents to provide high quality foods to their children and to teach children how each kind of food can impact their bodies. By gaining knowledge, both parents and children can better understand the importance of a nutrient dense diet and how it can impact them throughout their entire life.
Written by Callie Schapekahm
- Australia’s Food and Nutrition 2012: In Brief. (2012, July 17). Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/food-nutrition/australia-s-food-and-nutrition-2012-in-brief/contents/in-brief
- Brewster, D. (2001, July). Investigating the Child With Malnutrition. Retrieved from https://medicinetoday.com.au/2001/july/feature-article/investigating-child-malnutrition
- Calcium. (2013, April 30). Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/calcium
- Children. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resources/children
- Children & Youth. (2018, February 5). Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/population-groups/children-youth/overview
- Eat a Rainbow. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/eat-rainbow
- Food and Fitness for Children. (2018, January). Retrieved from http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/food-and-fitness-children
- Gracey, M. (1991). Nutrition of Australian aboriginal infants and children. Journal Of Paediatrics And Child Health, 27(5), 259-271. Retrieved from http://www.ebscohost.com
- Image: Why feedAustralia? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.feedaustralia.org.au/facts.html