The best way to ensure your child is getting the correct nutrition is to follow the Eatwell Guide which shows the proportions of different food groups needed for a balanced diet. Children require less energy than adults, simply because they are smaller and less energy is needed for the body’s functions. Though the proportions of each group stay the same, the total portion can be reduced to match the right energy intake. For example, a 4 year old child requires half the daily recommended energy intake of an 18 year old1, so they only need to consume half as much food. The energy requirement for children increases year on year as they grow, along with requirements for nutrients.
Some important nutrients involved in child growth and development, their roles and where to find them, are listed below:
Protein is required for growth and repair of muscles and many other body tissues such as skin, hair and nails. The building blocks of our body are protein so it is critical that growing children are consuming enough; 19.7g/day for 4-7 year olds and 28.3g/day for 7-10 year olds1. Sources of protein include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, beans and pulses. A chicken breast contains roughly 20g of protein and a half tin of baked beans contains just under 10g.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source. A third of the diet should be made up of starchy carbohydrates such as bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, and cereals. This energy is required for the body to synthesise new tissues, allowing children to grow. Avoid carbohydrate sources with high levels of sugar (e.g. certain breakfast cereals).
Often referred to as ‘good fats’, unsaturated fats such as omega-3 play an important role in the development of the brain and nervous system. Unsaturated fats can be found in oily fish, nuts, olive oil, plant oils and avocado.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium is a mineral found in dairy foods and leafy green vegetables, which is vital for bone development and muscle function. Vitamin D aids calcium absorption in the body. It can be found in oily fish and eggs, but the best source is exposure to sunlight during the spring/summer months (April – September). During the autumn and winter it is advised that all adults and children over one years old should consider taking a daily 10mg supplement of vitamin D.
Iodine plays an important role in the development and function of the brain and thyroid, which regulates metabolism. Dietary sources include dairy foods and white fish.
A B vitamin required for a child’s development from before they are even born, and thus an important supplement for expecting mothers. Folate is required for cell division and red blood cell and nervous system formation. It can be found in green leafy vegetables, oranges, and wholegrains.
If your child is eating a varied balanced diet they will be obtaining all the nutrients they need for good health. In the same way that children need less energy and nutrients than adults, their bodies also tolerate less of the foods detrimental to health, i.e. those high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. For example, the maximum recommended intake of sugar for adults per day is 30g equivalent to 7 cubes; children aged 7-10 are advised no more than 6 cubes and 4-7 year olds no more than 5.