The Importance of Your Child’s Diet
Diet and nutrition are key factors in the health and growth of a child. Children require lots of nutrients to help their bodies develop all the necessary functions and tissues they need, and the quality (or lack thereof) of these nutrients can have a big impact on health.
Everything from basic brain function to behavioral patterns can be influenced by the diet a child eats. Nutrition is also involved in the prevention of many childhood diseases, especially conditions like obesity and diabetes.
What should you encourage and avoid when it comes to your child’s diet? Do children of different ages require distinct levels of nutrition, and how does following a healthy diet help your child’s health? Here’s a look.
Foods to Encourage
Some of the foods that contain the best nutrients in high densities include:
- Fruit: Nearly all types of fruit are great for adding nutrients in a healthy way. Make sure to target fruit without added sugars—canned fruits or fruit juices often have a lot of these, so it’s important to read nutrition labels when choosing what to buy at the grocery store.
- Vegetables: They’re a bit tougher to get kids to eat, but they’re just as important as fruit. Be cautious of frozen or canned veggies because they can sometimes be very high in sodium. Look for a variety of colors in veggies, as these can represent various nutrients the body needs.
- Protein: Lean meats and poultry, plus things like beans, eggs, nuts and various soy products are good. Make sure, however, to maintain proper portion sizes with protein.
- Dairy: Look for low-fat dairy products whenever possible, or even better, soy-based dairy products.
- Grains: Look for whole grains over refined grains.
Foods to Avoid
Foods that contain fewer nutrients, or that might contain bad elements for your child’s health, include:
- Sugar and sweets: This refers to added and processed sugars, not the kind naturally found in fruit. Consuming too much of these sugars is often a primary cause of diabetes.
- Fats: Avoid saturated and trans fats—often found in red meats and full-fat dairy. Lots of oily, fatty foods contain these bad fats, and they can cause high blood pressure, cholesterol and heart conditions.
Daily Calorie Intake
Based on age and gender, there are a few specific calorie guidelines you should follow. There are situations where your child’s pediatrician may recommend different guidelines, but average recommendations are:
- Ages 2-3: 1,000-1,400 calories per day
- Ages 4-8: 1,200-1,800 calories per day for girls, 1,200-2,000 calories per day for boys
- Ages 9-13: 1,400-2,200 calories per day for girls, 1,600-2,600 calories per day for boys
- Ages 14-18: 1,800-2,400 calories for girls, 2,000-3,200 calories per day for boys
There are precise guidelines about how these calories should be divided between the main food groups, but these may vary based on individual cases. Speak to your pediatrician about any questions you may have regarding your child’s diet.
There are several health and growth benefits that come with a proper, healthy diet. These include:
- Brain Development: Poor nutrition has been shown to restrict brain development and IQ levels in many children, and may cause problems with attention span and behavior.
- Healthy Growth: The body grows exponentially in size during childhood, but it needs the right nutrients and energy to make this happen—especially to build bones and keep important areas healthy as they grow.
- Lower Obesity Rates: Obesity affects nearly one in three children. It’s a very common cause or risk factor for conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Healthy Choices: Setting the proper baseline for your child helps ensure they’ll make healthier choices throughout their lives, even when you aren’t around to help them.
If you’re concerned about diet or nutrition issues with your child, speak to your doctor about your options. Most of these problems can be treated and improved through simple diet and lifestyle changes.
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