Childhood nutrition 101: What you need to know to add a little goodness to your child’s plate

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Sometimes just making small, good decisions each day can lead to the best outcome. (Francisco emilio Duran/Getty Images)
Sometimes just making small, good decisions each day can lead to the best outcome. (Francisco emilio Duran/Getty Images)

There's no denying the importance of nutrition during childhood, and yet instilling healthy eating practices can be daunting for clueless moms and dads. 

But if there's anything that our rising childhood obesity and stunted growth statistics prove it's that mental and physical development depends on these essential elements. 

And breaking down the basics is the best place for parents to start. 

Applying nutritional knowledge

Nutrients are compounds that are essential for good health. They provide us with energy and are the building blocks for repairing and growing our bodies.

But our bodies can’t make nutrients itself, or at least not in a sufficient quantity. And so, these nutrients should ideally come from the food we eat.

"Early life events, including nutrition, play a powerful role in programming children’s development, metabolism and health for the future," explains Anne-Marie De Beer, Registered Dietitian at Nestlé.

For parents and caregivers, applying nutritional knowledge and making healthy food choices is important in ensuring the growth and optimal development of your children. 

Also see: Tired of eating animals? Here's how to move your family over to a plant-based diet

The building blocks of a diet

Nutrients are divided into two main categories: micronutrients and macronutrients.

Micronutrients are minerals and vitamins and are needed in small quantities.

Macronutrients, on the other hand, are the main building blocks of a diet (and we require them in larger quantities) because they are what give our bodies energy. These macronutrients consist of three main categories: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Each of them plays a key role and have various functions in our bodies.  It is found in different foods, and having a variety is what makes a balanced diet.

Protein

Protein is made up of amino acids, these are the building blocks in every single cell in our bodies and help in the formation of muscle. The best sources of this macronutrient include poultry, fish, lean meat, dairy, eggs, and legumes. 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide the major source of energy needed to live, grow, and thrive. Carbohydrates are found in Starches (our staples) such as maize, bread, wheat flour, pasta, rice as well as fruit and vegetables.

Sugar is also a carbohydrate, but since it does not offer any other nutritional benefits, we talk about empty calories, when we have sugary foods or sugar-sweetened beverages.

Fats 

Fats are essential for life. It offers double the amount of energy when compared to protein or carbohydrates.  It has key functions in our bodies as it provides insulation and protection for organs. Fat is also a structural component of every cell in our bodies and has various metabolic functions. 

All fats provide the same number of calories, but its metabolic effects are different.  For that reason, we recommend the use of unsaturated fats (those are the fats that are still in liquid form at room temperature) such as sunflower seed oil, canola oil, olive oil, and nut spreads or butter.

Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature and we find them primarily in animal sources. These fats are also implicated in cardiovascular disease.

Fibre (falls within the carbohydrate family and is important in your child’s diet too. Legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are all good sources to consider. 

Also read: Is 'clean eating' right for your toddler?

Making small, good decisions each day

Encouraging kids to eat more veggies and fruits, ensuring their meals are as nutritious as possible and incorporating diversified protein is very important, but can sometimes prove challenging for parents and caregivers.

Parents often put pressure on themselves to give their children the best and sometimes just making small, good decisions each day can lead to the best outcome.

By adding a little more goodness one day or one meal at a time is the best way to set healthy eating habits for life.

"Children adopt similar eating habits as their parents. Modelling healthier eating and lifestyle habits not only enhances children’s quality of life but contributes to a healthier future generation" De Beer concludes. 

Follow this link to download a free Recipe Story Book E-Book in English and IsiZulu for recipes and more tips. 

Submitted to Parent24 by Nestlé. 

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