The foods that children eat or don’t eat can have a profound affect on their health both whilst they are growing and when they are adults. Good nutrition supports a child’s immune system, brain function, growth and repair, and lays a foundation to support recovery of any health issues they may have like childhood diseases, vaccinations and injuries.
The eating habits that they acquire, if they are good ones, can protect their health through all stages of life including becoming a teenager, pregnancy and old age. Influencing children at an early age to eat well is one of the most important things you can do for their health and well-being.
If parents can eat a healthy diet and teach by example, healthy eating becomes the norm for children and this is a gift for life.
Important facts to know about foods:
Carbohydrates and Sugar
Did you know that over consumption of carbohydrates (includes sugars and refined fruit sugars) increases insulin production and therefore can interfere with hormonal balance? This can have detrimental effects on children’s health as they are growing and when they are adults. Increasing vegetables, wholefoods, good fats and protein will help to keep their blood sugar levels healthier.
If your child wants juice give it as a treat only; it is much better for their health and their teeth to consume in moderate amounts. Modern living has made drinking vast amounts of juice normal, but nature never intended for us to consume so much fructose. It can be very damaging to health, plus much of the goodness is in the pithy part of the skin. Many refined products contain highly concentrated fruit sugars, this is not healthy and brands can sometimes mislead consumers when they present their product as 'natural' just because it has fruit sugars in instead of glucose.
Sugary foods can also have a detrimental effect on children’s gut flora, especially if they have had a course of antibiotics. This imbalance in the gut flora can have an impact on the immune system, causing sensitivities, that can get labelled as allergies, and can go on in life to exacerbate health conditions. The cellulose from vegetables feed healthy gut flora as they break the food down, therefore increasing raw and lightly cooked vegetable intake is important for gut health in children.
We know that all children will at some point eat sugary foods, drinks, sweets and chocolate, and in very small amounts it won't do much harm, the key is to make them understand that all sugar is detrimental to health if eaten regularly. Try not to make having desert the norm. There are some sweet foods that are what nutritionists call 'Nutrient Dense', some raw sugars like Rapa Dura have a very high content of minerals and some vitamins, and is much sweeter than white sugar so less is needed. Using this to sweeten homemade foods like muffins can at least deliver nutrients where as white sugar and most light brown sugars are depleted of nutrients and are 'Empty Calories', therefore these sugars will use up the body's reserves as they get metabolised. Organic dried fruits like dates are a healthier alternative used in many recipes, that deliver fibre and nutrients not just a wonderful creamy sweet taste. Organic Black strap Molasses syrup is packed with minerals and nutrients an adds a certain deep sweetness to baking, and you can add to sauces like gravy and bolognese to sneak a few more nutrients into a dish. Molasses was given to children during the war to keep them healthy - spreading it on buttered toast was their daily Vitamin and mineral supplement.
Fat & Oils
Good fats are very important in a child’s diet, especially for brain structure and function as they are developing. Fats are vital for all aspects of health. The key is to use good fats and to not over heat them. Good fats do not make you fat, eaten in moderation they are vital to good health.
- Fats are concentrated source of energy.
- Carries and transports the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Helps the body use protein and carbohydrates more efficiently.
- A component of every cell wall.
- Deposits of fat in the body serve to support and cushion vital organs, and to provide insulation.
- The body's chief storage form for energy and work.
- Carries the compounds that give foods their aroma and flavour.
- Cholesterol is vital for making hormones and Vitamin D (which actually is a hormone named wrongly)
- Can determine the amount of inflammation there is in the body.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids: Olive Oil, sesame oil, avocado, almonds, olives, sesame seeds, tahini paste. Decrease total blood cholesterol but maintain your HDL (healthy) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Safflower, soybean, walnuts, pumpkin, sunflower seeds. Decreases total blood cholesterol by lowering both LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Highly polyunsaturated, found in high quantities in oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines. Other sources are from flaxseeds, walnuts, Can help cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune function, brain health and arthritis.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Safflower oil, corn oil, Evening Primrose oil, sunflower oil, Hemp oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, eggs from free-range chickens, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds. A little butter is great for children too, especially goat's butter and organic butter. Also full fat natural live yoghurt (not the sweetened ones) is a good edition to a young child's diet.
Sufficient protein is vital for your children’s immune function; it is a major functional and structural component of all tissues and cells, hair, nails, skin, blood cells, bone, cartilage and ligaments. Protein is needed for every single function in the body – even antibodies in the immune function are made from protein. It provides the body with roughly 20% of dietary energy. You can see why protein is so important for growth and repair. Animal protein is the most easily absorbed and utilised, vegetable protein can be sufficient if balanced carefully to make sure all essential amino acids are present. By increasing the variety of vegetables, you will increase protein content as many vegetables contain protein, like peas, beans, asparagus, avocado, whole grains, oats, quinoa etc.
Don't be afraid of giving your child eggs. As long as eggs are high quality where the chickens have been fed the correct grain (ie: organic and some free range eggs) then the eggs will be bursting with nutrients and they can have some every day - include eggs in pancakes and even stir fried vegetable rice, or simple egg and soldiers, scrambled or poached.
They are a brilliant source of protein for children.
Minerals are vital for all aspects of health; they are co-factors in many activities in the body as well as for growing tissues. Iron is vital for life – and can be derived from foods like: Egg yolks, broccoli, spinach, apricots, prunes, leafy greens, bananas, apples, purple grapes, raisin, whole grains, peas, parsley, figs, black strap molasses and (if baking) Rapa Dura raw cane sugar. Children need a constant supply of minerals for their bones and muscles to grow properly as well as Vitamin D.
There are many Vitamins that children need daily that our bodies cannot produce. If a child eats fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains and other healthy foods then they should gain enough from their diet. This is why it is so important to make sure children eat these foods. Vitamins are needed for all aspects of health; they are involved in every single function and activity in the body. For example
Vitamin C is needed to keep all tissues healthy, for energy and for immunity. The fresher the foods,
the more Vitamins they will contain. When vegetables are cooked both the Vitamins and enzymes are diminished which is why cooking very lightly preserves the nutrients. Cooking can also release some nutrients. For example when carrots are lightly cooked, three times the amount of Beta-Carotene is released which converts safely to Vitamin A in the body. The same with greens, although highly beneficial raw, very lightly cooked (i.e: 30 seconds) to make them turn bright green releases more nutrients. Cooking vegetables for a long time in soups, sauces or casseroles, allows all the minerals to seep into the fluid to be easily absorbed, although the enzymes are destroyed and the Vitamins largely diminished. Adding something raw like spinach just before serving increases the nutrient content. For example when making a tomato and olive pasta sauce, add baby spinach leaves and stir in just before serving.
Wrongly named, Vitamin D is actually a hormone and is mainly made in the skin after being exposed to the suns rays. It is vital for Immune health and the laying down of calcium in the bones. It is found in some foods, but in very small amounts and only in dairy products if it has been fortified with Vitamin D - generally in the UK we do not have fortified milk. Children need to be exposed to the sun, at least for 15 minutes before covering them in sun cream. It is a sad fact that these days most people including children are deficient in Vitamin D, and it such an important nutrient that protects against disease and vital for immune system, healthy bones and growth.
Fibre in foods is so important not only to keep digestion healthy and to feed good gut flora, but to help keep blood sugar steady therefore healthy. The fibre in whole grains, pulses and high fibre foods like whole fruits and vegetables slows the digestion of carbohydrates down to a rate that the body and blood can cope with carbohydrates healthily.
Of course this also works for adults, so increasing high fibre foods for the whole family is the best and most effective way to increase your child's fibre. Showing your children that you consider high fibre important every day trains them to keep fibre in their diet throughout their life.
Note that if your child has very sensitive digestion, the high fibre in wheat can increase sensitivity, which can cause bloating and digestive discomfort even if your child has tested negetive to a gluten allergy test. It is best to consult a nutritional therapist and GP to get this checked. (This also applies to adults)
See Articles ( in menu) for High Fibre Foods
Young children should not have salt generally, their taste buds don’t need it and too much is a strain on their organs especially their kidneys. They do need some sodium as it is vital for their cardiovascular health, and this can be found in foods like vegetables and meats. As they grow, a pinch of pink Himalayan salt can used in cooking, it contains a complete balance of minerals. You can also create a lower salt seasoning mix: for example blend dried herbs, celery seeds, paprika, garlic powder with some pink Himalayan salt.
Water is vital for all children. Many children will drink water, but they may have become used to drinking juice, squash or worse still a fizzy drink like cola with meals. Drinking something sweet with food can affect the digestion of that food as sugars must be processed quickly, and fruit juices can cause fermentation in the stomach after a meal. The calories in the sugary drinks can also double the calories in one mealtime. Drinking diet drinks is also a big no no as they are full of sweeteners which are known to be neuro toxins. The excessive phosphorous in the drink can have a detrimental effect on the health of bones in children, as it causes calcium to leach from the bones. Phosphorus in itself is not bad, we need it in our diet, but in excess it causes an imbalance the body tries to reblance itself by moving minerals around. The best fluids to drink with food is filtered water. If your child likes herbal teas, these are good too. You can also try giving them fresh ginger tea or mint tea - just slice some fresh ginger or mint into a pot or cup and pour hot water over it, and cool with a little cold water.