We are what we eat, and that includes our children. The food and snacks they put into their bodies each day are what make up their cells and fuel their energy. Healthy eating aimed at children is designed to increase their energy, their health and their potential for a healthy life as they grow older.
The US Department of Agriculture publishes the Food Guide Pyramid to promote healthy eating in children over six years. This is a general guideline for daily food choices and not a strict listing. The main emphasis is on the five major food groups and it emphasizes a decreased amount of fat, oils, sweets and salt.
Many people find the Food Pyramid helpful for standardized guidelines but others find it difficult to understand and follow. Some theorize that this is the cause of obesity epidemic in children. However, this is an easy explanation for a much more complex problem that involves a lack of education about the need for good nutrition, adequate exercise and a lower number of television hours for children.
Nutrition and the healthy child requires a few guidelines. Children should eat a variety of foods. This includes vegetables and fruits as well as nuts and seeds. Children usually are able to eat enough processed foods filled with sugar and artificial colors and flavors.
Healthy eating aimed at children also includes balancing the foods they eat with physical activity. School systems have declining budgets and physical education programs are being drastically slashed. Even recess is being cut in some areas of the country. If a child doesn’t participate in a school sport then it’s likely they’ll go from sitting at their school desk all day to sitting and studying and then in front of the television at night.
Nutrition and the healthy child means that parents help to chose a diet that has enough whole wheat grains, vegetables and fruit. This should be the basis of the foods that they eat. The majority of their food should consist of those three food groups. And it should be low in fats, saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol.
Sugar is a favorite food group of both children and adults but eaten in moderate to large amounts it can do damage to your health, immune system and weight. Because sugar and salt is a favorite of children and adults – and because children require good role models in the home – both children and adults should refrain from over eating from these foods.
A healthy child also requires the minerals and vitamins that their growing bodies need – such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and complete proteins. Another aspect of using the Food Pyramid to judge healthy eating aimed at children is that the serving sizes may be confusing. A serving of meat is actually 1-2 ounces so with a ¼ pound hamburger they’ve eating 2-3 servings of meat in one meal.
Nutrition and a healthy child isn’t tricky to accomplish but it does require energy, planning and good role models in the house. This means that the parents also eat a healthy diet and model good healthy exercise habits. Healthy eating aimed at children will ensure a healthy lifestyle and healthy habits for years to come.
HealthyChildren: Kids need Fiber
National Agricultural Library: Child Nutrition and Health
HelpGuide: Nutrition for Children and Teens
MayoClinic: Nutrition for Kids