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Diet :: Eating habits among children

A healthy diet is very important for the development of good health during the early years of life. A faulty lifestyle and especially faulty food can lead to an unhealthy adult and therefore an unhealthy society and nation.


* Children mostly like eating junk food.
* Very few children take green leafy vegetables.
* Rarely, school going children like home cooked food.
* School children mostly miss their breakfast, which is the most imporatant part of a person’s daily diet schedule.
* Very few children like their lunch in the schools. Those who don’t like it, bring it back without even eating a bite.
* Very few children take fruits in their daily routine. Children need 3 servings of food daily but very few children make themselves to that mark.


There are several factors, which can lead to these faulty eating habits among children, especially among school going children. The major part of it goes to the parents, because of their schedules. Some of them include –

* Acutenes of the time among the parents. This is one of the major factors, which has lead to such faulty habits.
* Both the parents are working. The kids are mostly left at home to fend themselves for their meals.
* There is easy availability of the junk foods at low prices. Thus the children of any class can easily spare their money for these foods.
* The tastes of the parents have also changed now days. They do also don’t want to have the home cooked food. They’ve also made junk food as a part of their daily routine.
* We are an immoderate society, where extreme and imbalanced eating has become the norm.


* Some may refuse to eat all but one or two foods for awhile. Take a calm, easy-going approach to these behaviours to avoid mealtime becoming a source of negative attention.
* Serve a variety of fresh foods that is attractively presented. Try interesting shapes and finger foods. Ensure that children are hungry at mealtimes. Allow children to take their time, but set a reasonable time limit.
* Keep serving portions small; children can be intimidated by large amounts. Make sure eating is associated with success rather than failure. Never pressure a child to eat. Don’t use food, beverages and desserts as bribes or punishments.
* Offer children plenty of choices. Use large serving dishes so children can serve themselves. Even toddlers love to pour their own beverages. Allow children to feed themselves as much as they can – with or without utensils.
* Involve children in menu planning and food preparation.
* Offer nutrient-packed fruits: peaches; apricots; pears and oranges. Mince vegetables and add them to bread , roti and rice.

Children need to have a balanced diet. This balanced diet should cover all nutritional requirements of the children, whether of any age group. A balanced diet includes a variety of foods from all the five food groups. It should provide enough calories to ensure a desirable weight and should include all the necessary daily nutrients. The nutrients involved in the balanced diet are Carbohydrates, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals, Water and Fiber. These nutrients should be given in exact amount as required by the child during their growth period.

Iron is the mineral that helps to keep red blood cells healthy. Deficiency of it can lead to anaemia. Good sources include red meat, liver, egg yolk, corned beef, beans and pulses. To help adsorb the iron more effectively, combine with vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits, fruit juice, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables.

This mineral is very important for healthy bone development. Good sources include dairy products – milk, cheese, yoghurt, orange juice, green leafy vegetables, cereals, sesame seeds and tofu.

Starchy carbohydrates-
These are important for the energy production in the body, along with the overall growth of the body. Good sources include bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes, should be served with all meals. Use plenty of potatoes, including baked potatoes and sweet potatoes. Pasta is great too – many children love pasta shapes served in a tomato, cheese or meat sauce.

Fruits & Vegetables-
These should be eaten often. The aim should be for atleast five portions in a day. Use fruit in puddings, as snacks and in crumbles and pies. Frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh varieties. Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked (serve crunchy rather than very soft to preserve the vitamins and minerals). If vegetables aren’t a favourite, try hiding them in soups, sauces, roti and parantha.

Milk & Dairy Foods-
These are an important source of calcium. Use full-fat milk; semi-skimmed may be given from the age of two if the overall diet contains enough energy. Milk can be used in drinks, on cereal, in puddings and in sauces. Cheese or yoghurt can be given instead of some milk. Add cheese to baked potatoes, pasta, spaghetti, egg dishes and so on. Grated cheese, cheese spread or cheese portions can be used on sandwiches or toast. Try yoghurts as a pudding or snack between meals.

Fatty & Sugary Foods-
This group includes spreading fats (such as butter), cooking oils, sugar, biscuits, cakes, crisps, sweets, chocolate, cream and ice-cream and sugary drinks. These foods shouldn’t be eaten too often. When they are taken, they should only be consumed in small amounts. They’re loaded in calories, fat and sugar, but don’t contain many vitamins and minerals. In addition, sugary foods and drinks (including fruit juice) can significantly contribute to dental decay. Try to limit the amount of sugar and sweets eaten. If they are eaten, offer them at the end of a meal rather than in between. Some sugar-free or diet drinks can also cause decay because of their acidity. Milk or water are the best drinks between meals.

Vitamin A is needed for the formation and maintanence of skin, hair and membranes. It is needed for bone and teeth development. It is also important the proper vision of the child. This is often lacking in diets of children due to improper eating habits. Vitamin C is important for the immune system and growth. It is essential for the structure of bones, cartilage and muscle. It also helps in the absorption of iron, especially iron from non-meat sources. Vitamins C intakes are often low in children who eat little fruit and vegetables. Vitamin D is essential for calcium metabolism. It aids in bone and teeth formation and helps the heart and nervous system function well. It can be synthesised through the action of sunlight on the skin. In winter, and if your child is always covered if outside, make sure you include dietary sources of vitamin D, along with supplements that contain this vitamin. Young children can be given extra A, C and D vitamins in supplements.


Key Points-
* Requirements for energy and nutrients are high, but appetites are small in young children. Give regular meals and snacks that are nutrient rich.
* Iron, calcium and vitamins A, C and D are particularly important for a growing child. To ensure sufficient intakes, offer a variety of foods based on the four food groups: starchy carbohydrates; fruit and vegetables; milk and dairy foods; and meat, fish and alternatives.
* Sugary foods and drinks should be limited. If eaten, make sure it is after a meal and not between to reduce the risk of dental decay.
* Peanut-containing foods shouldn’t be given to children if a parent or sibling has a diagnosed allergy. Whole nuts should not be given to any child under the age of five because of the risk of choking.
* Encourage your child to have healthy nutritious snacks rather than lots of fatty and sugary foods and drinks.
* School meals and packed lunches are an important contribution to the day’s nutritional intake. Make sure that your child makes the right choices at school, or provide a healthy packed lunch as an alternative.
* Encourage your child to be active. Coupled with a healthy diet, this will provide the foundations to good health, in the short term and in the future.

* Give your child regular meals and snacks.
* Sit down and eat together as a family.
* Have a wide variety of foods and choose ones that are colourful are interesting.
* Try small portions on a small plate, especially if large portions overwhelm your child.
* Keep sweet foods out of sight until the main meal has been eaten.

This is a very imporatnt meal. Breakfast cereals are ideal, especially if served with a glass of fruit juice, but try not to choose ones with lots of added sugar. This is a nutrient-packed meal, which will provide starchy carbohydrates, vitamins, calcium, iron and protein.

Healthy Snacking-
Nutritious snacks are important to supply essential nutrients and energy, but avoid giving large snacks too close to meals. Healthy snacks include –
* breakfast cereal and milk
* crunchy muesli and yoghurt
* fresh fruit
* low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais
* nuts, seeds or dried fruit
* fruit smoothes
* cheese and crackers
* vegetable sticks (carrots, peppers)
* cheese cubes and crackers
* toast
* small sandwiches
* yoghurt

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