Caregivers often struggle with ensuring their children are eating enough of the right foods. This can be made even more difficult by children who are picky eaters. Healthy eating habits begin in childhood and as caregivers, we are responsible for meeting our children’s nutritional needs. This requires knowing what effect poor nutrition has on children, what foods are recommended for this age group, and how we can ensure children receive the nutrients they need.
When looking at the research on hunger and nutrient intake, it’s important to remember there are also correlating factors that may influence findings, including the socio-economic status of the child’s family, the education level of parents and access to pediatric care. Nonetheless, some research findings show that children who do not eat enough of the right foods:
- are less able to distinguish among similar images, show increased errors, and have slower memory recall
- are more likely to have to repeat a year at school
- are more susceptible to behavioral, attentional, emotional and academic problems
- are more likely to be hyperactive, absent and tardy
- have lower math scores and score lower on cognitive tests
So, what should children be eating? And how much should they get daily?
The USDA’s mypyramid.gov includes activities for you to beginning discussing healthy eating with your child, including coloring pages and computer games.
Caregivers should model healthy eating habits. Not only will you encourage your child to continue the same as they grow older, but you’ll also be improving your own health and quality of life. Such habits include eating fresh fruits and vegetables, limiting intake of carbonated beverages, being active and healthy snacking.
Be a healthy role model for children: 10 tips for setting good examples
Because most parents work, it’s important to find out if your child’s daycare provider or school offers well-balanced meals and snacks, as well as plenty of active play time.
Involve children in meal preparation:
- give age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen, for e.g. have your six year old combine the ingredients of the salad in a bowl
- include children in discussions as you grocery shop. This will teach them which foods you buy and why
- encourage children to suggest meal ideas
- find recipes for children online or in bookstores and have fun cooking together
- make food child-friendly. This requires some creativity. For example, my own mother added food colouring to homemade cheese spread. What child won’t want to eat green cheese spread sandwiches?
Multivitamins may be important in supplementing some children’s diet. There are mixed reviews about their effectiveness, but seem more essential for children who do not get adequate nutrients otherwise. Consult your pediatrician or community health clinic if you think your child should be taking multivitamins.