What is the Importance of Children's Nutrition?

Amanda Barnhart

Proper nutrition is important for everyone to maintain good health, but children’s nutrition is especially vital due to the vast physical and mental development that occurs during the childhood years. Every human needs the same nutrients, regardless of age, but kids require different amounts of these as they age. Protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals provide the nourishment our bodies need, and obtaining these from healthy sources can help prevent disease and childhood obesity.

Nutrition is especially important during preteen years.
Nutrition is especially important during preteen years.

Breast milk or baby formula provide the majority of the necessary nutrients for proper children’s nutrition for the first year of life. Infant cereals and strained fruits and vegetables fortified with zinc and iron are appropriate for most babies to start eating by the time they are about six months old. Adequate amounts of zinc and iron are especially important for breastfed babies, as breast milk often does not provide as much iron and zinc as formula.

Fruits are a healthy snack for children.
Fruits are a healthy snack for children.

In the first year, babies get most of their nutrition from their mother.
In the first year, babies get most of their nutrition from their mother.

Toddlers typically benefit from a healthy selection of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. Calcium, fiber, and fat are especially important nutrients for a growing toddler to protect against disease and nourish their growing brains and bodies. The Mayo Clinic recommends that these children consume between 30% and 40% of their daily calories in fat, from ages two to three.

Calcium, which is found in dairy products like milk, is critical to growing bones.
Calcium, which is found in dairy products like milk, is critical to growing bones.

Between the ages of four and eight, fiber, calcium, and protein continue to be extremely important to children’s nutrition. As kids start to reach school age, boys and girls begin to differ in their nutritional needs. Boys usually need more calories than girls do, but this may vary depending on the child’s medical history and activity level.

Kids who eat nutritious foods typically have healthier immune systems than kids who don't, but occasionally eating fast food is OK.
Kids who eat nutritious foods typically have healthier immune systems than kids who don't, but occasionally eating fast food is OK.

Preteens and teens should consume more calories as they age, and eat no more than 25% to 35% of their daily calories in fat. Some children may need even less fat if they have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Calcium becomes even more important during the preteen and early teen years because the majority of a person’s bone mass develops during these years.

Meals should include a variety of protien, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Meals should include a variety of protien, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

While carbohydrates are important for proper children’s nutrition, whole grains are better sources of carbohydrates than sugars. Fresh fruits and vegetables make far healthier snacks than candy, chips, and other high-fat and high-sodium snacks. Children who are provided with healthy snacks and meals from a young age are more likely to develop better eating habits as they age.

Cutting back on high calorie snacks can help children deal with obesity.
Cutting back on high calorie snacks can help children deal with obesity.

There are many factors that may alter a child's individual nutritional needs. Parents should discuss their child’s nutritional needs with their pediatricians. There are also many books or other resources available to learn more about healthy diets for kids.

The nutritional requirements of children change as they age.
The nutritional requirements of children change as they age.
Children should be encouraged to eat more fruits and vegetables to help with their physical development.
Children should be encouraged to eat more fruits and vegetables to help with their physical development.
Childhood obesity is thought to be among the highest risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Childhood obesity is thought to be among the highest risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

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Discussion Comments

pastanaga

@Iluviaporos - I was quite shocked at what some parents considered to be an adequate lunch for their kids when I worked at a local school. Aside from the kids who ended up at school with no lunch at all, there were some that simply brought in some lunch meat, or a single candy bar, or just an apple.

I am actually a big supporter of providing healthy lunches in schools to everyone just because it would at least mean they get one meal in the day where they have some nutrients, no matter what else they eat at home.

Good nutrition is so important for kids. If they don't get it they can be affected for life, in their bodies and in their habits. It's just not fair for children to suffer from their parent's ignorance or apathy.

lluviaporos

@browncoat - I'd be interested to know how your parents modeled healthy eating though. I think that's more important than just telling your kids they can eat what they want. I don't think healthy nutrition needs to have much restriction, but kids need to learn what to eat from somewhere and if they are simply left to learn it from other kids and from the TV they are going to develop bad habits.

browncoat

It's kind of an interesting debate about how diet and nutrition should be handled around children. My parents decided that they didn't want to give any of us a complex so they basically had a complete hands-off approach where they let us eat whatever we wanted (within reason, of course, since they still had to buy the stuff).

And all three of their kids have very difficult approaches to food. I tend to try and eat healthy, but I also have a lot of junk food. One of my siblings is a complete health food nut and won't touch anything else. And my other sibling is quite precious about food and eating, but mostly seems to eat candy.

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