Childhood and Adolescent Nutrition

During the first few years of life, it's vital to meet a child's nutritional needs in order to ensure proper growth and also to establish a lifelong habit of healthy eating.

Eating a meal should be both a healthy and an enjoyable occasion -a fact that many parents may overlook when planning a meal for their growing children. Instead of a fast meal (especially one short in nutritional value) that family members eat at different hours, mealtimes should promote family togetherness. Relaxed dining experiences with good food and conversation (that doesn't involve criticizing table manners or pleading with children to eat) help to foster family relationships as well as good digestion. You should try to schedule meals so that they don't conflict with other activities; children will be less likely to gobble their food and rush to leave the table. You can also involve children in family meals by having them help out with simple mealtime tasks, such as peeling potatoes, preparing salads, or setting the table. If mealtime is a pleasant event, children may practice healthful eating habits later on in life.

The Growing Years

Between the ages of 2 and 20, the human body changes continuously and dramatically. In general, muscles grow stronger, bones grow longer, height may more than double, and weight can increase as much as five-fold. The most striking changes take place during puberty, which usually occurs between the ages of 10 and 15 in girls and slightly later-between the ages of 12 and 19-in boys. Sexual development and maturity take place at this time, which, along with the adolescent growth spurt, result in a startling physical transformation.

Children need energy throughout the growing years: typically 1,300 calories a day for a 2-year-old, 1,700 for a 5-year-old, 2,200 for a 16-year- old girl, and 2,800 for a 16-year-old boy.

The amount of food that a child needs varies according to height, build, gender, and activity level. Left to them-selves, most children will usually eat the amount of food that's right for them; however, it is up to the parents to make sure that their children have the right foods available to choose from. Don't fall into the age-old trap of forcing them to eat more food than they want or need. Yesterday's notion of "cleaning your plate" and "starving children in Africa" can lead to overeating and weight problems or to a life-long dislike of particular foods. Parents may find it better to serve smaller portions in the first place or to allow children to serve themselves.

Changes In Appetite

In most children, appetite slackens as the growth rate slows after the first year; it will then vary throughout childhood, depending on whether the child is going through a period of slow or rapid growth. It is perfectly normal for a young child to eat ravenously one day and then show little interest in food the following day.

Eating patterns change with the onset of the adolescent growth spurt; teenagers usually develop voracious appetites to match their need for additional energy. At the same time, many develop erratic eating habits- for example, skipping breakfast, lunching at school or at a fast-food restaurant, then snacking almost non-stop until bedtime. Although snacking is not the ideal way to eat, a "food on the run" lifestyle won't necessarily cause nutritional problems as long as the basic daily requirements for protein, carbohydrates, fats, and various vitamins and minerals are met. You can generally keep your teenager out of nutritional danger by providing snacks that are high in vitamins, minerals, and protein but low in sugar, fat, and salt. This basically means buying healthful snack foods, such as fresh and dried fruits, juices, raw vegetables, nuts, cheese, whole-grain crackers, unadulterated popcorn, and yogurt- not candy, cake, cookies, potato chips, corn chips, and Soda pop.

The Question of Sweets

Sugary foods can provide a quick burst of energy, but they can also spoil the appetite for healthier foods and cause tooth decay without contributing any valuable nutrients. However, banning candies altogether can be troublesome; children may feel left our when their friends have them and so develop a pattern of eating candy in secret. There is no harm in letting children have candy occasionally, as long as you don't offer sweets as bribes or rewards for good behavior. For a sweet treat, cookies or ice cream is better than candy because there are some nutrients in the milk and grains used to make these snacks. If your family has dessert as a regular part of the menu, emphasize fruits, yogurt, or custards instead of pastries and other sweets.

Foods For Toddlers

After the first year children can eat most of the dishes prepared for the rest of the family. However, because toddlers often have high energy requirements and a small stomach, they may need five or six small meals or snacks a day. Schedule a toddler's snacks so they don't interfere with food intake during meals. An interval of about an hour and a half is usually enough to satisfy hunger without spoiling meals.

Toddlers often go on food jags- for example, eliminating everything that's white or green. Such food rituals are often short-lived, although they can be annoying or worrisome if they get out of hand. Try to respect the child's preferences without giving in to every whim; offer a reasonable alternative. If, for instance, lunch is rejected with a demand for a peanut butter sandwich, resist the temptation to make a substitution but offer to fix the sandwich for a later snack.

Balance and Variety

Children need a wide variety of foods. Carbohydrates- breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables-should make up the major part of the diet. Protein foods can include meat, fish, milk, grains, soy products (such as bean curd), and combinations of grains and legumes. Milk is an important source of calories, minerals, and vitamins. Children 4 to 9 years old should have 2 to 3 milk product servings every day (some of the milk may be in the form of cheese or yogurt). Grilled and baked foods are preferable to fried and fatty ones for children of all ages.

Fats are probably the most misunderstood food group. Although every-one should avoid excess fat, we all need a certain amount for important body functions. Several vitamins (A, D, E, and K) can be absorbed only in the presence of fat, and fats are necessary for the production of other body chemicals, including the hormones that transform boys and girls into men and women. Excessive fat intake may well lead to obesity and many adult diseases; even so, about 30 percent or less of total calories should come from fat.

Many parents have a battle when it comes to getting children to eat vegetables, but you can win children over by appealing to their taste for bright colors and interesting textures. Who wouldn't choose crisp, raw carrot sticks over soggy, limp cabbage? Innovative cooks can substitute minced vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms) for ground meat in spaghetti sauce, or chop chickpeas with grains and other vegetables to make "vegeburgers."

Foods For Teenagers

Adolescents need more of everything to keep up with the massive teenage growth spurt: calories and protein for growth and to build muscles; and protein, calcium, phosphorus, and vita-min D for bone formation. For many teenagers the demands of school and social life mean that they eat many meals away from home; suddenly they have the responsibility of choosing perhaps the major part of their diet. Some use food to establish an identity, such as by becoming a vegetarian or going on a diet. Iron-deficiency anemia is fairly common in adolescent girls; the cause is not always clear and may be a problem of absorption rather than the amount of iron in the diet. Anorexia and certain other eating disorders are a risk for a small group of adolescents, especially girls.

Obesity (defined as being 20 per cent or more above desirable weight) is a problem for both boys and girls, but weight control can be complicated for adolescents. They still need calories for growth, together with the necessary balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The best approach to co

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