The Importance of Healthy Eating in Children

Physically, a child's body is different from that of an adult, and it can be hard to understand that a child is not a miniature adult. Because children are growing and developing, they have particular nutritional requirements. Even teens are still growing, often in ways we cannot see. Giving children nutritionally dense food options is important for proper overall growth and development.

Children need nutrition, not just food. Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Nutritional Demands

Healthy eating is vital. Credit: Kraig Scarbinsky/Digital Vision/Getty Images

A child's body needs nutrition, not just food. According to kidshealth.org, one out of three children in America is overweight or obese. Allowing children to eat processed and fast foods instead of fruits, vegetables and other whole foods is pushing them toward having lifelong weight issues. Healthy eating is vital. If nutritional needs are been unmet because too many sugary and high-fat foods are replacing nutritious food, children may be unable to perform at age-appropriate levels. Children have a higher metabolic rate, requiring more caloric intake than adults, but it's vital that the calories they consume be nutritious.

Foods to Avoid

Eliminating junk foods will leave room in the diet for fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Credit: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Children's immune systems are underdeveloped, which makes them prone to infection. When considering a child's diet, it's important to know what to include and what not to include in order to avoid illness. Most processed foods contain white sugars, white flours, artificial sweeteners or food colorings that can leave the body weak those foods provide little nutritional value. Thus, eliminating junk foods will leave room in the diet for fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all of which boost the immune system.

General Guidelines

Because children's bodies are growing and because they have high metabolic rates and underdeveloped immune systems, eating healthy is important. Calorie recommendations and average energy needs vary with age. Newborns to one-year-olds need up to 850 calories each day. One- to six-year-olds need between 1,300 to 1,800 calories daily, while children aged seven and up may up to 2,000 calories per day. Note that these are only average amounts. Children performing in sports often have higher energy requirements and need more calories. The number of calories that allows your child to grow normally is what is right for him. All calories should come from nutritious sources.

Healthy Eating

Children need adequate carbohydrates for their high energy levels. Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Defining healthy eating may vary from person to person. However, most experts agree that a healthy diet is more than what to eat or what not to eat. It includes plenty of water and enough protein for growth and cellular repair. Children need adequate carbohydrates for their high energy levels and just enough fat to provide essential fatty acids for cell growth. Finally, children's diets require enough iron, calcium and vitamin D to strengthen blood and bones as well as zinc and magnesium to support the immune system. All of these nutritional requirements can be met through a diet high in fruits, vegetables, grains and meats.

Variety

Encouraging children to eat a variety of whole foods will ensure a balance of nutritional intake. Credit: Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Variety is not how much or how often a child eats certain foods, rather it refers to the range of food choices that are eaten. Encouraging children to eat a variety of whole foods will ensure a balance of nutritional intake. In America, after infants begin eating rice cereal, fruits and vegetables are usually introduced. This is good policy to continue throughout your child's life. Making fruits and vegetables the main course for each meal will make certain that a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber are consumed, which facilitates healthy growth.

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