Nutritious food plays an important role in children’s growth, development, learning and behaviour. In the short term, children who eat nutritious food have more balanced energy levels, and will be better able to regulate emotions and concentrate in the classroom. In the long term, a healthy balanced diet promotes a healthy heart, a healthy weight and prevents diseases such as type 2 diabetes. If children get into the habit of eating healthily from a young age, they are more likely to continue to practice this as they grow older.
What does a healthy diet look like for a child?
According to Harvard T.H. Chan (2015), a child’s healthy eating plate might contain:
½ Fruit and vegetables
¼ Whole grains
A dash of oils
A spoonful of dairy
A cup of water
This fantastic visual gives us an idea about the portion control for children’s dietary requirements. It also reminds us that exercise plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy body. A wider variety of these foods is key for children to get all the nutrients and vitamins they need for healthy growth.
Signs and Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies can occur when children’s diets are not varied and when they contain too many refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, candy and fruit juices. These types of carbohydrates have zero nutritional value; they contain no fibre, vitamins or minerals (Healthline, 2017).
According to The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne (N.D.) (RCH), the signs of a poor diet can include:
Being underweight, overweight or obese
Constipation or changes in bowel habits
Being pale or lethargic
Poor physical growth
RCH states that nutrition deficient children may display symptoms such as behavioural problems, sleep issues, problems with emotional and psychological development, and poor concentration or difficulties at school.
A balanced, varied diet is key for children’s growth and development for both the short and long term. Adults and children should be aware of the vitamins and minerals that different foods provide, and how different foods affect the body. It is also important to have a good understanding about portion size and an awareness of the signs and symptoms of nutritional deficiencies.
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