More than half of death in young children is attributed to nutrient deficiencies. In low income areas specifically, deficiencies in zinc, iron, and vitamin A are common. Anemia (iron-deficiency), specifically is on the rise across many different countries around the world. Zinc or protein deficiencies in children have been shown to cause slower growth and development. Vitamin D, vitamin C, copper and zinc deficiency can lead to softening, distortion or other issues in bones. When children reach school age, the most common deficiencies are calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamin E.
Across the globe, only one out of five children are consuming the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. Instead, they are consuming too much fat and saturated fat and not nearly enough fiber leading to gastrointestinal discomfort. Soft beverages are also a favorite among kids, but these are leading to sugar crashes, decreased physical activity and obesity. The bottom line is children, like adults, are at risk of nutrient deficiencies and these habits created in childhood will generally affect them well into adulthood making it important to teach children about nutrition at an early age.
There are many benefits to implementing healthy nutrition into our children’s lives. Healthy blood sugar levels will help alleviate sugar crashes and mood swings that are sure to accompany the crash. Processed foods with a lot of sugar and dyes may discourage a restful nights sleep making it harder for them to focus during the day. Healthy eating habits, on the other hand, will encourage better sleep making your child more energized and focused throughout the day. With more energy to expend it is likely that they will be more apt to engage in physical activity which helps avoid childhood obesity. Also, a healthy diet will generally mean a healthy gut.
The gut-brain connection is something that is sometimes ignored when thinking about our child’s growth and development. Just like adults, children with an unhealthy gut can lead to many health concerns. Abnormal microbes in a child’s stomach has been linked to obesity, malnutrition, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and having a negative effect on the nervous system. The bacteria in a child’s stomach is there to protect them from disease and extract nutrients from food. High fiber foods are a great addition to your child’s diet to maintain a healthy gut. Some great high fiber foods include fruits and vegetables, nuts, lentils, asparagus, sauerkraut, kimchi and beans. At this point, you might be asking yourself, ‘How will I get my child to eat that?’
How to Promote Healthy Nutrition in Children
Kids have a harder time processing broad concepts, you are probably extremely familiar with the question ‘But, Why?’. They are curious and want to really understand why something is the way it is. For this reason, telling them to eat something simply because it is good for you might not go over well. Instead, using phrases that explain how the food will promote different things the child may find exciting can be more enticing. Of course, that means we as adults need to understand the relationship between achievable goals – such as strong bones and teeth, better brain function and growth – with food.
- Foods high in calcium will help promote strong teeth and bones and promote healthy gums. Consider talking about foods high in calcium by saying: “This will help keep your smile bright and full of strong teeth!”
- Magnesium is an important mineral for the growth and development in the child, and it helps with restful sleep leading to a more focused child during the day. When serving foods high in magnesium, you could say “This will help you learn everything you want to know!”.
- Potassium is a great electrolyte, helping keep muscles healthy and is an important mineral for athletes. For children it will ‘help them run fast!’ or ‘score the winning goal!’.
It is all a matter of talking to the child in a way that makes them excited to eat healthy. This type of conversation can also promote higher self-esteem in developing children as well, so it has many benefits and can be fun for the whole family.
Healthy, Kid-Friendly Lunches and Snacks
- Lunchables are always a fan favorite and it’s very simple to make at home with healthy, organic ingredients. With the right cookie cutter, you can even turn the pizza crust into fun shapes and sizes! Buying organic meats and cheeses can make for the perfect kid-friendly charcuterie!
- Do your kids love chicken nuggets? This is another one where it is simple to make at-home by cutting chicken breast into bite size pieces and adding your own breading. Serve with a side of ketchup or BBQ sauce and it’s sure to be the best chicken nuggets they have ever had.
- Colors are exciting! Instead of opting into colorful sweet treats, remember that you can find yummy fruit and vegetable alternatives. Maybe you can even challenge them to make a rainbow with their food before they eat it for some added appeal. We all like to play with our food right?
- Pinwheels are a great way to sneak in healthy foods like lettuce, spinach, hummus or peppers into lunch. Anything you can roll up is a great addition to a pinwheel, and again, the more colorful the better.
- Bite size is always appealing! Try shredded carrots, grape tomatoes and nectarines for easy to hold and eat fruit and veggie snacks.
There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, kids will always love the foods they love. We can make their favorites healthy with small tweaks here and there. Supplementation for children is also a great option for filling in nutritional gaps in their diet and to keep them growing big and strong!