It can be hard to know if your child is eating enough, and eating the right things. In this extract from Food and Your Special Needs Child by Antonia Chitty and Victoria Dawson, you can find out more about the right mix of food for a growing child and why a healthy diet for a child is different to that for an adult. .
As well as getting a mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals, there are also recommendations for the amount of food children need at different ages and stages. The table below gives an indication, but remember, Mmore active children will need more calories.
|Boys (kcal per day)||Girls (kcal per day)|
|School-age children 7–10||1970||1740|
|Teenagers 15 to 18||2755||2110|
A healthy diet for a child isn’t the same as a healthy diet for an adult. Children are growing, which means they need more calories than adults, and they should have a higher proportion of fat in their diet. Fat provides energy, essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins. Babies and toddlers can have up to 40%–50% of their calories as fat, and children and teenagers up to 35%. Low fat, high fibre diets are not healthy for children as they do not provide enough energy.
If your child struggles with eating you may need to focus on providing high calorie nutrition-packed foods so that they get the maximum benefit from what they do consume.
If you are worried that your child is overweight, don’t impose a ‘diet’. Build more activity into everyday life. Spend time together going for a walk, walking the dog, playing ball etc. If you have serious concerns, seek advice from your child’s GP or another relevant health care professional. You may be advised to see a dietitian who will help you devise a healthy diet for your child and incorporate more activity instead of cutting calories which can cause problems for children who are still growing and developing.
The more active your child is, the more they need to eat. Children have small stomachs so need food that is high in energy, plus full of vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, iron, and vitamins A and D. They need small, regular meals. Like adults, children need fibre for healthy digestion, but too much fibre can mean that a food is very filling and doesn’t provide a child with enough calories. Moderate the amount of brown rice and wholemeal pasta you serve, and don’t add extra bran to children’s meals as this can reduce absorption of vitamins. As you can see from the table above children need to eat more calories than an adult of a comparative body size.
Although children can eat more fat, parents still need to understand what makes up a healthy diet. Children should consume full fat milk, meat, oily fish, eggs and cheese, as well as nuts, seeds and avocados, all of which are good sources of fat. Children under two should not have semi-skimmed milk. Cakes, sweets, chocolate and crisps should be kept as an occasional treat. Food preferences are often established early in life so moderating treats is important so children learn about a healthy diet. Keep sugary foods to a minimum and avoid offering them as snacks between mealtimes.
You may be able to achieve a balanced diet easily, but don’t despair if your child eats only very limited types of certain food groups. Understanding what foods fall into which groups can help you decide where input is needed. If your child eats no vegetables, for example, but will eat apples, start by ensuring that they have some apple every day.
Information from this article is based on the book Food and Your Special Needs Child by Antonia Chitty and Victoria Dawson. Children with special needs and disabilities may have accompanying issues with food and eating. This practical guide for parents will help navigate this often difficult terrain. In typically developing children, eating problems are relatively common, affecting 20 – 40% of children. In children with special educational needs and disabilities, eating problems can be even more common; they can be severe and can take many different forms. Anyone who has a child between the ages of two and nineteen with an additional need and a food or eating difficulty will find this book useful. Discover the origins of how we eat, and get practical tips from experts, plus read what has worked for other parents in similar situations