Five Top Tips for Children's Nutrition

Do children have any special nutritional considerations?

If you have children or work with children then this blog is for you. If can be very difficult to understand what to feed children and why they may have different nutritional requirements than adults. The following top tips will provide a few answers to how children's diets differ from adults.

TOP TIP # 1 - Fat                                

Most children need a greater proportion of fat in their diet than adults, as children burn fat more readily than adults (1).   This should be taken in the context of a healthy, active child who has a diet that meets their energy needs.  Their daily fat requirements could be over a third of their estimated daily energy requirements. Try to choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat sources primarily.  Top sources of fat include avocados, nuts, seeds, cheeses, dairy products and meats. Fish oils (omega–3) have some well-proven benefits for brain development and cognitive function (2).  Omega-3's can be obtained from fatty fish, algae and eggs (especially DHA fortified).  DHA (do-cosa-hexa-enoic acid) is the predominant structural fatty acid in the central nervous system and retina, and its availability from the diet is essential for brain development (3).

TOP TIP # 2 - Iron                               

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells, and is a part of the Hemoglobin protein, which binds to oxygen taking it throughout the body.  The amount of iron a child needs will depend on their age and gender.  Generally, children require more iron during early and adolescent years than adults, and girls need slightly more iron than boys from 14 years onwards.  Children are rapidly growing and therefore need more iron to assist with this increase in growth.  Good sources of iron which are readily absorbed are from red meats (beef, liver), eggs, and vegetarian sources such as spirulina, spinach, lentils, black beans, pistachios and raisins.

TOP TIP # 3 - Calcium                     

Calcium is needed for the normal development and maintenance of the skeleton, and for the proper working of the neuromuscular system and cardiac function (2). Children have lower requirements for calcium than adults, and boys and girls have the same recommended daily intakes.  Our requirements gradually increase through childhood and adolescence, as the bones get larger and stronger.  Good sources of calcium are dairy products (milks, yoghurt, cheeses), tinned sardines and salmon (but you need to eat the bones – which are very soft and can be mushed up) and vegetarian sources such as dried figs, molasses, kale, black eyed peas, almonds, oranges…quite a long list.

TOP TIP # 4 - Energy (calories)  

Children's energy requirements are actually lower than adults purely due to lower body mass, as the bigger you are, the more energy you require.  Some children will require more energy than others, depending on activity level and stages of development.  Getting the energy balance right can be tricky so utilizing healthy fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and good quality proteins will counteract the extra energy children readily consume from fast food, or sugary foods and drinks.  As children's tummies are smaller than adults’, they require small regular amounts of food.

TOP TIP # 5 - Fibre                 

Fibre is essential for the proper functioning of our gut, and has been linked to reduced risk of a number of chronic diseases (4).   From the age of 1, a rough guideline for fibre intake can be: age in years + 10 = number of grams of daily fibre, up to 18 years (women’s requirements might be slightly less).   Requirements reach a peak at age 19, where the requirements are 30 g daily for men and 25 - 28 g for women (4).   Good sources of fibre are from wholegrains, cereals, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.  That’s it for today…If you have concerns about your child’s nutrition and whether they have a nutritionally adequate diet for their developmental age and stage, see a Paediatrician or a Specialist Paediatric Dietitian who can conduct a full nutritional assessment.  

We have a fantastic course on dealing with children who are fussy eaters by Anna Sloan (NZRD) that you can watch today., which will help you to sort out those fussy eaters.

1         Kostyak, J. C., Kris-Etherton, P., Bagshaw, D., DeLany, J. P., & Farrell, P. A. (2007). Relative fat oxidation is higher in children than adults. Nutrition journal, 6(1), 19.

2         Innis, S. M. (2007). Dietary (n-3) fatty acids and brain development. The Journal of nutrition137(4), 855-859.

3         Singh, M. (2005). Essential fatty acids, DHA and human brain. Indian journal of pediatrics72(3), 239-242.

4         Capra, Sandra. Nutrient reference values for Australia and New Zealand: Including recommended dietary intakes. Commonwealth of Australia, 2006.

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