Blog Series: Looking at Healthy Eating for Children ?

Posted 03 September 2015

Ana-Kristina Skrapac

Making sense of what is healthy eating can feel confusing, especially so when it comes to the health of our children. Information is at our fingertips – vitamins, minerals, eating more of this and eating less of that. But despite the information overload, many parents are, on the whole, still left very confused by it all. Let’s take a look at some of the truths and untruths when it comes to healthy eating for children and offer some helpful tips to get you started.

Today’s post focuses on understanding the building blocks in foods.

Food gives us the energy our bodies need to function, and for children, the energy for them to grow and develop normally. There are three macronutrients that provide us with energy (calories): carbohydrate, protein and fat. These nutrients are in all foods, to varying amounts and proportions, and essentially form the building blocks.

Foods can be grouped together according to the major nutrient they provide, namely carbohydrates include all the foods that when consumed and digested breakdown to give our bodies glucose, the essential nutrient for our organs, muscles and brain. These include breads, cereals, grains, and foods based on grains and flours such as muffins, cakes, biscuits.

Protein is essential for building muscle, repairing and healing. It also makes enzymes and proteins in the body for specific functions. Protein foods differ from each other according to the unique amino acid sequence, which makes one food different from the other. Protein foods are digested in the body to break down into small protein chains (peptides) and amino acids, which are then used for many roles in the body.

Fats are naturally part of foods, and are incorporated in the cell structure of both plant and animal products. There are different types of fats which all have unique roles in the body. It is essential to have healthy fats as part of our diets, as these play important roles in metabolic functions of the body, including regulating blood pressure, and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

So how much energy do children need?
Carbohydrates, protein and fats, when used in the body, yield energy. This energy helps to give us the up and go we need to do every day tasks as well as giving our bodies the energy it needs to do all the essential functions. Children need more energy during periods of growth or illness, and during sport and exercise. Energy requirements differ between girls and boys and also change with age. The highest requirement for energy is during the first year of life, when the growth and development of children is fastest. Thereafter, during toddler and early years, energy requirements reduce slightly due to the slowing down of the growth rate. The demand for energy then increases steadily towards puberty when there is the growth spurt and children have again a rapid period of growth and development.

It is the total energy from foods that we consume over the course of a day that is important for meeting our bodies energy needs. Both carbohydrates and protein yield 4 calories per gram, whereas fat yields 9 calories per gram. If we consume to little food, our bodies call on our energy reserves to ensure all of the essential functions of the body continue. If we consume on average, more than our body needs, we store the excess energy as part of our reserves. Getting the balance right helps children to grow normally and maintain a healthy weight.