“The human body is entirely dependent on regular fuel to grow and develop. No single food contains all the essential nutrients the body needs to be healthy and function efficiently.” (Tassoni P, Beith, K. 2007:pg455).
There are many food groups and essential nutrients that children need to stay healthy and achieve a well-balanced diet. The food we eat each day makes up our diet and should contain the nutrients we need. Good eating habits begin at an early age and practitioners need to ensure that children have a healthy eating pattern that will promote growth and development.
The essential nutrients needed for a healthy balanced diet are: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. Water and fibre are not nutrients but are essential for a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates are needed to provide energy. Starchy carbohydrates are broken down and converted into glucose which is either stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles or is circulated in the bloodstream where it can be used as energy. You will find this nutrient in food groups such as bread, other cereals, potatoes and rice. Young children need to eat the most of these foods as they are very mobile and will need the energy for physical activities.
Proteins are important because they help your body grow and repair itself. You can find proteins in meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs and beans. They are composed of amino acids and provide the building blocks for muscle tissue. Protein is also a component of the body’s organs and is part of the structure of the skin bones and tendons. It is also involved in many of the body’s functions.
Foods containing fats and oils are the most densely packed energy stores. They provide energy and help in building. You can find these in red meat, cream, cheese and other animal products. Too much of these foods can clog blood vessels and arteries.
Vitamins and minerals are only present in small quantities in the foods we eat but are essential for growth, development and normal functioning of the body.
Minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium are good for the blood, nerves and bones. You can find these nutrients in foods such a fresh fruit and vegetables.
Calcium is used in the development and maintenance of teeth and bones. You can find these in dairy products and milk. Children who lack calcium in their diet may form weak bones which may result in osteoporosis later in life.
Vitamins are an essential element of a balanced diet. There are lots of vitamins such as vitamin a, vitamin d, vitamin c, vitamin k, b vitamins, folic acid and potassium. These are good for you as it helps to prevent illnesses as it supports the immune system. It also helps to release energy from carbohydrates. It supports healthy skin and hair and supports vision in dim light. It forms blood cells and helps the body utilise carbohydrates. These are found in foods such as bananas, green beans, yellow vegetables, oranges, dairy products, some meat and fish.
Unsaturated fats come in olives and olive oil, avocados and nuts. These fats are healthy fats and may improve bloody flow and function.
Water and other fluids, while not a nutrient it is an essential component of the diet. It contains some minerals but its role in maintaining a healthy fluid balance in the cells and bloodstream is crucial to survive. Drinking water is essential and is thought to be important for efficient functioning of the brain. It is important that younger children are given regular drinks of water and older children have access to drinking water throughout the day. However it is important to ensure that supplies