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02/05/2018

Importance of Good Nutrition for Kids and Young Children

nutrition for kids

In the United States, nearly one in every five children has obesity. Considering this percentage of childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970’s, the importance of nutrition for children is at an all-time high. Although there is a wealth of information at our fingertips, it can be difficult to sort through and decipher what a balanced diet and healthy eating habits would look like for your child. In order to implement a sustainable and healthy lifestyle for your child, it is important to understand what good nutrition consists of, how it can affect childhood development, and the steps you can take to ensure your child is onboard with healthy eating habits.

What is Good Nutrition for Kids and Young Children?

Nutrition for children is based on the same core principles as nutrition for adults. The key to proper nutrition is a healthy and appropriate balance of diet and exercise, as well as, a conducive lifestyle.

The five main food groups include grains, dairy, protein, vegetables, and fruit, and are generally a good starting point for any child’s diet. The portions of each respective food group will depend heavily on age, genetic makeup, and physical activity. It is important to understand each food group to develop a well-balanced and nutritious diet for your child.

Granos

Los granos se pueden dividir en dos categorías: granos enteros y refinados. Los granos enteros son más nutritivos porque involucran productos que usan el grano entero. Los productos integrales incluyen avena, harina integral y arroz integral. Los granos refinados se han molido y procesado, en general, muchas veces para mejorar la vida útil y la textura. En el proceso de refinación de granos, se pierden muchos beneficios nutricionales valiosos y, por lo tanto, los granos enteros tienden a ser una mejor opción. Algunos ejemplos de granos refinados incluyen cereales, tortillas, pan blanco y arroz blanco.

Vegetales

Cualquier vegetal o jugo de vegetales 100% pertenece al grupo de vegetales. Las verduras pueden ser crudas, cocidas, deshidratadas, enlatadas, enteras, en jugo o en puré y se dividen en 5 subcategorías que incluyen verduras de color verde oscuro, verduras con almidón, verduras rojas y naranjas, frijoles y guisantes y otras verduras. El tamaño de las porciones de cada uno dependerá de la subcategoría a la que pertenezca, considerando que algunas verduras son más densas y llenas de nutrientes que otras. Las verduras también se pueden clasificar en otras subcategorías, incluidas las orgánicas, no orgánicas y no transgénicas.

Fruta

Any fresh fruit or 100% fruit juice belongs to the fruit category. Fruit can be canned, frozen, dried, pureed, or juiced. Due to the high sugar content of fruit, it is advisable to construct a dietary balance based on age, activity levels, time of day, and gender. Much like vegetables, fresh fruit can be further categorized into organic, non-organic, and non-gmo.

Proteínas y Lácteos

The protein food group is made up of foods that are primarily protein sources such as meat, poultry, beans, peas, eggs, seafood, and nuts. It is advisable that meat and poultry sources within your child’s diet be lean and low fat. All fluid milk products and products made primarily from milk belong to the dairy food group. Dairy products include items such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. In recent years, dairy has been a controversial member of the food group and as such, many nutritionally comparable dairy alternatives have been provided with greater nutritional value. As such, this group also contains fortified dairy-alternative products such as soy, almond, and cashew milk and nut cheeses.

Según la edad y la composición genética única de su hijo, su dieta y estilo de vida pueden verse diferentes y hacer énfasis en ciertas pautas nutricionales durante un rango de edad y pautas muy diferentes durante otro.

Buena nutrición para niños pequeños

Los niños pequeños, de 1 a 3 años, pueden ser un rango de edad particularmente desafiante cuando se trata de alimentar una dieta nutricional. Durante este período de tiempo, se producen muchos cambios en el desarrollo que afectan directamente la ingesta de alimentos o suplementos. Los niños pequeños se encuentran en una fase en la que el crecimiento y el desarrollo se ralentizan sustancialmente, lo que afecta el hambre y la dieta. Además de la disminución del apetito, los niños pequeños están en una edad en la que exploran la independencia y el control. Esto puede dar lugar a batallas por alimentos específicos, horarios de comidas y cantidades.

Dependiendo de su edad específica, niveles de actividad y género, se sugiere que los niños pequeños tengan alrededor de 3-5 onzas de granos por día. Una onza se traduce aproximadamente en 1 pieza de pan, ½ taza de arroz o avena, o un panqueque pequeño (4 pulgadas). En términos de verduras, los niños pequeños deben consumir entre 1 y 2 tazas de verduras por día de cada una de las 5 subcategorías. Teniendo en cuenta que algunos niños pequeños recién comienzan a adoptar alimentos de mesa, es aconsejable ofrecer vegetales blandos y cocidos cortados en trozos muy pequeños. Esto no solo ayuda a los niños pequeños a masticar y tragar vegetales, sino que también reduce los riesgos de asfixia. Los niños pequeños también deben consumir 1 taza de fruta por día. Esto podría descomponerse en ½ de un plátano para el desayuno, ½ de una manzana para la merienda, 8 uvas en rodajas, ½ taza de brócoli cocido y ½ taza de guisantes y zanahorias. Es importante introducir variedad dentro de los cinco grupos de alimentos para obtener el espectro completo de beneficios nutricionales. En general, la mayoría de los niños pequeños deben tener alrededor de 13 gramos de proteína por día.

Una regla general que puede ser útil para determinar cuánta proteína debe tener su hijo por día es basarla en su peso. Las cantidades dietéticas recomendadas de proteínas, o RDA, se determinan utilizando la guía de .5 gramos de proteína por libra de peso corporal. Por lo tanto, un niño de 2 años que pese 30 libras necesitaría alrededor de 15 gramos de proteína por día. Esto podría traducirse en ½ huevo, 1 cucharada de mantequilla de maní o ¼ de taza de frijoles. Los niños pequeños deben consumir jugos fortificados con calcio, leches y quesos en cantidades mucho más pequeñas, como 1 taza de leche o 2 onzas de queso por día.

Buena nutrición para preescolares

The preschool years, ages 3-5, are an influential time for developing healthy habits for kids that can last a lifetime. Preschoolers tend to grow in spurts and as such, their appetites can be intermittent. This is normal and if parents offer a healthy selection, their children will be set up with viable options. The specific breakdown of grains, protein, vegetables, fruits, and dairy vary based on size, age and gender. The one key component that is important for young developing preschool children is calcium intake. Calcium is needed to develop strong, healthy bones and teeth.

Contrariamente a la creencia popular, el calcio no se obtiene mejor a través de la leche láctea tradicional. Esto se debe a que el calcio proporcionado en la leche láctea es menos biodisponible para los cuerpos en desarrollo. Es mejor obtener calcio a través de verduras de hojas verdes oscuras como la col rizada, el brócoli y el bok choy. Aproximadamente ½ taza de verduras de hoja verde cocidas puede traducirse en alrededor de 300 mg de calcio con una tasa de absorción de 40%. Otro suplemento importante para enfocarse es la fibra. La fibra ayuda a la digestión y previene el estreñimiento al estimular las deposiciones. La fibra se encuentra en la mayoría de los productos integrales, así como en las frutas y verduras. Aunque a veces puede ser un desafío convencer a su hijo para que consuma verduras en lugar de alimentos procesados con almidón, como macarrones con queso y nuggets de pollo, marcará una gran diferencia.

¿Cómo puede la nutrición afectar a los niños pequeños?

A proper nutritional diet and healthy lifestyle can affect young children throughout the rest of their lives. During early development, children are highly impressionable and start to implement routines and tools that they carry with them into adulthood. Aside from habits and routines created, children who do not obtain proper nutrients as they develop, can suffer from physical ailments as well. Some of the most common issues for malnourished children include obesity, osteoporosis, decreased muscle mass, changes in hair volume and texture, fatigue, irritability, and type 2 diabetes. Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic affecting children at an alarming rate in the United States. Obesity refers to having excess body fat within the 95th percentile of their respective BMI, that is, Body Mass Index.

Los niños que no tienen una dieta bien balanceada y consumen grandes cantidades de grasa, azúcar y carbohidratos procesados corren el riesgo de obesidad. La obesidad puede conducir a varios problemas de salud que pueden afectar a los niños por el resto de sus vidas, incluyendo presión arterial alta, diabetes tipo 2, colesterol elevado y problemas emocionales. Los niños pequeños son muy impresionables y pueden estar sujetos a vergüenza corporal y problemas emocionales relacionados con los alimentos que consumen. Cuando los niños consumen alimentos azucarados, procesados y ricos en grasas, afecta su sistema digestivo y la flora intestinal. La falta de absorción de calcio puede provocar osteoporosis. La osteoporosis es una enfermedad ósea degenerativa que produce huesos porosos, débiles y quebradizos.

The choices that children and parents make early on regarding nutrition and lifestyle can affect children for the rest of their lives. As most people reach their peak bone mass at age 20, it is important to build muscle and bone mass during the early stages of childhood. Children who are overweight tend to have fatigue and irritability that can lead to depression. Additionally, overweight children may have difficulty with physical activity and often cannot participate in physical activities alongside their peers. This can cause emotional isolation and can set the groundwork for poor social interactions and low self-esteem. More than just counting calories, a well-balanced and healthy nutritional diet is of paramount importance in developing children.

How to Ensure your Child is Following a Healthy Diet and Staying Fit

It can be challenging to ensure your child is making healthy food choices and staying fit without support, guidance, education, and routine. As young children develop, they start to form opinions on what tastes good to them and what does not. Most times, this does not align with what is necessarily best for them on a nutritional level. 

The Stanford Children’s Health Hospital suggests avoiding battles over food and meals and to provide regular snacks and meals. Children can be picky and, at times, avoidant or inflexible. If your toddler or preschooler is a picky eater that refuses certain foods, it is best to let it go and try again at another time. Chances are, they will start to warm up to the healthy choices provided. As previously mentioned, young children are developing their independence and opinions and, as such, they are subject to vary. It can also be helpful to set aside a routine time and place to feed your child. If you promote healthy food choices, regular eating habits, nutrition education, and personal interaction during meal times, it can lead to positive association.

Considering that children are highly observational creatures, it is advantageous to create experiences that are positive and healthy. Involving children in the preparation and selection of foods can also be an important learning tool. When in the grocery store or even in your refrigerator at home, it can be helpful to enlist your child to help select foods based on nutritional value and explain how they can help developing bodies. Parents are also encouraged to utilize specific serving sizes and to show their children the respective equivalents. This nutrition education can help children as they grow older to understand and implement appropriate serving sizes and maintain well-balanced eating habits.

Additionally, it can be helpful for parents to pack a homemade snack or lunch for their children to take to school. Instead of packing processed foods or junk food, opt for foods with healthy fats and nutritious benefits. This ensures that a well-balanced and proper nutritional meal is easily obtainable and always provided.

As always, physical activity is as important as proper nutrition. It is recommended that children get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week. To encourage physical activity, parents can limit their child’s time spent watching television and playing video games and promote more physically active routines such as walking, running, and playing ball. It is important for parents to actively participate in their children’s lives surrounding nutrition and exercise because children primarily learn through direct observation. In leading by example, you are showing your child a positive, healthy, and sustainable lifestyle.

 

Reviewed by:

Susan J. Wood, Director of Mental Health

Susan J. Wood, LMFT is the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.

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