COLLEGE STATION — With the beginning of school, many children will become involved in after-school activities and school sports. During this time it is important that they receive sufficient calories and nutrients to support growth and development.
In order to get nutrients that are essential for health, a child’s total diet should contain a variety of selections from all the food groups. It is important to understand that no one food contains all the needed nutrients, said Dr. Dymple Cooksey, a professor and Texas Agricultural Extension Service nutrition specialist.
“If your child only eats hot dogs or hamburgers, you need to incorporate more nutritious foods into their diet to promote a normal growth and well being,” she said.
Vitamins are probably the most famous group of nutrients. Choosing vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables can make a big difference in your child’s overall health and should be included in any child’s daily diet. Having fresh fruit or vegetable snacks is one way of making sure that your child is getting enough servings per day.
Children often find raw fruits and vegetables cut up in fun shapes or with yogurt dip more appealing than when cooked and served with meals. Getting at least five servings of either fruits or vegetables per day is a good goal to set for your child, Cooksey said.
These foods will also provide sources of carbohydrates which should provide the majority of an active youth’s diet. Other sources of carbohydrates include grains and cereals.
Calcium and iron are two very important minerals that children need to obtain from their diet. Children need to keep iron stores up for periods of rapid growth, stress, injury or illness. Cooksey added that growing children also need more iron for their size because they have a higher metabolic rate. Sources of iron include dried fruit, red meat, whole grain foods, leafy green vegetables, breads and cereals.
Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth and is also essential during this rapid stage of growth. The best sources of calcium include milk and milk products such as cheese, yogurt or ice cream. Other sources include dried beans and nuts, green leafy vegetables and canned fish with bones.
Protein is another important nutrient that is necessary for not only growth but also for building, repairing, and replacing body cells, tissues and enzymes, Cooksey said. Some examples of protein- rich foods include fish, poultry, beef, pork, eggs, milk products, dried beans, peas, and some vegetables.
Fat is another nutrient worth mentioning because it provides almost twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein. Besides providing energy, fats contain essential fatty acids that children need for healthy skin and proper development. Fats give certain foods flavor and do provide some vitamins necessary for health but should be consumed in moderate amounts.
When planning your child’s diet, Cooksey concluded, always consider balancing their diet with a wide variety of foods.
“While some children may not accept all new foods incorporated into each meal, continue to expose them to new food experiences. Food habits formed now will affect the food choices they may make as an adult and a healthy child will grow to become a healthy adult.”