What Nutrients Does a Child Need?
Babies, children, and teens all have different nutritional needs. Here are the things you need to make sure your toddler or slightly older child is consuming on a regular basis for healthy growth.
As a parent, you'll constantly hear the importance of a "balanced diet" when it comes to your kids. You may not be able to pull it off every meal or even daily, but striving to make sure your child gets these nutrients on a regular basis is incredibly important in supporting the healthy development of their growing brains and bodies.
Protein is one of the very most important things any growing and developing body needs. Protein is essential for healthy muscles, muscle repair after playing hard, aid in digestion, support the immune system, and promote healthy DNA and RNA regulation.
Here are some of the foods you can incorporate into your child's diet to ensure their protein needs are being met:
Nuts & legumes
Milk and many other dairy products
*Protein shakes and supplements are also available for children who may have dietary restrictions or other concerns that may impact their diets.
Most people are all too familiar with the myth of "fat making you fat" or otherwise being unhealthy for you. In excess, yes, it can be. However, a certain amount of fat each day is necessary for healthy brain function, supporting your immune system, proper vitamin absorption, reducing inflammation, and promoting good skin and eye health.
Some of the foods that are high in healthy fats and should be offered to your child include:
Full-fat milk (and milk products)
Healthy oils (olive, coconut, etc.)
Avoid processed or chemical-produced oils and fats such as those found in fried foods and in peanut, canola, and other common oils,
Carbs often get a bad rap, but they are an essential source of energy for the human body and important for proper bodily function. Making sure your child gets plenty of carbohydrates in the form of fiber rather than sugar is what's significant here.
Aim for these healthier carbohydrate choices for your child:
Breads (whole grain and other healthier variations)
Whole wheat pasta
Try to aim for the least processed and most natural products available to ensure maximum fiber and lower amounts of sugars and other harmful ingredients.
Iron deficiency is a common problems in kids. If you've gone to the health department and they've pricked your child's finger, this is what they're checking when they're doing so. Iron is important because it because it helps oxygen make its way from the lungs to the everywhere else in the body, ensuring muscles and organs receive the oxygen they need to function well. Additionally, deficiencies in iron have also been noted as contributing to behavioral disorders in kids too.
Here are some kid-friendly sources of iron to incorporate into your child's meals:
Leafy greens (especially spinach)
Shellfish options are also a good source of iron, but this is a common allergen that may cause allergic reactions, so proceed carefully when offering your child any new foods that fall into this category.
Anyone that grew up in the 90s remembers the marketing campaigns that had milk flying off the shelves constantly. Milk is one of the most popular sources of calcium, an essential part of every child's diet to help foster strong and health bones and teeth. Even more important, having the right amount of calcium in one's diet ensure proper heart and thyroid function, aids in blood clotting, and keeps the nervous system healthy.
Here are great sources of calcium for ensuring your child meets their dietary needs:
Certain types of beans
Canned sardines/salmon (with bones)
Many of these are very easy to incorporate into snacks and meals, but also be sure that your child is getting enough Vitamin D for the calcium to absorb and be used properly by the body.
Fiber is invaluable when it comes to keeping your child regular regarding their bathroom habits. However, it also is important for regulating blood sugar as well as reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease and all types of cancer.
Here are some high-fiber foods to be sure your child eats on a regular basis:
Certain types of bran
Many fruits, vegetables, and whole wheat products (in addition to those listed) tend to have good amounts of fiber, so meeting your child's weekly fiber goals should be easily attainable.
Vitamin C isn't just needed whenever your kid has a cold. It's an important vitamin that your child needs to regularly consume to help protect their cells, grow and repair body tissues, promote healthy bones and teeth, boost their immune system, and help in other bodily functions like absorbing iron.
Offers these foods consistently to help ensure your child gets enough Vitamin C:
Most food sources of Vitamin C are excellent as snacks or incorporating into smoothies, multi-ingredient dishes, and other fun, colorful options. This makes these foods much more versatile and appealing to kids in most cases.
Need more help?
If your child has any particular health conditions or deficiencies, be sure to consult a trust pediatrician regarding any dietary changes that you plan to make or may need to make. Also, be wary of the signs of allergic reactions when offering your child new foods.
For further information on other age groups, be sure to check out our upcoming posts on What Does My Baby Need to Eat? and Dietary Essentials for Growing Teens.