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The nutritional needs of children change as they go through the stages of life from babyhood to older teens. Angela McGlanaghey from health store Simple Simon in Donegal has some advice for parents to ensure their offspring maintain a healthy diet.


At this age, it’s important to offer toddlers a variety of foods, tastes and textures to make sure a young child’s diet remains varied as they grow older. A variety of fruit, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates, dairy and protein is ideal. Processed foods should be avoided as should overly sugary or salty foods.

Primary school age

Children should be given three healthy meals a day and healthy snacks – plenty of fruit and vegetables, a healthy source of carbs such as potatoes, wholegrain bread and pasta and lean protein, such as chicken. Sugary snacks should be limited. Children should be drinking plenty of water, especially if they are active.

Secondary school age

As children get older, they tend to form their own opinions on food but should be encouraged as much as possible to make healthy choices. A lot of teenagers tend to skip breakfast so it’s important to encourage them to make time in the morning for a healthy breakfast such as porridge or eggs on toast to set them up for the day. This will prevent a blood sugar crash and enable them to concentrate in school better.

The ideal lunchbox will be a mix of wholesome carbs, lean protein and a small amount of healthy fats.

Wholegrain chicken pasta salad, carrot sticks, hummus and crackers, a wholemeal chicken salad sandwich and a banana are some options.

What about fussy eaters?

It’s important to keep offering healthy options even with fussy eaters, so they know that they can give it a try. Sometimes fussiness is just a phase and children will grow out of it. Some children, however, have sensory issues around food so they may need extra supplementation in order to get the vitamins they need.

Snacks and drinks

Some examples of healthy snacks are apples and peanut butter, popcorn, carrot sticks and hummus, cheese and crackers, fruit salad and yoghurt.

Water or milk should be the first choice for a drink. Fizzy drinks should be given very sparingly, if at all. Fruit juice which is pure or freshly squeezed is also a good option.

Being active

Children of all ages should be active. This of course depends on the age of the child, but even toddlers should be encouraged to be outside playing, walking, running and swimming. As they reach school age they should be encouraged to join a class, whether it be swimming, gaelic, soccer, gymnastics, Irish dancing etc. The type of fitness doesn’t matter as long as children are getting out, getting active and having fun.

Extra help

Every child is different, but children usually benefit from Vitamin D. Some children, especially those born via caesarean section, can benefit from a probiotic as they don’t gain the same beneficial bacteria from their mum as they would during a vaginal birth.

It depends on the child, but supplements to consider are a good child’s probiotic, a vitamin D spray, and as the child gets older possibly a good multivitamin, especially if they are a poor eater.

Top child supplements

“Omega-3 fatty acids are the most critical building blocks of the brain,” says Olive Curran, nutritional therapist at Irish supplement company PPC. “Without these important fats, it can become difficult for children to concentrate, learn new information, and balance their moods properly. Since most children do not eat oily fish on a regular basis, omega-3s are in short supply during the most critical stages of brain development. Vitamin D, the ‘sunshine vitamin’ plays an important role in building strong bones and teeth. Iron is required for oxygen transport in the body, energy production, cell and tissue growth, and the synthesis of brain chemicals for mood balance. Its deficiency in early childhood can contribute to growth impairment, compromised immunity, learning and behavioural problems. Calcium is required for strong teeth and bones. Sometimes sleep problems can be caused by a child being low in magnesium.

“If your children are not eating oil-rich fish at least once a week, try giving them a high quality fish oil supplement with omega-3, omega-9, vitamin D and E to ensure they are getting adequate nutrition for their growth and development. Also a good children’s multivitamin to safeguard against any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. If the child has a poor immune system or digestive issues, a children’s probiotic is useful.”

Other natural support

Calcium – crucial when children are growing bones and teeth. Kids who do not get sufficient calcium and vitamin D are at increased risk of rickets.

Iron – required for oxygen transport in the body, energy production, cell and tissue growth, and the synthesis of brain chemicals for mood balance.

Magnesium – sleep problems can be caused by a child being low in magnesium. Found in green vegetables, nuts and legumes, seafood and wholegrain cereals.

Probiotics – a great way to give an extra boost of good bacteria which are vital for digestion and the immune system. Also good after a course of antibiotics.

Vitamin D – we don’t get a lot of sun in Ireland so a vitamin D supplement is important especially for the development of bones and teeth. Usually during the winter months.

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