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Kids come first

Children’s nutritional needs change as they grow up and parents need to keep up to ensure their offspring maintain a healthy diet from babyhood to older teens.

According to the Healthy Ireland Survey only 19% of primary school children and 12% of post-primary school children are meeting the national physical “activity guidelines,” says Jenny Logan, a nutritionist at Natures Aid. “Only one in four eat fruit and vegetables daily and one in four children is classed as overweight or obese. Therefore it is important to keep our children as healthy and active as possible.”

Baby first

“A growing baby needs as many nutrients as possible,” says Jenny Logan. “In the very early years these will be provided by the breast or formula milk they are given. However, breast milk is low in vitamin D, and formula milk does not contain good levels of the omega-3 DHA, so these supplements could be added.”

Terrific toddlers

“It's important to build the basics of good nutrition at this early stage,” says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Galway. “Lots of children go through a fussy food stage but, if you have helped their tastebuds to develop they will come back to eating a wide variety of foods again. Cooking from scratch as much as possible means that you can keep salt and sugar to a minimum. Involving your toddler in the cooking helps them to learn and understand favours and to be enthusiastic about what they have made. Smoothies can be a great way to pack a nutritional punch but make sure you get your toddler used to them being largely vegetables with a small amount of fruit for a little sweetness.

“It's never too early to start building healthy habits for mental health too. Plenty of fresh air and exercise is very important and there are also lots of options for kid's yoga and mindfulness, whether through a class in person or through online videos and apps.”

Primary factors

“Making sure that children of primary school age are eating enough protein, fruit, vegetables and wholefoods is vital,” says Jenny Logan. “Vitamins A, C and D are also important as are minerals zinc and iodine. As children start school, their diet becomes harder to control and additional demands are being made on the brain and the immune system, which is why a multivitamin can be helpful.”

“A real key to a successful day at school is starting off with a good breakfast,” says Sian Eustace. “Some examples are porridge with nuts and berries, boiled egg with soldiers or granola and natural yoghurt. Lunchboxes can be tricky to navigate but, making as many items as possible at home means you can limit the sugar content wherever possible.”

Super secondaries

“Hopefully all the groundwork you've put in before now means that your teenager is already interested in a healthy diet,” says Sian Eustace. “Engaging them in the cooking process is, once again, important so that they can feel passionate about the food that is going into their bodies. For some teenagers, explaining to them the link between the foods that they eat and the condition of their skin will be really helpful in encouraging them to eat a healthy diet. Encourage or help them to make granola bars or energy balls that will give a burst of energy without resorting to sweets. Cook up and refrigerate pasta sauce which can just be heated and served with wholegrain pasta.”

“Once our children have become teenagers their diet is almost impossible to control, leading to a greater risk of deficiency,” says Jenny Logan. “The teenage years are also times of growth and development, with puberty making increased demands for B vitamins and zinc. In girls iron will also become more important as menstruation begins.”

Child supporters

If children are active and eating a varied diet there should be no need for them to take supplements, but in some cases it’s a good idea.

A picky child who is lacking in vegetables and fruits can take a good children’s multivitamin to give them the vitamins and minerals they may be lacking.

If your child is vegetarian iron, omega-3 oils and vitamin B12 aren’t as richly available so it’s wise to include good meat-free sources such as eggs, pulses, dairy, nuts, soya foods, seeds, grains, fruit and vegetables.

Top child supplements

Omega-3: children need 250mg DHA daily to support brain health. Eating oily fsh twice a week – such as salmon or sardines, provides a healthy dose of omega-3 EPA/DHA, or a high quality fsh oil supplement.

Probiotics: a child’s digestive system needs adequate levels of good bacteria to ensure optimal digestive health. Certain bacteria actually help the body to digest food properly and help to defend it from stomach upset and infections.

A good multivitamin: will provide plenty of B vitamins and magnesium for energy, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc for immunity, calcium, magnesium and potassium for bone health and trace minerals for overall health and vitality.

Vitamin D3: crucial for a child’s health and development – it helps the body absorb minerals like calcium, builds strong teeth and bones and helps regulate the immune system.

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.

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

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

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