From weaning onwards, it is important to accustom children to a healthy, balanced and varied diet because the preferences and taste experiences that develop as children can affect the food choices of adult life.
Children’s energy needs
The energy (or calorie) requirement represents the amount of energy derived from food that our body needs in order to compensate for its energy expenditure. Children’s energy needs are very different from that of an adult, as it is affected by different factors:
- The speed of body growth: we have seen previously talking about the iron deficiency in children that in the first year of life alone the need for minerals and nutrients in the body of a child doubles, due to the rapid increase in weight and body volume. The fastest growth phase lasts until the end of the second year of life.
- The basal metabolic rate is particularly high: in the first 12 months of life about 85-90% of the caloric intake is used by the body of children to maintain the basal functions and for growth, while only 10-15% is reserved for physical activity.
- The low efficiency of absorption in the intestine.
Because of these factors, it is clear that, in absolute terms, infants need a higher energy supply than adults.
Healthy eating starts with weaning
Once the weaning phase has started, it is very important to start setting the first rules for good and healthy nutrition. Although the child’s taste experiences start from birth, through the mother’s milk (which transmits the first flavours of food ingested by the mother), it is precisely from weaning onwards that the child’s food preferencesdevelop, the same preferences that will then tend to condition his or her food choices in adult life.
It is therefore essential to get children used to varied and healthy foods as soon as possible, also to avoid the onset of food deficiencies related to basic nutritional elements, such as vitamins, minerals and iron (remember that the sideropenia is the most frequent among the food deficiency disorders in children and should not be underestimated).
The basic nutritional elements for children
So what can not be missing in the meals of our children and young people?
- Fruit and Vegetables: at least one portion of fruit and/or vegetables should be present at each meal. In addition, fruit is an excellent snack both in the middle of the morning and during the afternoon.
- Complex carbohydrates: about 50% of the daily calories should come from this type of carbohydrate. A perfect example are the cereals, to be varied often, so not only pasta, but also rice, barley, spelt, oats, buckwheat, couscous.
- Sugars (or simple carbohydrates): it would be preferable to keep them to a minimum as they are already present naturally in many foods. Cakes and biscuits are good if eaten at breakfast, but home-made ones would be preferable. Instead, avoid packaged snacks, soft drinks, sweets, etc..
- Proteins: as in the case of carbohydrates, it is important to vary as much as possible, alternating meat, fish, eggs and legumes.
- Fats: in a balanced diet they cannot be missing, though it is better to choose those of vegetable origin, such as olive oil and dried fruit.
A healthy, balanced and varied diet should be composed of about 55-60% carbohydrates, 30% fats and 10-15% proteins. Although children tend to be repetitive in their choice of food, try to offer them different foods and do not give up at first refusal because tastes change very quickly, a “do not like” today could be the discovery of a new taste tomorrow.