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What Are The Essential Foods For Your School Child?

Summer has quickly come to an end, which means your child is probably back at school for a new and exciting year, or even starting for the first time!

But after indulging in lots of summer treats over the past few months, it's time to get back into a healthy eating routine. However, this doesn't have to be a cause of stress. We have a few handy hints on what foods your child will need:

Why Is Nutrition So Important?

As a parent, you want your child to grow up to be a happy and healthy adult. Therefore nutrition is a very important factor to help him get there.

According to the HSE, more and more children in Ireland are carrying extra weight – which is increasing their risk of health conditions like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer later in their life.

“Making small changes to your children’s diet and activity could make big differences to their future health,” the HSE says. “The food we eat is very important for our health and wellbeing.”

A healthy diet will not only help your child fight obesity, but it will also provide the adequate energy and nutrients which is balanced and varied in all the Food Pyramid groups.

“A well-nourished child is a child that is healthier and better equipped to learn and develop at school,” according to the Nutrition Standards for School Meals.

"The early years of life – mostly spent at school – are essential for the setting of healthy eating habits: It has been shown that eating habits developed during childhood remain in adulthood.”

READ MORE: How To Ensure Your Child Eats Healthy During Exams

What Are The Essential Nutrients For My Child?

To completely understand the nutrients for your child, it’s important that you understand the food pyramid. It consists of six levels (each representing a food group).

All adults, teenagers and children aged five and over, should follow the principals of the pyramid to ensure they live a healthy and nutritious life.

The Food Pyramid (According To Safefood)

  • Top: Foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt
    This level represents food like sweets, chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks. You should not be consuming these foods everyday. A maximum of once or twice per week is recommended.
  • Second: Fats, spreads and oils
    Butter, mayonnaise and oil are all part of this level. It’s recommended to eat foods in this group in very small amounts.
  • Third: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts
    Protein is one of the important food groups to consume every day. It’s recommended that you eat two servings of these every day.
  • Fourth: Milk, yoghurt and cheese
    Packed with calcium, it’s recommended that grown-ups consume three servings and children between five and 18 consume five servings of dairy every day.
  • Fifth: Wholemeal cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice
    As this is mostly carbs, this is an important food group that’ll provide the necessary energy to get through the day. Three to five servings are recommended.
  • Sixth: Vegetables, salad and fruit
    The foods packed with vitamins to fight off illness. It’s recommended that everyone should consume between five and seven servings of fruit and
    veggies daily.

READ MORE: 5 Tips To Keep Your Active School Child In Full Health

How Do These Nutrients Benefit My Child's Health?

Protein:

Protein is an important nutrient in anyone’s diet as it helps the body to build cells, break down food into energy, fight infection and carry oxygen. As your child’s growing, he’ll need protein to help his body build, fight and have energy. Protein-rich foods include:

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Nuts
  • Dairy products
  • Beans

Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are the body’s most important source of energy. And as most kids are constantly on the go and playing, they need to keep refuelling. Carbs help a child’s body to use fat and protein for building and repairing tissue. It also comes in several different forms (like sugars, starches, and fibre). Kids should eat more starches and fibre and less sugar. Carbohydrate-rich foods include:

  • Breads
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes
  • Cereals

Calcium:

For strong bones and healthy teeth, it’s essential that your child consumes calcium every day. It’s also important for blood clotting and for nerve, muscle and heart function. Calcium-rich foods include:

  • Milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese
    Broccoli
  • Spinach
    Egg yolks

Fats:

Fats are a great source of energy for children and are easily stored in their bodies. It’s important in helping the body to properly use some of the other nutrients it needs. Foods rich in fats include:

  • Wholemilk products
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Avocado
  • Meat
  • Cooking oils

Smart Fats:

Omega fats are important for children’s health. In fact, studies have shown that omega 3 supplements might improve behaviour, reduce hyperactivity, and boost attention in kids under 12.

There are two kinds of essential fats:

Omega 3 and omega 6 – omega 3 is essential for brain function. Omega 6 fats are crucial to brain and eye development and they help to stabilise mood too. If your children are not eating oil-rich fish at least once a week, consider giving them a daily fish oil supplement.
 

Iron:

If you or your child is anaemic (low levels of iron in your blood), you’re probably feeling tired all the time. It’s because iron is necessary to build healthy blood that carries oxygen to cells all over the body. So if your body doesn’t get enough oxygen, you’ll only want to lay down and sleep. Iron-rich foods include:

  • Red meats
  • Spinach
  • Liver
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Iron-fortified cereals 
  • Raisins

Fibre:

Fibre is very important for healthy bowel regularity in children. It can also help in reducing the chances of heart disease and cancer later in life. Fibre-rich foods include:

  • Wholegrain cereals and bread
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Folate:

While you were pregnant, you might have been constantly reminded to get your daily dose of folate for a healthy baby. But folate is also very important for children. As it’s one of the B vitamins, folate is necessary for healthy growth and development of a child’s cells. Just like iron, if you lack this nutrient, it can cause anaemia. Folate-rich foods include:

  • Spinach
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Wholegrain cereals and bread
  • Asparagus

Vitamin C:

To fight off the common cold, might be the first thing that comes to your mind, but vitamin C also holds the body’s cells together, strengthens the walls of blood vessels, helps the body heal wounds and build strong bones and teeth. Vitamin C-rich foods include:

  • Citrus fruits (like oranges)
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach

Vitamin A:

As well as helping growth and assisting the eyes in adjusting to dim and bright lights, Vitamin A also keeps skin healthy and helps prevent infection. Vitamin A-rich foods include:

  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Egg yolks
  • Fish oils

READ MORE: How To Encourage Your Child To Eat Fresh Fruit And Veg

Expert’s Advice

Dublin Pharmacist and mum to three boys, Laura Dowling, knows how challenging it is to ensure your child gets all the nutrients needed – especially when they are in school. She has a few tips for parents to make nutrition a bit less challenging:
  • For school – Be sure to introduce healthy lunches and snacks from the start. Stick to savoury sandwiches, fruit and raw veg such as carrot sticks or olives. Fill hot-pots with pasta or rice leftovers from the night before. They’re a great winter warmer for hungry little tummies!
  • To strengthen immunity – I am a big believer that what you put in to their little bodies from a very young age helps strengthen their immune system and contributes greatly to their future health. Include plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and pulses in their diet (I disguise these in smoothies and pasta sauces!). Lean meat is good too but avoid frying it. Use your grill, oven or stove to cook instead.
  • Exercise – Exercise should be a natural part of daily life. Walking, scooting or cycling to school if you can, even if it’s only once or twice a week will improve your children’s lives immeasurably. The fresh air does developing brains a world of good and of course exercise is great for the mind and body.
  • Sleep – It goes without saying that children need lots of sleep. Set up a bedtime routine which is more or less the same every evening. Introduce ‘wind-down’ time beforehand with reading, bathing or playing a game. This will help switch their active brains into sleepy mode.
  • Supplements – If your child eats plenty of the above foods, they shouldn’t need supplements. That said I’m a great believer in giving my boys gut flora a boost with a seasonal course of microbiotics. These ‘good’ bacteria aid digestive health and help support the overall immune system. This is particularly important if your child is prone to infections or has to take a course of antibiotics. 

As seen in the August/September issue of Easy Parenting Magazine.

How do you ensure your child gets all the essential nutrients? Tell us in the comments below.


About the Author

Elsje is our Parenting Staff Writer. She’s probably one of the biggest ‘Friends' fans there is and absolutely loves sport and adventure. She has a background in South African news journalism, and has been living in Ireland since January 2018. Elsje loves animals, especially cats, and wouldn’t mind living on an island surrounded by them. She also loves it when people compliment her very South African accent. Read more about her Irish adventures on her blog: anirishsouthafrican.wordpress.com.

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