The Ideal Meal: What Nutrients Do Children Need for Optimal Health?
Parents and children today are bombarded by appealing advertisements that market processed or high-sugar foods as being great-tasting, nutritious choices with “vitamins and minerals” that children need. But just because that colorful, sugary cereal promises “8 vitamins and minerals,” that does not mean it has them in significant amounts.
In general, the less processing that foods go through, the more nutrients they tend to retain. The nutrients particularly important for growing children are calcium, iron, folate, fiber, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. How can parents make smarter choices in meal planning? By building snacks and meals around fresh foods, and offering a combination of vegetables, fruits, proteins, whole grain carbs and healthy fats.
Protein builds muscle, helps the blood carry oxygen, stimulates cell reproduction, and helps the body break down food and convert it to energy. It is also essential to fighting infection. Protein comes from animal meats, eggs, dairy, nuts, beans and legumes.
Carbs get a bad rap from the diet industry, but everyone needs them, especially children. Carbohydrates are our primary source of energy! Choose complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, oatmeal and cereals with no sugar added.
Many crucial amino acids are fat soluble, meaning they can’t be broken down and used by the body unless there’s sufficient fat in the diet. Healthy fats are a great source of energy and help give food flavor. So treat your child to grilled cheese on whole grain bread, or put avocado in their wrap.
Healthy Food, Healthy Teeth
Most parents know that high-sugar foods damage tooth enamel, and understand that treats like sticky candy, hard candy, cookies and soft drinks should be limited. But a sticky, sweet, “healthy” chewy granola bar can be just as damaging to your child’s dental health as a regular candy bar. Chocolate milk, fruit juices, bottled teas, and energy drinks can contain as much sugar as a soft drink. The sugars in these products linger in the mouth and cause tooth decay, especially if the product is sticky or chewy and clings to teeth. According to a specialist with Smith Family Dental, most cavities are caused by both a diet full of sugary foods and a lack of brushing. This is why sugary treats should be avoided for optimal dental health.
It’s important to educate our children how to make better choices for themselves, as well. When children learn to make positive associations with healthy food, and filter out what’s “healthy” in marketing only, they’re more likely to develop healthy eating habits that will help them grow strong and see them through the rest of their lives.