Nurturing Healthy Eaters: A Guide To Building Lifelong Nutritional Habits and a Positive Relationship with Food

Nurturing Healthy Eaters: A Guide To Building Lifelong Nutritional Habits and a Positive Relationship with Food

Discover practical strategies on how to meet your child’s nutrition quota and build healthy eating habits.

Joan Dellosa Joan Dellosa · Apr 26th, 2024

Nutrition Beginner
8 Mins


    In today's fast-paced world dominated by ultra-processed foods, ensuring our children receive proper nutrition is challenging. 

    The abundance of sugary snacks, convenience meals, and enticing advertisements often overshadow the importance of instilling healthy eating habits from a young age. 

    To shed light on effective strategies for navigating the complexities of childhood nutrition in today's food landscape, we recently invited Paula Hallam, a registered specialist pediatric dietician with 24 years of experience to address some common questions about nutrition for children and offer some practical advice. 

    This article covers topics ranging from the importance of key nutrients like calcium and iron in children's diets to practical tips for handling picky eaters and fostering a positive relationship with food. 

    So let’s dive in! 

    How much protein do children need?

    Contrary to popular opinion, children do not need a lot of protein. And their daily targets can be easily met by eating well-balanced meals. 

    Protein requirements for kids by age:
    0-6 months - 12.5 - 12.7g
    7-12 months 13.7 - 15g 
    1-3 years 14.5g
    4-6 years 19.7g
    7-10 years 28.3g 
    11-14 years - 41-42g
    15-18 years 45-55g
    Here are a few examples of foods rich in protein:

    Animal products like meat, eggs, and cow's milk are good sources of protein. 

    For those following a more vegetarian or plant-based diet good sources of protein are soya milk, tofu, nut butters, lentils, beans, quinoa, oats and wheat. 

    Here is an illustrative example of how much protein a child can get with just a little bit of planning. 

    On a typical day,  if a toddler eats 1 slice of toast with 1 tbsp of peanut butter for breakfast, 1 egg for lunch and some pasta for dinner they would be getting around 16 -18g of protein. 

    For older children, increasing the portion sizes would automatically increase protein intake. 

    How much calcium do children need?

    Calcium plays a pivotal role in the growth and development of children, making it a crucial nutrient to prioritise in their diet. Not only does calcium contribute to the formation and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, it also supports proper muscle function and nerve signalling.

    Calcium requirements for kids by age:
    0 - 12 months 525mg
    1 - 3 years 350mg
    4 - 6 years 450mg
    7 - 10 years 550mg
    11 - 18 years 800mg (girls) 1000mg (boys)
    Good sources of calcium are: 
    All dairy products like cow’s milk, cheese and yoghurts are rich in calcium. 

    For those who follow a plant-based diet, good sources of calcium include fortified plant milks (organic plant milks are not usually fortified), calcium-fortified tofu, fortified plant-based yoghurts, tahini, oranges, leafy green vegetables. 

    Try to include calcium-rich foods in every meal to ensure your child gets the daily requirement.

    How much iron do children need?

    Iron is crucial for children's growth and development as it helps make haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Without enough iron, children may feel tired, have trouble concentrating, and may not grow as well.

    Interestingly, iron deficiency is the most common worldwide, regardless of diet.

    Iron requirements for kids by age:
    0-3 months 1.7mg
    4-6 months 4.3mg 
    7-12 months 7.8mg iron
    1-3 years 6.9mg 
    4-6 years 7.1mg
    7-10 years 8.7mg
    11-18 years 14.8mg (girls) 11.3mg (boys)
    Good sources of iron are:
    Liver, red meat, tofu, beans, nuts, dried fruit like dried figs and apricots, fortified breakfast cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables. 

    While dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and kale are rich in iron, it is impossible to consume the volume of green vegetables necessary to meet the recommended amounts. This is why it is important to include other sources of iron. 

    Another topic of concern around iron is in boosting absorption.  

    Contrary to popular opinions, boosting iron absorption is quite simple.  Pairing iron-rich foods with those high in beta-carotene and vitamin C like oranges, orange juice, strawberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts and peppers helps your body assimilate it more efficiently. 

    Another trick is to cook iron sources with onion and garlic to enhance absorption.

    Do children need supplements?

    While many believe supplements aren’t necessary if they maintain a healthy diet, certain nutrients like vitamins A and D are often recommended regardless of dietary variety. 

    Vitamin A supports vision, immune function, and skin health. 

    Vitamin D is crucial for bone health, immune function, and mood regulation. 

    Given the challenges in obtaining adequate amounts of these vitamins solely through diet, supplementation is recommended. 

    A complete multi-vitamin to be taken daily is highly recommended. 

    Managing Picky-Eaters

    Dealing with children who are very limited in their choice of foods can be quite challenging. A lot of parents worry that their child isn’t eating enough to grow and develop. 

    Hopefully, the information provided earlier shows that daily targets for children are easily met with a bit of careful planning. 

    But here are some other things to try. 

    Start by setting a positive example yourself. Show enthusiasm for trying new foods and enjoying balanced meals together. Let mealtimes be an enjoyable time together. 

    Remember, it's okay if they don't finish everything on their plate; instead, focus on offering a variety of nutritious options and letting them choose what they'd like to eat. 

    Avoid using sweets as rewards for eating veggies; we want mealtime to be about nourishment, not negotiation.

    Take their preferences into account but also add foods you like to eat to the menu. If your child only likes plain pasta for dinner, you could make something other than that to accompany their meal. 

    It is the parent’s responsibility to provide options, while your children decide what and how much they want to eat. 

    With patience, consistency, and a sprinkle of creativity, you'll navigate picky eating with ease while nurturing a healthy relationship with food for your family.

    Is it a good idea to hide vegetables in sauces?

    Incorporating vegetables into sauces can be a clever way to boost your child's nutrient intake while still enjoying their favourite dishes. 

    It's perfectly acceptable to sneak in veggies like carrots, spinach, or courgettes into pasta sauces or lasagnas, especially if it helps them become more accepting of these foods. 

    However, transparency is key. Let your children know what they're eating and involve them in the cooking process when possible. By making it an open secret rather than a hidden agenda, you not only build trust but also empower them to make healthier choices in the long run.

    Seek Professional Advice

    It's essential to recognise that every child is unique, and their nutritional needs may vary based on factors like age, growth rate, and individual preferences. 

    While some children may thrive on a wide range of foods, others may have specific dietary restrictions or preferences that require attention. If you have concerns about your child's nutrition or growth, it's always best to seek guidance from a paediatrician or registered dietitian. 

    These professionals can provide personalised advice and support tailored to your child's needs, ensuring they receive the necessary nutrients for optimal growth and development. 

    In conclusion, navigating the challenges of children's nutrition requires patience, creativity, and a balanced approach. By leading by example, offering a variety of foods, and respecting children's autonomy at mealtime, we can foster healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. 
    Joan DellosaJoan Dellosa

    Joan Dellosa is RNT’s Data Wizard, her mission is to take RNT’s data collection, processes and systems to the next level. With an eye for detail, experience of the RNT Journey and over ten years as a leader in business performance, Joan’s drive comes from facilitating RNT’s mission of using the physical as the vehicle to transform lives.

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