Eating the right kind food is important for children and their development. Here are some useful tips to help your child do it.
By Subashini Vivek and Shoba Natarajan
Some children are very active with lots of energy. To encourage them to remain energetic and maintain a healthy body weight, educate them on the importance of eating a balanced diet. While training for sports, children’s athletic performance, development and growth depend largely on the intake of proper foods before and after an activity.
While sweating, water is lost and must be replaced. Plain, cool water is the best way to fight dehydration. Children lose more water than adults through sweat. Small sips of water every 20 minutes will keep them hydrated instead of full glasses of water every couple of hours. Eight glasses of water is the minimum requirement per day and this can go up to three litres during summer.
Water can be supplemented with sports and energy drinks when children are engaged in high intensity and long duration sports activities. Effective sports drinks contain 15 to 18 grams of carbohydrates in every 8 ounces of fluid which provide energy and electrolytes to fight dehydration.
Carbohydrates, the body's main source of energy, are obtained from sugars and starches, found in foods such as breads, cereals, fruits, pasta, milk, honey, syrups and table sugar. Starch is broken down by the body into glucose, which is used by the muscles for energy. For peak performance, half your child’s daily calories should come from carbohydrates.
Start your child’s day with a high carbohydrate, moderate protein breakfast within half an hour of waking up. This will increase the Basal Metabolic Rate (the number of calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day) and keep the body active throughout the day. Whole and unprocessed cereals should be preferred over sugary cereals and drinks. Sugary foods give an initial burst of energy but this dissipates quickly, leading to fatigue. Do provide a pre-competition meal for fluid and additional energy.
Proteins are the building blocks of our body, needed for muscle growth and quick recovery. Diets heavily focussed on protein are unnecessary, as proteins step in to provide energy only when carbohydrates are inadequate. A growing child needs one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Meat, beans, pulses, soya and dairy products are good sources.
Fats are a concentrated source of energy, important for the development of the brain and other vital organs. Include a variety of fats in the diet. Avocado, almonds and olive oil contain Monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) while fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds contain Polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). Use Trans-fats (synthetically produced unnatural fats) sparingly and limit the usage of saturated fats like butter, ghee and margarine, and foods fried in them.
Iron supplies working muscles with oxygen. Low iron levels result in reduced stamina, causing one to tire easily. The best sources of iron are animal products, but fortified breads, cereals, beans and green leafy vegetables also contain iron.
Calcium is needed for strong bones and proper muscle function. Its deficiency can lead to stress fractures. The best sources of calcium are dairy products, but other foods such as salmon with bones, sardines, tofu and greens also contain calcium.
Growing children need carbohydrates, proteins and fats roughly in the ratio of 40:30:30. Small meals such as fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetable salads, dry fruit milkshakes, multi grain kanji, fruit smoothies mixed with nuts also provide the needed nutrients. Over the counter protein powders, calcium, iron and vitamin supplements should be taken only with a doctor’s advice, owing to possible side effects.
A child’s caloric needs depend on the age, body size, sport and training programme. If he is maintaining an ideal weight range it means that he is getting the right amount of calories.
Subashini Vivek and Shoba Natarajan are nutrition consultants for children.
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