parent and child discussing kids nutrition

Nutrition Tips for Children

Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Written by: Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Updated: April 27th, 2023

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It’s not always easy to get children to eat a balanced, healthy diet every single day. Trying (and failing) to feed your picky toddler their least favorite vegetable can feel like the tip of the iceberg of work, life, and other parenting demands. We get it! But we’re going to tell you why good nutrition is a battle worth fighting, and we’ll also outline some helpful tips to make your family mealtimes that much easier.

Healthy Eating Matters

Why is healthy eating important? Because nutrition is a critical aspect of children’s health and wellbeing. Good nutrition provides children with the energy and nutrients they need to:

Growth and Development

From birth and through adolescence, children grow and change a significant amount. Studies show that the intake of both micronutrients (like vitamin and minerals) and macronutrients (like protein, carbohydrates, and fats) significantly support brain development1. This means that what your child puts in their body directly impacts how they think, feel, learn, and function.

Obesity

Maintaining a healthy weight is as equally important as developing a healthy brain. Childhood obesity can have both short-term and long-term negative health effects. Obese children are more susceptible to develop things like asthma, arthritis or type 2 diabetes while they are still young, and the risk increases through adulthood2.

Immune System

Another way poor nutrition can lead to illness is through the immune system. The immune system helps the body fight off infections. It starts to develop even before birth, and continues to strengthen throughout the early stages of life. Poor nutrition is known to impair the immune system, which makes children more susceptible to sickness and even chronic inflammation. This can lead to conditions later in life like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke3. We know that the gut is the “gatekeeper” of your health, and good nutrition habits that start during childhood help promote and maintain gut health by supporting the growth of good bacteria, and helping to maintain a balanced gut microbiome.

Building a Healthy and Balanced Diet

A healthy and balanced diet is necessary to ensure children receive all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need to support their growth and development.

Parents and caregivers play a critical role in promoting healthy eating habits in children. They can help children develop a taste for healthy foods by offering a variety of nutrient-rich foods and limiting processed, high-calorie, high-sugar, and high-fat foods. It’s also important to encourage children to eat a variety of foods from all the different food groups to build a healthy diet.

What’s on Your Child’s Plate?

We suggest filling half the plate with colourful fruits and veggies, and splitting the other half between whole grains and healthy proteins4. Other key tips:

Adapting to Their Age

It’s important to note that a healthy and balanced diet is not a one size fits all approach. Dietary requirements change drastically as a child ages, for both sources of nutrition and portion sizes.

Toddlers

Your once bottle-obsessed infant has become a picky toddler? Introduce them to a wide variety of healthy food options during this low-appetite period, which is more important than making sure they finish every plate of food.

Adolescents

Your adolescent child on the other hand may seem like a bottomless pit. This is because from 13 to 18 years old, children undergo a massive development period of bone, muscle, organ, and even blood volume growth5. While we previously mentioned obesity as a risk factor for many illnesses, during this growth phase it’s important not to underfeed your child because you’re worried about their weight. Ensure they’re eating sufficient amounts of healthy foods from across the food groups to meet their increased energy demands, and to help them grow.

Tips from Canada’s Food Guide

Children’s healthy eating habits develop through more than just what they see on their plate every day. Canada’s Food Guide offers great ideas to help instill good nutritional values in your child, without much extra effort.

Eat Together

Try to eat together as a family as much as possible. While scheduling conflicts and busy lives can sometimes get in the way, enjoying a meal as a family strengthens childrens’ relationship to eating6.

Try family style meals with a variety of healthy options to encourage your child to participate in self-directed eating6. They will enjoy getting to choose more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. Children sometimes feel pressure to finish the pre-determined portions on their plate, and are used to punishment if they don’t. Introducing choice will allow for a more positive association with meals and food overall.

Make Mealtime the Focus

Setting aside time in your family’s day also means setting aside other types of distractions. Turn off screens and put away toys to make mealtime the focus6. Encourage conversation – ask everyone about their day, including your children. Talk about the meal itself, the story or culture behind it, and even the recipe, to allow engagement with the healthy options on the table.

Initiating healthy and structured mealtime behaviors during childhood helps build a strong foundation for good nutrition that will continue through adulthood, and truly sets your child up for success!

Benefits of Probiotics for Kids

In addition to ensuring an adequate intake of healthy micronutrients and macronutrients, probiotics play an important role in building and maintaining a healthy gut. As a part of the larger microbiome, development of your child’s gut microbiota is especially important. Gut bacteria is heavily involved in keeping us healthyby helping our body fight infections7.

Another thing to consider is that gut disorders and their symptoms can negatively impact your child’s nutrition, and their relationship with food. If your child suffers from constipation, diarrhea or other inflammatory disorders, eating may not be the most positive experience for them. Children who experience pain or discomfort during or after meals are more likely to avoid food, especially when it’s something that they’re not particularly excited about.

Probiotics, like Culturelle® Kids Daily Probiotic , provides live microorganisms that form part of a natural healthy gut flora. The strain in Culturelle® products, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG has evidence that shows it also:

Introducing a probiotic into your child’s nutritional routine will improve both their gut and overall health. If they’re feeling better, they will be eating better too!

For more details about the benefits of probiotics for kids, check out this article https://cdhf.ca/en/should-my-child-take-probiotics/. You should also check out the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada for a list of probiotics that have been proven to prevent, treat, or reduce the symptoms of various medical conditions, and the summary  probiotic chart for a list of good children’s probiotics.

Ask an Expert

We want you to know that it is very normal to feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of nutritional advice available on the web, from friends or family, or even in this article. If you’re unsure about which resources to trust, ask your child’s physician or pharmacist for some evidence-based nutritional guides to follow.

For the best advice, we recommend that you make an appointment with a Registered Dietician – they are trained experts who can provide you and your child with custom meal plans and other nutritional advice. This is especially important if your child has complex nutritional requirements related to conditions like type 1 diabetes, food allergies, or other gastrointestinal disorders. Dieticians are ready and willing to help answer all your nutritional questions, and make building a healthy and balanced diet a stress-free process for the whole family.

nutrition tips for children

References:

  1. Nyaradi, A., Li, J., Hickling, S., Foster, J., & Oddy, W. (2013). The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(97), 97. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00097/full
  2. Reilly, J. J. (2005). Descriptive epidemiology and health consequences of childhood obesity. Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 19(3), 327-341. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1521690X05000345
  3. Childs, C. E., Calder, P. C., & Miles, E. A. (2019). Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients, 11(8), 1933. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/
  4. Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. (2023). The Nutrition Source – Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/kids-healthy-eating-plate/
  5. Corkins, M. R., Daniels, S. R., de Ferranti, S. D., Golden, N. H, Kim, J. H., et al. (2016). Nutrition in Children and Adolescents. Medical Clinics of North America, 100(6), 1217-1235. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025712516372960?via%3Dihub
  6. Government of Canada. (2022). Canada’s food guide – Healthy eating for parents and children. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/parents-and-children/
  7. Markowiak, P. & Slizewska, K. (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients, 9(9), 1021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622781/

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