School aged children ranges from 5 years to 12 years old. As you know, children are always busy, playing around outside or causing chaos inside. However, that is only the activity you can see on the outside; they are also growing and developing on the inside. Growing and developing uses a huge amount of energy each day and when that is paired with a child’s active lifestyle – they need a lot of fuel! The timing of growth spurts varies slightly between boys and girls. Girls typically experience their teenage growth spurt around the ages 8-12 and boys around the ages 10-14 years.
They main thing to keep in mind when making breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for your busy bodies is balance – children need a mix of everything! Colourful fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The perfect combination for growt
Carbohydrates are the fuel that keeps us running. Children will need a diet rich in healthy carbohydrates such as wholegrains. 3-5 servings for boys and 3-4 servings for girls is recommended. Foods such as gluten free wholegrain cereals, breads, pastas and rice provide carbohydrates in the diet. A portion of carbohydrates would be ½ cup of porridge, 1 cup of cooked rice, 1 ½ cup of cooked pasta.
Fibre is essential in the diet for gut health as it keeps a healthy balance of bacteria within the gut. Fibre can also improve immunity. Lack of fibre in the diet can lead to constipation. Gluten free wholemeal pastas, bread, spaghetti and cereals are great sources of fibre a good way to kick start the day fibre strong. Nuts and seeds are a great source of fibre. Older children (over 5 years) can enjoy them as a snack and younger children can have them ground and added to breakfast cereals and yoghurt. Be careful about sending nuts to school in lunchboxes – some schools ask parents not to give nuts due to allergies in the classroom. Fruits and vegetables also have fibre and even more when you eat the skin too! You can add beans, lentils or chickpeas to a stew, Bolognese or curry to add more fibre. A full tin of baked beans has 16g of fibre or a half tin of chickpeas has 10g of fibre so these are great foods to include for children (they don’t have to eat the whole tin!). Just remember not to increase a child’s fibre all in one day. Take it slowly and gradually add a little more fibre over a few weeks.
A child’s fibre requirements vary with age;
Daily fibre requirement
Calcium is needed in the diet for bone health and this is especially important for growing bones. Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese are excellent sources of calcium and protein. They’re ideal for snacks, such as cheese on gluten free crackers or a toasted cheese sandwich. 3 portions of dairy per day is needed. This could be a glass of milk, a pot of yogurt, 30g of cheddar cheese (about the size of your two thumbs). Vitamin D, or the sunshine vitamin, is needed in the body to help absorb calcium. We should get vitamin D from the sun but unfortunately in Ireland we are lacking when it comes to getting enough sunshine! Choosing milks that are fortified with vitamin D will help to meet the daily recommendations of 400-800 IU / day. It is also recommended in Ireland that children aged 1-4 take a vitamin D supplement from Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day every year. 5micrograms is the recommended does. Children will also get a little vitamin D from tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as eggs.
If you child has been told by your GP or a registered Dietitian that they should not consume cow’s milk or dairy products, then the next best thing to take is calcium fortified soya milk. Rice, oat and almond milks are not recommended for children. Do make sure you choose a soya milk that has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D. If your child does avoid dairy and has never seen a CORU Registered Dietitian for advice, do ask your GP to refer you to the HSE Community Dietitians. Children who avoid dairy find it difficult to get all the calcium they need from other foods. Studies show that these children are usually shorter and have lower bone density so it is important to get expert advice.
Protein is the building blocks of our body; it is what helps us to physically grow and therefore is vitally important for children as it is a period of growth and development. Children need 2 portions of protein per day from meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans and nuts. A good guide is that protein foods should make up about 1/3 of your child’s plate or meal at lunch and dinner. Meat, fish and poultry are all naturally gluten free, however there are plenty of gluten free breaded or seasoned options available in the Coeliac Society Food List. Although beans and lentils are gluten free, some manufacturers have added “may contain gluten” labels to some lentils over the past few years – so check the labels and avoid any beans or lentils that say “may contain gluten”.
Iron is another nutrient that is vitally important in the diet. Iron keeps your blood healthy and can be found in red meat, nuts, beans, chicken legs and fortified gluten free cereals. You will also find small amounts of iron in spinach and kale. The iron requirements vary slightly between boys and girls (see below):
Age group – Females
Daily Iron Requirement
Age group – Males
Fruits and vegetables are vitally important at every life stage. A minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day is recommended, for both adults and children. Remember this is a minimum not a maximum, so feel free to eat more! Fruit and vegetables are all naturally gluten free and so can be easily added to any meal. When eating fruit and vegetables it is important you try to eat every colour in the rainbow as each colour has a different combination of nutrients to give you. Nutrients work better together and so ensuring you eat a wide variety every day is best. Adding some fruit to your cereal such as bananas or berries, adding vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, spinach or sweetcorn to pasta or sandwiches for lunch and including 2-3 different vegetables with dinner will all help to meet at least 5 portions per day. Fruit and vegetables are a good source of fibre and keeping the skins on makes them even better! Keeping a bag of mixed frozen berries and mixed vegetables in the freezer can be really handy to add into any meal.
Fats are important in the diet as they have many vital functions in the body such as insulation and nerve functioning. Fat also allows for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats should be consumed in small amounts. Healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, and from vegetable sources such as olive oil or sunflower seed oil are suitable for children. Try to limit fat from foods such as crisps, pastries or chocolate as the type of fat sound in these foods is less healthy.
Omega-3s are a healthy fatty acid. Omega-3 is important in the diet as it aids brain function and cognitive development. Omega-3 is important at every life stage but particularly in children as their brains are growing and developing. Omega-3 fatty acids are most commonly found in oily fish (eg. mackerel, kippers, salmon). There are also omega-3 fats in nuts and seeds but this is a different type of omega-3 and is not as useful for brain development. Do encourage your child to eat fish – especially oil-rich fish like salmon once or twice a week. Tinned fish is just as good as fresh when it comes to omega-3s so tinned salmon, mackerel or sardines are all great sources. Tuna actually has very little omega-3 so, although it’s great for protein and vitamin D, your kids will need to eat some other fish to get what they need.