Nutrition and Children – basic guide

[ 1 ] 29/05/2014 |


Guest post by Nutritionist, Mirela Burhuc*


Most of children nowadays rely too much on junk food, fast food (pizza, burgers, fries, chicken nuggets) and if given money to purchase foods by themselves, their choices are: chips, biscuits, crisps, cakes, sugary fizzy colas and juice drinks.

I sometime see photos on FB posted by their parents with what they eat or while outside at the playground, I see children eating all kind of junk food in big quantities.

As a nutritionist, I feel myself responsible to rise some sort of awareness and remind you, dear parents that: what you feed your children determines their health and dietary habits for life in most of cases. I am not here to judge anyone because I was myself on this boat of not knowing or ignoring the healthy food and the consequences weren’t very nice.

I hear parents complaining that their children are most of the time tired and they lack concentration at school, or they gain too much weight but I wonder if something is really done to fix all these.

There is also lack of physical activity. At school they get less chance to exercise and once they are at home, they spend time in front of TV or playing video games. They are encouraged to eat dinner while watching TV which also eliminates the possibility of proper food’s chewing and portion limitations and in the evening that is very important.

My recommendations for you, dear parents:

• Obesity is a primary concern in children nowadays but even if a child is not obese, extra pounds can cause extra problems: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol but also psychological issues like low self-esteem, they can be bullied at school for this reason or developing sleeping problems. If your children are heavier than they should be, you should not place them on a diet but the best option is to change the children’s foods with healthier choices, one at a time and increase their physical activity. It might be difficult in the beginning but you should stick with the healthy choices, be calm and praise your children for every improvement.
• Because everything is about improvements, changes, swaps, you might want to have a look on what is on the menus at school if the breakfast and lunches are given there. And after you revised all the food they eat at home and school you can come up with one change at a time to help them accept and learn healthier choices regarding food
• Try to make a plan, get organized and keep a food diary for the children (especially if they started to have sort of allergies or indigestion issues)
• Try to write down what your children like most and what they dislike regarding food
• PRIORITISE! Start by deciding which aspects of the children’s diet you are going to tackle first (eat breakfast every day at home, eat only once a week fast food, small portions etc.)
• Map out the steps you and your children are going to take to achieve the objectives (switch to a mixed white/brown loaf for a while, then switch to brown and then wholegrain). Regarding vegetables, you can try to start with blended vegetables in pasta sauce, gradually making the chunkier over time.
• Try also to talk with everyone who is involved with food, education of your children, get their agreement not to sabotage your efforts
• Clear the cupboards and get rid of as much of the rubbish as possible then go shopping and stock up some healthy staples. Make the children feel they are part of selecting menus for the week and teach them the right healthy choices and the reason they are so.
• BE AN EXAMPLE for your children! (if you don’t eat healthy food, how your children will agree on it?)
• Manage choices! First, by clearing the cupboards you are already doing an important step but also, when offering a snack, don’t ask your children: what you want to eat? But instead: would you like an apple or a pear? Do you want pasta or fish for dinner?)
• Don’t give up and stay calm! To encourage your children, you can use charts and stars, developing them with the children and explain them what is all about. It can be fun!
• Do not tell to children that some foods are forbidden, better make them understand the difference between a healthy food and why is good and unhealthy foods and consequences on health. Less unhealthy foods from time to time as treats are not a problem, just you have to make sure that the major food is healthy.
• Try to reduce your children’s portions (I noticed most of them eat huge amounts and though it is true that they need plenty of calories because they still grow and develop, that doesn’t mean they have to eat for two or until they can not breathe). Teach the children to eat slowly, to take their time while eating. If they eat too fast, the stomach will be full long before the message to stop chewing down reaches the brain
• Keep in mind that children with inadequate foods are sick more, less active, less able to think and concentrate and more irritable and anxious. They need to consume a balanced food made from the right carbohydrates, fats and proteins in order to keep their body running smoothly.
• Children like pictures so you should try to show them a food pyramid and teach them what a balanced diet means.

One very important thing is to ensure children’s blood sugar levels remain balanced and even, reducing the risk of lack of concentration at school, tiredness. So you can:
• Choose wholefoods – wholegrains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables. Go for dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, green beans, peppers, all raw or lightly cooked. Choose fresh fruits such as apples, pears, berries, melon or citrus fruits and, infrequently, bananas.
• Avoid overly processed foods and refined ones
• Choose wholegrains such as rice, buckwheat, millet, rye, oats, wholewheat, quinoa in cereal, breads and pasta (no sugar added)
• Avoid sugar and foods containing sugar. This means anything with the – OSE at the end, including glucose, maltose, dextrose. Don’t be tempted to go for sugar substitutes as most are detrimental to health and they all keep sugar cravings alive
• Combine protein foods with carbohydrates and as fiber is important to slowing the sugar absorption, make sure they get enough of it through fruits but especially from vegetables.
• Prepare fresh fruit and vegetables juices and dilute them half and half with water
• Encourage your children to eat breakfast (the best one should have foods with low GL index level)
• Help the children avoid caffeinated foods and drinks such as chocolate, tea, coffee and energy drinks

To ensure children get plenty of vitamins and minerals:
• Teach the children about the necessity of vegetables in their diet. Fruits are important too but in moderation due to the high content of sugar. An example of how this target can be achieved in one day: one medium-sized fruit such as apple, peach or pear; 150 ml fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water; 3 heaped tablespoons cooked peas or carrots, or a bowl of salad
• You can also give your children a good multivitamin and mineral formula based on the nutrient levels for your children’s age but not before consulting a physician and telling him about it, having a blood test done to check for deficiencies. But keep in mind that the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals your children need it has to be through food

To ensure the children are getting enough protein:
• Give them between one and two servings of the protein rich foods every day, depending on their age (4-8 years: 19 g; 9-13 years: 34 g)
• The protein rich foods are: quinoa, brown rice, chickpeas, lentils, fish and meat, nuts and seeds, eggs and dairy, some vegetables
• Include some protein with every meal
• Regarding the animal protein, choose free-range eggs, fish or lean meat
To ensure the children get the right kind of fats, the essential fats which help brain develop, boos IQ, support the immune system and keep skin healthy:
• Avoid fried and processed food and baked goods with a long shelf life, trim all fat from meats before cooking
• Choose coldwater fish: sardines, mackerel, herring, kipper or wild organic salmon two or three times a week providing a good source of omega 3 fats
• Provide plenty of nuts and seeds (preferably soak them over night for a better digestion)
• A free-range egg if possible organic, lightly boiled or scrambled but definitely not fried for breakfast would be a good choice
• If your children crave chips, you can make your own in the oven using potatoes or even root vegetables (thinly slice them and place them on a cookie sheet, spray them lightly with some olive oil, sprinkle them with any spices or herbs of your children’ like; you can bake them in a 400 degree oven for thirty minutes making sure to turn once)

Let’s imagine also that your life as parents is very hectic and you don’t have much time to cook. Now the best thing, dear parents is to learn how to read the food labels and what to avoid when buying something:
• Shop for groceries once a week and only buy from your prepared list, let the kids help with it, stop buying on impulse, vary your foods introducing something new every week
• Stay away from pastries, they are loaded with sugar and fat
• Check the label for the words hydrogenated and vegetable oil; hydrogenated fats interfere with the brain’s use of essential fats
• Avoid cream sauces, use tomato-based sauces instead
• Check the labels for sugar including sucrose, syrup, dextrose, maltose, etc. and avoid them
• Avoid foods that contain additives, preservatives and other chemicals
• Avoid milk, try to buy instead natural yoghurt
• Avoid buying processed juices because the nutrients have been destroyed through processing. You might think to invest in a juice machine

And also keep in mind that the children don’t need only good nutrition but physical activity as well so do your best to involve them in at least one hour of physical activity daily. At home, you might think to limit TV and video time, involve in some shared activities with the children and spend weekend out. If the weather is really against you, encourage at least active computer/video games that involve movement.

Best of health and plenty of wisdom!



*Mirela Burhuc is a highly educated, strong mummy, with her driving force being the love for her son. She graduated as a teacher from the Faculty of Letters, History and Theology in Galati, Romania, and later on enrolled to the Faculty of Psychology and Sociology. Her studies were interrupted in 2008 when her child got diagnosed with Autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), along with severe mental retardation and significant behavioural disturbance in a hospital for infantile psychiatry. A painful divorce followed shortly after, and since then on her life has followed many different routes. She now lives in Malta and works as a nutritionist; Diploma in Nutrition with Distinction by The Blackford Centre for Nutrition. To achieve the Diploma, she had to pass 15 written assignments, all based on practical, real life clients. You can read more about her story, her services, and get in touch with her on 

Category: Guest posts, Resources for Malta Mums

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  1. mwangi njihia says:

    inspiring and informative article

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