As children get older, they have an increasing amount of freedom over food choice and often eat outside the home. Outside factors such as peer pressure and advertising also start to play their part helping them create an opinion about certain foods.
Although growth is slower than in infancy or early childhood, school-aged children still have high nutritional needs, but fairly small appetites. Therefore, it is crucial that all meals and snacks are nutrient-rich. Falling activity levels and rising levels of obesity become a concern at this stage. It is important to impart healthy eating behavior during these crucial years of development since this will set a pattern for the future.
Why active kids are going places
Encourage your child to be as active as possible. For children in this stage, the influence of friends and peers is important and they prefer to eat what their friends eat. Children of this age may favor non-nutritious snacks. If your child is putting on too much weight, educate him about the ill effects of obesity and encourage him to get involved in physical activities in some form (football, netball, walking the dog, cycling, swimming, etc). Prepare meals and snacks based on the five main food groups, with limited fatty and sugary ingredients. Even if a child is overweight, he still needs a nutrient-packed diet providing essential building blocks for growth and development. Just make sure you replace fatty snacks for healthier ones.
If your child picks at his food and doesn’t seem to be hungry despite an increase in activity, he may be a picky eater.
Packing their school lunch with nutrition
Most children in this age group eat one major meal at home and a packed lunch at school. Their packed school lunch should include a:
- Balanced diet containing a variety of food items such as a sandwich, fresh fruit and a tub of yogurt
- Protein such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese or beans, since these are good sources of calories
- Healthy alternative to high-fat pies, pastries, sausages or burgers
- Bread, potatoes, rice, noodles or pasta, one portion of vegetables (raw, cooked or as part of a salad) and a serving of fresh or dried fruit or juice
- Milk and milk products to provide enough calcium for growing bones. In addition to important nutrients like iron, vitamin C and folate
Snacks are an important part of your child's food intake for energy and nutrients. Be sure to keep the following on hand:
- Fresh fruit
- Low-fat dairy products
- Sandwiches or buns
- Plain biscuits
- Cereal and milk
- Crunchy muesli and yogurt
- Nuts, seeds or dried fruit
- Fruit smoothies
- Healthy crackers or oatcakes
Teaching the ABC's of healthy eating
From mealtime to snack time, eating well is elementary when you:
- Eat together – Make meals a family event by setting regular mealtimes and serving family style, letting your kids learn to serve themselves healthy portions and being mindful if they are full
- Be a role model – Lead by example, ordering non-greasy healthy options that demonstrate normal portion sizes
- Snack smart – Encourage your kids to avoid fatty and sugary foods and drinks by only keeping healthy choices on hand (especially after school)
- Be active – Don't just explain the benefits of being physically active, be active yourself and plan events as a family
- Sweeten naturally – Add raisins to oatmeal, mandarin orange sections to salads and pineapple to stir-fry dishes
- Shop smart – Involve your kids in grocery shopping allowing them to select their favorite whole grain cereal
- Work together – Prepare foods together giving your kids age-appropriate ways to help (toss salads, spreading peanut butter)
- Fight childhood obesity – Teach your kids that maintaining a healthy weight is a lifestyle that includes all of the above, especially portion sizes that match activity levels
"The way I show love is to feed my family well."
- Mother of three grown daughters