Nutritional Needs for Kids

Who knows what the 5 food groups are? And do you know why there are 5 food groups? Many people I speak with can’t answer these two questions. So how do they know about good nutrition and healthy eating?   I’ll get to that later…

Recently we consulted with a teenage foster child whose BMI was in the obese category. She was referred to us out of concern for her health and with a family history of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, her support team at Wanslea decided it was time to seek professional help.

When she walked in to our clinic, she was munching on a packet of Twisties and an Iced Tea. My immediate reaction was disbelief, since an adult had given her these items as an after-school snack, right before coming to see a Dietitian about her weight and health. The Twisties had almost 4 times the amount of sodium (salt) that is recommended and the sugar content of the iced tea was over what she should have consumed for the entire day. So, if adults know there is a problem with a child’s weight or health, why do they feed them food that is only making the condition worse?

As adults, we must remind ourselves regularly what influence we have on our children. When it comes to food, what we buy, cook and eat is what they eat so it’s important to understand about healthy eating. Learn about the 5 food groups and think of some healthy swaps for Twisties and iced tea. A piece of fruit, cheese and crackers, water and low fat milk are a great swap for the high salt, high sugar, high fat snack foods that are not only unhealthy but very expensive. A banana costs around 60 cents compared with a packet of Twisties costing $2.50. Think about where you’d like your money to be!

So, back to the 5 food groups.

The Australian Guidelines to Healthy Eating are comprised of 5 food groups

  1. Grains
  2. Fruit
  3. Vegetables
  4. Protein/meat
  5. Dairy

Each food group is categorised according to their nutritional profile which has its own unique set of nutritional compounds that are essential for good health. We need a good variety of the nutritional qualities from each food group to maintain good health.

Then there is a small section that is separate to the food groups, called discretionary foods. This is where the Twisties, iced teas, cakes, take away food etc. belong and sadly, many of our kids are given these foods as treats daily. I’ve had conversations at schools where parents don’t make school lunches but bring in take away such as McHappy Meals at lunch time. We really need to think about what message this is sending the kids.

So how did we talk about being healthy to this teenager when a trusted adult had just given her these unhealthy treats? We taught her how to read food labels and showed her how much sugar and sodium was in the food she was eating. We gave her a nutritional shopping card to empower her to make her own healthy choices and encouraged her to go shopping with a parent, carer or guardian. Our Dietitian also set out a meal plan to get her on track.

Let us all teach our kids healthy food habits that last a life time. If you want to make healthier decisions at the supermarket, Nutrition Force have nutritional shopping cards you can print out for free and take with you next time you hit the supermarket.   The guidelines on the card apply for all packaged food manufactured in Australia (and some overseas).   You can download one for free here

Spend some time with your kids teaching them about food labels and healthy eating. A good way to get the message across is to work out how much sugar is in their favourite food and then have the child spoon out that amount of sugar in to a glass. Every teaspoon of sugar holds 4.2 grams. So, for the 500ml bottle of iced tea that we looked at with our young client, there was 27.6 grams of sugar in one bottle which equates to 6.5 teaspoons of sugar. A 600ml bottle of coke has 64 grams of sugar or 15.2 teaspoons of sugar.

Let’s save the treats for special occasions and encourage healthy eating patterns on a daily basis. If you’d like some healthy treats, you can check out our recipe for Sweet Potato Chocolate Brownies on the recipe page on our web site.

If you think your child may listen to one of our nutritionists, rather than mum or dad, then send them to us for a nutrition make over.  We regularly run classes for kids that you can check out here.


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