In order to help children and young people develop their full potential, it is vital that they are provided with good nutritious food. Eating and exercise habits shaped during childhood and adolescence have a huge impact on health and well-being now, and on the risk of disease in later years.
All people need the same basic nutrients (as presented through the Eatwell Guide) - carbohydrates, essential amino acids (proteins), essential fatty acids (oils), and vitamins and minerals - to become/maintain good health and to stay fit. However, the quantities of required nutrients change as individuals pass from one life-stage to the next.
It is important that your diet and the diet of the child or young person in your care (it also refers to physical activity) is adjusted accordingly to meet these changing needs and to ensure health and well-being throughout life.
The Caroline Walker Trust has produced a series of practical guides illustrating a good diet for different age groups and detailing the type and amount of food (portion sizes) required to meet the nutritional needs of children and young people across their life course. Illustrative sample menus and recipes are also provided.
To learn more click on the links below:
Other useful resources are available from the First Steps Nutrition Trust.
Eating well recipe book - Simple, cost-effective ideas for the whole family (recipes and pictured portion guidelines for 7-12 months, 1-4 years old, 5-11 years old, 12-18 years old)
Briefly, the main points to remember are presented in the table below:
INFANCY (from birth to one-year old)
Infancy, the first year of life, is a critical time for good nutrition. In the first 6 months of life, an infant is solely dependent on milk. This single food supplies the entire nutritional needs for the rapid growth and development that an infant undergoes during that time.
The World Health Organization and the UK Department of Health recommend that all babies are breast fed and, whenever possible, all babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. Breast milk has many benefits for mother and child. It lowers the risk of infection, asthma, eczema, diabetes and obesity. Consider how the baby has been fed to date. If breastfed, then donor breast milk is available. To find out more, go to the Northwest human milk bank.
From around 6 months, the baby’s first foods can include soft cooked vegetables like parsnip, potato or carrot. Soft fresh fruit like banana, avocado, or peach are good too. Babies often like to start eating these by having them as finger foods, or mashed. You can also spoon-feed the baby, although they will soon be able to do it for themselves. Keep feeding with breast milk or infant formula as well, but don’t give cows’ milk as a drink until they are 1 year old.
When solid foods are first introduced at around 6 months of age, babies are more likely to try and accept new foods. Offer a wide variety of tastes.
Introduce a cup from around 6 months and offer sips of water with meals. By 7-9 months of age, a baby should have started moving towards eating three meals a day. It will be a mixture of finger foods, mashed and chopped foods.
EARLY YEARS (children 1-4)
It is important that children aged 1-4 years get enough energy (calories) for growth and development.
Children at this age can’t eat large amounts of food at one sitting, so it’s important to make sure their diet is as varied and nutritious as possible. Avoid giving under-5s low-fat foods or too many foods high in fibre. Children only have small stomachs and need some fat in their diet for growth and brain development.
Fibre can fill them up too quickly, meaning they may not get the nutrition they need from all the food groups.
Children need energy (calories) to maintain regular body functions and to be active – just as adults do. But they also need energy for growth – giving them relatively high energy needs for their size. More active children will have greater energy needs, for instance 9-11 year old girls who are very active (more than 2 hours of high intensity activity a day) will need more energy than most adult women typically do.
Children need food that will build strong bones when they are young so that they will have healthier bodies in later life. Vitamin D and Calcium are two important nutrients for healthy bones.
TEENAGERS (young people 12-18)
Young people need energy (calories) to maintain regular functions and to be active – just as adults do. But they also need energy for growth – giving them relatively high energy needs for their size. Young people continue to grow through their teenage years, and although most girls will have reached the end of adolescence by the age of 16-17, and boys by the age of about 18, some young people will still be growing into their early 20s.
During adolescence, young people go through puberty, a process that involves total body maturation and the development of adult sexual function. To support this growth, teenagers need extra calories, sufficient protein, calcium, vitamin D and iron and zinc.