Nutritional needs for two to twelve year old

Mental development and learning are very rapid between the ages of two and 12 years and good nutrition is essential to enable children to develop their full potential. In addition, physical growth is continuing. Children learn good eating habits from the example set by their parents and a good diet can educate their taste. Snacks and treats should be chosen from wholesome foods such as fruit, popcorn, cheese and raw vegetables, which children often prefer to cooked vegetables. High fat, high-salt snacks and fizzy drinks should be avoided as for as possible.

Pre-school nutritional needs

The slowing of growth that marks the end of the first year continues until the child is about three. Many two-year-olds develop strong likes and dislikes as well as going through phases of eating virtually nothing and, although this makes parents very anxious, it is probably best to avoid battles about food. Simply continue to provide good food and try to avoid offering bribes and rewards in the form of sweet food. Small children's likes and dislikes can change very rapidly, so it is worth trying again, after a suitable amount of time has passed and the memory forgotten, with a food that has previously been rejected.

The early years of school

It is impossible to keep school-aged children away from peer pressure to eat a less nutritious diet. However, encouraging an interest in wholesome food, reaching agreement with them about planning and preparing meals, and enlisting their help in preparing their packed lunches, all help to interest them in good nutrition. Children perform better at school if they have eaten breakfast, preferably consisting of wholegrain cereals plus a protein food, such as an egg. If breakfast consists of sugary foods, the initial burst of energy will soon wear off. After-school snacks should be low in refined sugar. Whole-grain foods, nuts and fruit, including dried fruit, are ideal. Although snacks should not be allowed to spoil the appetite for a family meal, a child who is too hungry may not be able to eat either.

Providing for energy and growth

Children need plenty of carbohydrate for energy and protein for growth. The exact amounts depend on how much they weigh and how much they do. Young children may eat very little if they have a minor illness, but make up for it by eating more than usual when they recover.

Children will nearly always eat:

  • Home-made rissoles or burgers, either vegetarian or meat, with wholemeal buns, and tomato sauce, home-made if possible
  • Baked potato with cheddar or cottage cheese, or minced meat, and/ or baked beans
  • Pizza: use a wholemeal base and add a generous topping that includes acceptable vegetables and cheese
  • Pasta, preferably wholemeal, with a sauce made from tomato, cheese or meat
  • Whole-flour pancakes. If you serve them with molasses, you will be providing a rich mixture of B-vitamins and calcium

What about supplements?

Minerals and vitamins are best obtained from a broadly based whole-food diet. However, many parents provide mineral and vitamin supplements to reassure themselves that their children are obtaining the basic recommended allowances If you are giving supplements, follow the dosage advice on the bottle, as it changes according to age. Vitamins A and D and some minerals, such as selenium, are toxic at relatively low doses.

To avoid dietary imbalance, mineral and vitamin supplements should not usually be taken in large doses.