An individual’s diet has a powerful influence on their health and wellbeing, in both the short and long term. By following a healthy diet you provide your body with the necessary nutrients to maintain and improve your mental and physical wellbeing, as well as providing protection against a range of chronic diseases. Poor diets are major contributors to the national and global burden of disease. In the UK alone, a majority of children are not consuming enough fruit, vegetables, fibre or oily fish and are instead consuming excessive amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and salt. Poor dietary behaviour is a major risk factor for health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer and dementia as well as increasing the occurrence of nutritional deficiencies and obesity.
Studies have also found that the development of not just a healthy diet but also a healthy lifestyle is important for enhancing academic performance. A study from 2016 found that by implementing a health program in a school and teaching students about healthy eating, student eating habits appeared to improve.
It is important to know just how many calories you and your children should be consuming every day to stay healthy. The amount of calories you require differs by age and also the level of regular physical activity you are getting. As energy needs are dependent on size it is important to recognise that children will require more calories as they grow older unlike adults where less calories are required at older ages.
Generally speaking, to follow a well-balanced diet, your child should be eating a wide variety of nutritious foods from each of the different food groups. The UK government has come up with a policy tool known as the Eatwell Guide which has recommendations for eating healthily and achieving a well-balanced diet. The Eatwell Guide is a visual representation of how different foods and drinks should be contributing towards a healthier, well-balanced diet. It is based on the five food groups and shows how much of what you are eating should be coming from each food group.
One of the best ways to encourage your child to eat healthily is by becoming a role model yourself and leading by example. You may also need to become creative in the kitchen by making food fun – cut foods into funny shapes, make faces out of the food and make meal preparation an enjoyable process for your children. By allowing your children to experiment with different flavours and textures of food you can increase their interest.
You can also involve your children in food shopping and discuss with them where different fruits and vegetables come from. Remind your children that different colours of fruits and vegetables all contain different combinations of nutrients. Encourage your child to think of a rainbow of colour with their food to ensure a variety of nutrients.
For more information on the importance of a healthy diet in children, see our Childhood Nutrition and Obesity Prevention Course.