Your Health

Healthy diet best for kids

A balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables should satisfy the nutritional requirements of most children and teens, says a clinical dietitian with Children's Hospital.

Dayna Weiten says young people are constantly growing and accumulating bone mass, which underscores the need for a diet rich in vitamins and minerals.

For example, guidelines released by Health Canada last year list the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D for children between the ages of one and 19 at 600 IU per day. And while vitamin D is added to milk, margarine and some yogurts and juices, Weiten says it is "not realistic to rely only on these foods to meet the total requirement" for vitamin D.

She recommends including fish in the diet, as this is another good source of vitamin D, as well as important omega 3 fatty acids. If parents are concerned their child is not getting enough vitamin D, they should consult with their family physician or health-care practitioner.

Milk and milk products like cheese and yogurt are also good sources of calcium, which is needed to build strong bones and teeth. It is recommended that children between the ages of four and eight consume 1,000 milligrams a day - the equivalent of about three glasses of milk, says Weiten. That increases to 1,300 milligrams per day for older children. Children and teens should have the recommended number of servings of milk and milk products to meet their calcium needs.

It's also important to ensure children get adequate amounts of folate, which contributes to cell development. Ideally, children should get about 150 to 400 micrograms of folate a day, depending on their age.

Good food sources are dark green vegetables, oranges and meats.

Iron is another mineral that is important to good health. Iron deficiency can cause anemia - a condition common in toddlers. Affected little ones become irritable, and the condition affects their energy levels, appetite, ability to learn and physical development.

It is recommended that children consume seven to 15 milligrams a day, depending on the age of the child. That's why Weiten suggests parents give iron-fortified cereals for snacks instead of cookies and crackers and provide iron-rich protein sources such as meats, eggs, or legumes at meals. Iron supplements should only be given when recommended by the child's doctor.

Healthy children who eat a balanced diet do not need vitamin supplements. If parents choose to give a multivitamin to their child, they should pick one without sugar, dyes or oils. If you have any questions about what is right for your child, consult your family doctor.

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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