At ABC Happy Kids, serving a well-balanced and healthy meal to the children we care for is very important to us. We believe promoting good nutritional choices should start at an early age when children are most impressionable. That is why we encourage our teachers to join the children at the eating table to model appropriate behavior and good eating choices. Both of our centers have a full kitchen staff and food is prepared fresh daily. The children's meals and snacks are rotated every 6 weeks to offer a full variety of different foods.
During early childhood, children begin to establish habits for eating and exercise that stick with them for their entire lives. If children establish healthy habits, their risk for developing many chronic diseases will be greatly decreased.
In contrast to the rapid physical growth and development experienced during infancy and adolescence, the childhood years, loosely defined as the years between 2 and 11, are typically characterized by much slower and more stable physical growth. On average, children gain 4 to 7 pounds and gain 1 to 4 inches per year. At approximately age 10 or 11 the rate of growth once again begins to increase, an indication that the child will soon enter puberty. As a result of this slower physical growth and development, the body's needs for certain nutrients, most notably calories and protein, is not as high as during infancy. Interestingly, the body naturally compensates for this, and as a result, it is not at all uncommon to see a young child with a decreased or inconsistent appetite.
It is important for school-age children to meet the recommended intake levels of all essential vitamins and minerals. The Dietary Reference Intakes for this age group are shown in the table below. The nutrients highlighted below are of special importance:
Caloric needs vary depending on the child's current rate of growth, the amount of physical activity, and the child's metabolism. It is important that children consume enough calories to ensure proper growth and to spare protein from being used for energy. Children aged 2 to 3 years, 4 to 6 years, and 7 to 10 years require approximately 1300, 1800, and 2000 calories, respectively.
The amount of protein needed per kilogram of body weight decreases after infancy and early childhood, from 1.2 gram/kg at 3 years to 1 gram/kg at 10 years. On average, children in the United States consume considerably more protein than is required for health.
Many children consume too much dietary fat, which can lead to excessive calorie consumption and weight gain. As a result, nutrition experts believe that by the age of 5, children should follow adult recommendations for the consumption of fat. These recommendations suggest that total fat intake not exceed 30% of calories and saturated fat should account for no more than 10% of total calories. In addition, cholesterol intake should not exceed 300 mg per day.
With the growing recognition of the importance of dietary fiber to health, children, like adults, are encouraged to increase their dietary fiber intake. Children should consume their age plus 5 grams of fiber per day.
Calcium is necessary for proper bone growth and maintenance of bone density. School age children require 500 to 1300 mg per day. Although many foods contain calcium, milk is the primary source of calcium in the diets of children in the United States. So, children who do not drink milk, must take care to include a variety of food sources of calcium in their diet. In addition, adequate intake vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption and to ensure calcium deposition in bone tissue.
The eating habits and attitudes about food displayed by parents have tremendous influence on the food choices of children. In fact, the food likes and dislikes that become firmly established during childhood are, to a large extent, shaped by the food likes and dislikes of parents. As any parent knows, instilling healthy eating habits in children is challenging and requires patience, and ABC Happy Kids will do what we can to assist our parents.