Nutrient requirements in childhood

  • Energy intake (calories) should not exceed energy expenditure. Excess energy intake can lead to overweight and obesity in childhood and increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (diabetes, heart diseases, etc) in later life.
  • Carbohydrates are a source of energy in children.
  • Food sources of carbohydrates are cereals, pasta, potatoes, bread, rice as well as fruit and vegetables.
  • Children are recommended to eat bread, grains, pasta, rice or potatoes several times a day. Whole-grain cereals should be preferred due to their high fibre content.
  • Children are recommended to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh and local, several times a day- at least five servings a day. Fruit and vegetables are also a good source of dietary fibre.
  • Protein is important for growth, maintenance and repair in children.
  • Food protein sources are lean meat, fish, eggs, yogurt, cheese, milk, pulses and beans.
  • Fatty meats and meat products should be replaced with beans, legumes, lentils, fish, poultry or lean meat due to their lower content of saturated fat.
  • Fat is a source of energy and of essential fatty acids and helps the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
  • Fat intake (all types) in children should be limited to no more than 30% of daily energy intake and most saturated fats should be replaced with unsaturated vegetable oils.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids is a type of fat that the body cannot make and it should be taken from diet. Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish such as trout, sardines, salmon and mackerel.
  • Micronutrients are important for growth and having healthy body tissues, bones and immune system in childhood.
  • In adolescence, there are increased requirements for some micronutrients such as iron, calcium, zinc and folate.
  • Micronutrients in children & adolescents are covered through a varied diet including fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, eggs, dairy, fish and meat.
  • Vitamin D is important for growth, development and strong immune system in childhood.
  • Exposure of skin to sunlight is the main source of Vitamin D.
  • Examples of food sources of vitamin D are oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.
  • Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth particularly during the adolescent growth spurt when body calcium stores are concentrated.
  • Food sources are dairy products such as yogurt, milk and cheese.
  • Cream and sour cream should not be given to children and adolescents, since they contain a lot of saturated fat and little protein and essential micronutrients.
  • Low-fat milk and low-fat, low-salt dairy products (kefir, sour milk, yoghurt and cheese) are preferable to be consumed by healthy children over 2 years old.
  • The recommended dairy intake are 2-3 servings per day for children up to 11 years and 3-4 servings per day for older children.
  • Iron is important for increasing muscle mass and blood cells.
  • Adolescent girls have a high risk of aneamia due to monthly menstrual losses.
  • Food sources of iron are meat, liver, fish, eggs, pulses and green leafy vegetables (e.g., broccoli, kale, turnip, spinach).
  • The intake of vitamin C (present in most vegetables and fruit) along with plant-based iron-rich foods (e.g., beans, lentils, spinach) improves the absorption of iron from the plant-based food sources.
  • Adequate hydration is important for health.
  • In children, inadequate hydration may impair cognitive function and learning.
  • Children should cover their fluid intakes mainly from water and milk and avoid fluids with ‘empty’ calories such as sugary drinks.

According to the World Health Organisation, children should reduce:

  • The intake of foods containing saturated fat (e.g., fatty and processed meat, ice cream) and trans fat (e.g., pizza, french fries, fried chicken). In addition, steaming, baking, boiling or microwaving helps to reduce the amount of added fat in foods.
  • The intake of free sugars. Foods that are low in sugar should be preferred and refined sugar should be used sparingly, with limited frequency of sugary drinks and sweets. Sugary foods and drinks are also harmful to teeth.
  • The intake of salt. Total daily salt intake should be limited to 2g for 1–3 years old, 3 g for 4–6 years old and 5 g for 7–18 years old, including the salt in bread and processed, cured and preserved foods.