12 February 2007

More diet tips for preschoolers

How much should your five-year-old eat and how would you know if the child's diet is balanced? Certain growth patterns can be used to judge if food intake is adequate.

How much should your five-year-old eat and how would you know if the child's diet is balanced? Certain growth patterns can be used to judge if food intake is adequate, and also how much food preschool children should actually eat. DietDoc explains.

a) Weight

By the time a toddler has reached the age of three, one would expect her to weigh about 13 kg. In the next three years the child’s weight should increase to 20 kg, thus about 2 kg per year, with four-year-olds weighing about 15 kg, five-year-olds weighing 17 kg and six-year-olds attaining a weight of approximately 20 kg.

Do not expect your child’s weight to increase steadily, because growth in young children goes by fits and starts. Your child’s weight may suddenly stand still for months, only to be followed by a growth spurt. Many factors can also affect the rate of growth. If your child is ill or highly stressed by unfortunate family dynamics, then she may not grow as rapidly as during periods when she is healthy and the family environment is calm and supportive.

If your child gains weight more rapidly than described above, you need to investigate why this is happening. Disproportionate weight gain in preschool children can be due to underlying physiological problems and the first step is always to have the child examined by a paediatrician.

If the child is given a clean bill of health, then you must take a long hard look at your child’s food intake and level of activity. Fat children often develop into fat adults, and being overweight is one of the most important things you need to prevent if your child is to grow into a healthy adult.

Don’t overfeed your children, force them to eat food when they are satiated, or worry if they are slender. Ensure that your child gets plenty of exercise and does not sit in front of the TV all day. If the child is very overweight and there is no underlying pathology, then it is a good idea to consult a clinical dietician, so that she can work out a diet for the child that assists with weight loss, but still supplies all the vital nutrients your child needs for growth and development.

b) Height
Preschool children are expected to attain a height of about 112 cm by the time they reach the age of six, in other words, an average height increase from 90 cm at three years, to 112 cm at six years, which represents a growth of 22 cm. As is the case with weight increases, one would expect the child to increase its height by about 7 cm per year with 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds reaching heights of about 97 cm, 104 cm and 112 cm, respectively.

Increases in height also do not occur smoothly and you can expect periods when the child’s height does not increase for a few months, followed by growth spurts that can be surprising when your son or daughter suddenly shoots up like a young tree.

Parents are generally less concerned about the height of their children than about their weight. But, if your child is really not getting any taller, you also need to have him assessed by a paediatrician to check if there is not an underlying problem, such as a lack of growth hormone.

How much food does a preschool child require?
According to international recommendations, children between the ages of four and six years of age, require the following:

Food requirements of preschool children aged 4-6 years

Food Portion size Number of servings per day
Milk 1/2 - 3/4 cup 3 - 4
Cheese 15 - 25 g
Yogurt 1/2 cup
Meat, fish, poultry 30 - 60 g 2
Egg One egg can replace 30 g meat
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons (30 g) can replace 30 g meat
Cooked dry beans, peas or lentils 4 - 5 tablespoons (60 - 75 g) can replace 30 g meat
Fruit and vegetables 4 - 6
Cooked 3 - 4 tablespoons (45 - 60 g)
Raw A few pieces
Raw 1/2 - 1 small fruit
Canned 4 - 6 tablespoons (60 - 90 g)
Juice 120 ml (120 g)
Bread and cereals 3
Bread, wholewheat or enriched 1 slice
Cooked cereal 1/2 cup cooked
Dry breakfast cereal 1 cup

* Remember to include one dark green or dark yellow vegetable a day for vitamin A, e.g. spinach, carrots, pumpkin, broccoli.
**Remember to include one vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable a day, e.g. citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, naartjies), strawberries, spanspek, pawpaw or cabbage, broccoli, sweet peppers.

- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc


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