12 February 2007

Diets for schoolkids: Problem areas

In this article, DietDoc takes a look at certain nutritional problem areas that feature between the ages of seven and ten years in the child's life.

In this article, DietDoc takes a look at certain nutritional problem areas that feature between the ages of seven and ten years in the child's life.

Skipping breakfast
Studies have repeatedly shown that skipping breakfast has a negative effect on the following:

a) Academic performance
b) Concentration
c) Mood
d) Energy
c) Overeating and obesity
d) Dietary deficiencies

Unfortunately many young children just don’t get a proper breakfast before they go to school. This has a negative impact on behaviour and the child's ability to learn. If your family members tend to grab a cup of coffee and run off in different directions every morning, you're all heading for nutritional problems. Unfortunately young school-going children are especially at risk.

You are responsible for ensuring that your schoolchildren have a balanced breakfast each morning. This will require quite an effort and a lot of discipline from you, but if you can prevent all the negative effects listed above, it is not only worthwhile, but also necessary.

The first step is to ensure that you have easy to prepare and nutritious food available for breakfast:

  • Breakfast cereals - choose cereals which have a high fibre content such as muesli, high-fibre Pronutro, Wheetbix, or oats (use the high-bran, instant variety to save time)
  • Low-fat milk or yoghurt
  • Fruit juices - buy longlife packs as they generally do not contain additives or preservatives
  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Eggs - serve boiled or poached
  • Wholewheat bread, rolls, muffins or Provita
  • Nutritious spreads (peanut butter), or cheese
  • Jam or honey for energy

The simplest breakfasts are often the most nutritious.

Example of a simple breakfast:

  • Fruit (½ to one banana or 1/4 cup boiled dried fruit) or fruit juice (100 ml)
  • Breakfast cereal with milk or yoghurt (one Wheetbix with 1/4 cup of yoghurt)
  • Wholewheat toast with peanut butter and polyunsaturated margarine (one slice toast with one tablespoon of peanut butter and one teaspoon of Flora (optional))
  • Glass of low-fat milk

Dietary deficiencies
School-going children are vulnerable to deficiencies of iron, calcium, B-vitamins and dietary fibre.

a) Iron
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional disorders of childhood. It can impact seriously on your child’s ability to learn and concentrate. Typical symptoms are tiredness, paleness, irritability, poor marks at school and listlessness.

To prevent iron deficiency, make sure of the following:

  • That your child does not have worms. Take the child for a checkup to make sure that she does not have a worm infestation and if she does, treat her with appropriate medication as prescribed by your doctor.
  • That your child eats foods that are rich in bioavailable iron (i.e. iron that is easily absorbed by the body), such as egg yolk, red meat, poultry, fish, dried fruit and iron-fortified cereals.
  • That your child takes an iron supplement if prescribed by your doctor.

b) Calcium
Schoolchildren need plenty of calcium to ensure that their bones and teeth grow properly. The following foods are excellent sources of calcium:

  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yoghurt and cottage cheese
  • All types of cheese
  • Soya milk if your child is allergic to cow’s milk

Ensure that your school-going child has at least two cups of milk a day, plus ½ cup of yoghurt or cottage cheese, or 30 g of cheese. Use low-fat flavoured milk and yoghurt if your child does not like the taste of plain milk.

c) B-vitamins
The entire group of B-vitamins (B1, B2, niacin, B6, folic acid, B12, pantothenic acid, biotin) are essential for health and energy. If your child is listless, tires easily, has no appetite and suffers from irritability, then you need to check if he/she is getting enough B-vitamins.

Basically a diet that is rich in unsifted, unprocessed grains and cereals (wholewheat bread, oats, fortified breakfast cereals, brown rice, unsifted maize meal, Maltabella), legumes (cooked or canned dry beans, pea or lentils), and fruit and vegetables, will provide all the B-vitamins, except B12. The latter B-vitamin can only be found in foods derived from animals (eggs, red meat, poultry, fish).

d) Dietary fibre
Many schoolchildren suffer from constipation, which is one of the problems associated with a practically fibre-free diet. If your child is eating white bread, highly-refined cereal or maize meal, white rice, meat, cakes, biscuits, and drinking litres of cold drinks, then it is not surprising that he is constipated.

Don’t start your young child on the vicious cycle of taking laxatives - you will ruin his young intestines for the rest of his life. Rather make sure that the above-mentioned practically fibre-free diet changes to a high-fibre diet (see all the foods listed above under B-vitamins).

One of the best ways to ensure your school-going child's regularity is to soak dried fruit overnight, and to boil it with sugar or honey. This can be served with breakfast cereal. Exercise is also good for bowel regularity, so encourage your child to take part in sport and to be as physically active as possible. – (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc




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