A healthy and balanced diet ensures that children get the right kind and amount of nutrients needed for proper growth and development. Healthy nutrition reduces the risk of children getting malnourished and prevents the eventual development of health problems in the young including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. A balanced diet also contributes to strengthening children’s learning potentials and overall well-being.1
Are Filipino kids eating the right kind of food?
It has been found out that feeding and eating experiences early in life shape dietary preferences and ultimately the quality of nutrition throughout childhood2. The Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) recommends that children aged 3-5 years old, as part of their Pinggang Pinoy food guide should consume at every meal the following in proper proportions: carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables and fruits. Recent studies however have shown that Filipino children as young as 7 months old are being given soda3 and are exposed to unhealthy food choices (ex. French fries, deep fried burgers, sugar sweetened beverages) which lead to poor dietary habits. Young children are now developing preference for sweet and salty foods which contribute to a lot of dietary inadequacies resulting to nutrient deficiencies later on.
The road to a balanced meal
How can we address these dietary inadequacies due to poor dietary habits?
The key to a healthy and balanced diet is dietary diversification. This involves increasing the consumption of a variety of food from different food groups in order to provide a balance of nutrients in the diet4. Children’s diet should contain both macronutrients (i.e., carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals).
As a general guide, kids should eat:5
- Fruits and vegetables - Include a great variety of fresh fruits and vegetables because these are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Whole grains - These include brown rice, whole grain bread, cereals, and whole grain pasta. Limit refined grains and choose the less processed grains.
- Dairy - Encourage children to drink milk with 100% lactose and no sugar. Fat-free or low-fat dairy products are also recommended. Other examples of dairy products are yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
- Lean meat and fish - These are good sources of protein, B vitamins, iron, zinc, and essential fatty acids.
Milk for all ages
Interestingly, preschoolers and school-age children, as they get older, are observed to drink less milk and consume more of sweetened beverages3. Because of this, for every 10 Filipino children from 6 months to 5 years, only 3 meet the daily requirement for calcium. Milk contains calcium needed for the development of strong bones and teeth. Strong bones are essential for growth, physical activity, and motor development. For these reasons, children and teenagers are recommended to include milk in their daily meals.
Limiting sugar and fat
The following should be limited in a child’s diet:5
- Added sugars such as brown sugar, corn sweetener, added table sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Naturally-occurring sugars in fruit and milk are not added sugars.
- Saturated and trans fats that mainly come from animal sources like red meat, poultry, and full dairy products. Try replacing these fats with vegetable and nut oils, which provide essential fatty acids and Vitamin E.
In this age where nothing can be taken for granted, children’s nutrition must be on top priority. Important dietary changes in children and adolescents include increasing milk intake and limiting the consumption of non-nutritious foods and sweetened beverages. These must not be overlooked in order to prevent the incidence of undernutrition, being overweight, and obesity over time.
Children must be given the right nutrition they need in order to grow healthy and strong. A balance of the nutrients present in a diverse diet is what children deserve so that they will reach their full potential.
1. World Health Organization. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health [Internet]. 2020 [cited 18 May 2020]. Available from: https://www.who.int/nmh/wha/59/dpas/en.
2. Fuller, C et al. helping preschoolers become healthy eaters. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. 2005;19:178-182.
3. Denney L, Angeles-Agdeppa I, et al. Nutrient Intakes and Food Sources of Filipino Infants, Toddlers and Young Children are Inadequate: Findings from the National Nutrition Survey 2013. Nutrients 2018;10: 1730.
4. Pai UA, et al. The role of nutrition in immunity in infants and toddlers: An expert panel opinion. Clin Epidemiol Glob Health. 2018 Dec;6: 155-159.
5. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Nutrition for Kids: Guidelines for a Healthy Diet [Internet]. 2017 July 15 [cited 18 May 2020]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/….
6. Osborne L et al. Pediatrics. 1st ed, 2005; page 193-198.