As parents, we have the weighty responsibility of making sure our kids eat and drink healthy, wholesome stuff. After all, fish is good for the brain and a balance of vitamins and mineral is essential for growth. And, at the rate that kids can and do grow – overnight, they seem to shoot up! – their bodies need all the help they can get. Of course, the one thing that seems to fuel everything in their younger years is hormones. As they grow and develop, hormone levels can become out of balance; one minute they are a delightful joy, wanting hugs and affection, the next they are rampaging young people, fed up, bored and angry with the world. Hormone imbalance will eventually dissipate as everything settles in to early adulthood but in these formative years, it is essential to ensure that the food and drink they consume helps rather than hinders all the key aspects of development. But it is a tough gig, being a parent and making sure that what they consume is right for our kids.
It’s all about nutrients Knowing how a lack of or too many of one group of nutrients and ingredients affects kids’ bodies is all part of us, as parents, understanding what we should be offering our kids. However, don’t forget that a treat every now and then will not throw the scales off for ever, but regular treats should not become a habit. In many cases, a lack of water as the main source of hydration can be an issue and thus, with a poor diet and calorific soft drinks high in sugar, kids can actually be suffering more than we think.
- Nutrient-dense food is a must – fruit, veg, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, etc. are the key nutrient-dense foods whilst burgers, pizzas, ice cream and all those sweet treats are full of sugar and calories but not much else. Healthy snacks in between meals are essential too – opt for nuts and dried fruits, great for a sweet hit, without the empty sugar of sweets and chocolate.
- Wave bye-bye to the drive-through – fast food does not enjoy the best reputation when it comes to nutrients and healthy eating, not surprising when you consider how packed these items tend to be with all the stuff we should not be eating too much of. However, major retailers have been making changes to the menu, but trying to persuade the kids to have fruit instead of fries is not as easy as it sounds. If you are on a concerted health kick with the kids, ditch the drive-through.
- Water! Water! Water! – advertising and marketing by major drinks brands often suggest that some of their products can ‘hydrate the body better than water’, and faster too. As any athlete will tell you, maintaining hydration levels is the key and not allowing yourself to become dehydrated in the first place! However, kids are swayed by this advertising and, in most cases, will pick up that energy drink over and above water every time. Water hydrates the body, without the sugar hit or nasty colours and calories.
However, there is a danger in drinking too much water and thus, everything needs to be in moderation. Water intoxication is rare but can be fatal; drinking too much water too fast can lead to the kidneys and other major organs effectively being swamped and ‘drowned’.
When exercising or when it’s hot, we often encourage our children to drink extra fluids; the best fluid in this sense is water.
But this message, like the marketing of soft drinks laden with sugar, can get out of hand and thus, adults and children can go ‘over the top’.
How much water you need depends on a variety of factors such as age, weight, gender, activity level and overall health. The human body can survive up to 6 weeks without food, but you will struggle to survive a week without water.
As a general guide - please check with your doctor or health visitor first;
- A child aged between 4 and 8 years needs around 5½ cups of water a day – that’s just over 2 pints
- Boys aged between 9 and 13 years need to increase this to 10 cups, around 4 pints of water in a day
- Girls of the same age need slightly less, around 3½ pints
BUT, these quantities must not be drunk all at once, rather sipped throughout the day to maintain healthy hydration levels!
We know ourselves just how much better we feel when we are hydrated. Sugary drinks can give a quick energy lift, but there can be a dip on ‘the other side’ that can leave us feeling exhausted. Encourage kids to drink water and watch how they change!