Sometimes it feels like a major success when we get our children to eat anything at all! Especially without resorting to bribery…
But are they eating the right foods to support their health and wellbeing? Despite our best intentions, packed lunches often come home unpacked, teens follow fad diets, or kids simply decide something "tastes funny".
This could lead to a lack of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Find out which ones might be missing and how you can get them back on the menu.
Your child needs calcium
A daily glass of milk is a key part of any child’s diet – packed with calcium, vitamin D and protein, it’s ideal for helping to build healthy bones and teeth. While boys are getting enough calcium, the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey reveals nearly 20 per cent of girls are not.
This could be due to believing myths about diary – such as milk and cheese cause acne – or trying to follow a dairy-free diet without proper advice. Talk to your children about the need for calcium in our diets, but if they really can’t deal with dairy, alternative sources include broccoli, almonds, nuts and seeds, calcium supplements and calcium-enriched soya products.
Your child needs vitamin D
We make most of our vitamin D via the sun’s rays on our skin, but poor British winters and scrupulous sun safety could be causing low vitamin D levels in our children. Some experts even say that everyone in the UK is at risk of a vitamin D deficiency!
We need vitamin D to help absorb calcium properly, support our immune system, and maintain muscle health. Kids who get too little can develop rickets, a soft-bone condition, while adults may be at risk of osteoporosis.
All children up to the age of five can get vitamin D drops from their GP, while older children can take suitable vitamin D supplements. You can also find vitamin D in fortified formulas, oily fish and eggs. Encourage your children to play outside too, but take care of their skin in strong sunshine.
Your child needs vitamin C
Got a fussy eater? You know how tricky it is to get them to eat properly, especially when it comes to fruit and veg. Government figures show only 10 per cent of boys and 7 per cent of girls are hitting their 5-a-day target, which can contribute to low vitamin C levels.
Vitamin C is vital for healthy skin, protecting our immune system and also helps us absorb iron. Brightly coloured fruit and veggies, especially something kids can eat easily like berries or carrot sticks, can encourage them to tuck in. If you need more ideas for fussy eaters, watch our expert video on making the perfect packed lunch
Your child needs vitamin A
Vitamin A is essential for children; it maintains healthy skin – good for all those bumps and bruises – plays an important role in developing their vision, and helps protect them from infection. Unfortunately, 13 per cent of UK kids are not getting enough vitamin A.
One reason could be not eating enough fruit and vegetables, as our body converts carotenoids found in yellow, red and orange fruit and veg into vitamin A. Try ‘hiding’ these foods in your kids’ meals by adding grated carrots to chilli con carne, for example, or get them interested in cooking their own food.
Your child needs iron
Many young girls suffer from an iron deficiency; the most recent figures suggest 46 per cent have low iron intakes, putting them at risk of anaemia. Without enough iron, we struggle to transport oxygen around our body, causing tiredness. So your lazy teen may just be lacking in iron!
The best sources of iron are animal products, but if your child is seriously anti-steak, lean lamb or pork meat is also rich in iron. Veggie sources include eggs, pulses, leafy greens and fortified cereals, but give them a glass of orange juice with meals to help absorb plant irons properly.
Looking for recipes the whole family will enjoy? Check out our healthy eating section.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies