Fibre is important for bowel health. An adequate fibre intake is especially important for kids because constipation is common in younger years. Constipation can be caused by inadequate fibre and/or fluid intake. Including lots of fibre-rich foods in youth may also reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and type II diabetes in later years. Foods that contain fibre include vegetables, legumes, fruit, wholegrain cereal products and oats.
Fluid requirements for kids are high compared with adults because they are more susceptible to losses through evaporation. Kids should be encouraged to choose water as a drink. Water satisfies thirst without contributing energy (kilojoules) and sugar. Excessive intake of sweetened drinks, like fruit juice, cordial and soft drinks, is associated with an increased risk for tooth decay, overweight and obesity.
Milk and soy drinks are also fluids, but they are classified as foods because of their high protein and energy content.
Bones grow rapidly during childhood, and continue to grow and thicken until the late 30’s. After this age, bone mass is gradually lost and they become thinner and more brittle. This can lead to a condition known as osteoporosis, where weakened bones increase the risk of fracture and breakage. Calcium intake is an important factor in bone mass. To achieve strong bones in later life it is important for kids to have an adequate calcium intake. Calcium is also vital for strong, healthy teeth.
Dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese are the richest source of calcium. Children aged 4 and under can enjoy full-fat dairy foods in moderation as low-fat diets are not recommended at this age. Over the age of 4, reduced- or low-fat dairy foods can be introduced.
Other calcium-containing foods include broccoli, some types of tofu, calcium-fortified drinks and cereals, sardines and salmon (with bones), nuts and seeds.
Iron helps the blood carry oxygen to the body’s cells, and is vital for brain development and immune function. Kids have high iron requirements because of rapid growth rates and expanding blood volume during childhood and adolescence. Kids who don’t get enough dietary iron will eventually develop anaemia which can cause fatigue, and delayed physical and mental development.
Red meat is the richest source of dietary iron and can be eaten 3 to 4 times per week. Other sources of dietary iron include legumes, fish, eggs and nuts. Vegetarian sources of iron should be consumed in conjunction with foods that contain vitamin C, as it increases the uptake of iron from plant foods. Citrus fruits and juices are a good source of vitamin C.
Vitamin C has many functions in the body: it is used for the production of connective tissue in skin, blood vessels, bones and gums, it helps the immune system heal wounds and fight infection, and its antioxidant properties help protect cells from damage. Citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, tomatoes, red capsicum, broccoli and cauliflower are rich in vitamin C.