Whilst there has long been something of a tradition in the UK of feeding kids the same food that adults eat, the question is often asked whether this overlooks the fact that children’s nutritional needs are actually quite different from those of a fully grown adult. Are we damaging our kids by expecting them to eat the same meals as us?
The answer is fairly ambiguous. What we do know is that kids nutritional needs do differ from adults. A child under five, for example, needs to take in plenty of calories and nutrients to help with healthy growth, but in a much smaller amount of food to account for the smaller size of a child’s stomach. Children under five shouldn’t be on the same low fat diet as an adult parent might be, as they need a healthy amount of fats from sources such as full fat milk, oily fish and meat. Fibre rich dishes might fill children up too quickly meaning that they aren’t able to take in other more nutrient rich foods that are essential to healthy growth and development. Growing children need access to essential vitamins and minerals – calcium for strong bones and teeth, and growth supporting vitamins such as thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. Ensuring that kids eat their five portions of fruit and veg a day is a great way to make sure that these essential vitamins and minerals are being absorbed and this is one area where both kids and adults have quite similar dietary requirements.
In fact, despite the fact that kids’ diets have certain very specific needs, such as avoiding too much fibre and small portion sizes, there are actually quite a lot of similarities between the dietary requirements of kids and adults when it comes to the content of meals. Low salt and low sugar, for example, are essential to healthy diets for both, and saturated fats never deliver any dietary value to any age group, as well as contributing considerably to the UK’s obesity problem, and so should be kept to a minimum. Some foods designed ‘especially for kids’ often cater more to the fun side of mealtimes, rather than nutrition, and as a result sugar, salt and saturated fat can often creep in to deliver taste and appeal.
With this in mind it’s perhaps not surprising that a study by the University of Edinburgh found that children who eat the same meals as their parents actually have healthier diets in the long run. Sometimes a ‘kids option’ is actually less nutritionally valuable than the adult meal, which might contain foods that are traditionally more ‘challenging’ for kids, such as fish or vegetables. The study highlighted that where children were eating different foods to their parents at mealtimes, these foods were often less nutritious – sometimes tinned or packaged as opposed to fresh and often less balanced – so children were actually better off not being given their own options.
In the end, whether or not children should eat the same meals as their parents really comes down to the individual. Whilst children obviously need smaller portions, less fibre and more in the way of good fats, they will also benefit from starting out on the same healthy eating path as their parents at an earlier age. Getting kids involved in nutrition and what they are putting into their bodies is a great way to start the process of conscious eating from the very start.
Nutrition and sport play a key part in a healthy upbringing, and while we talk a lot about nutrition, our strength at Activate Sport is getting kids active with fun, unique camps in a variety of sports. Check out our website for more information.