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Back to School Healthy Nutrition for Children

Back to School | Healthy Nutrition for Children

Food habits start from early childhood. If you feed your baby, toddler or child sugary drinks, crisps and sweets they will be eating and drinking them as adults. If you keep their diet free of junk food and only give them healthy food as babies you will be setting them up for a healthy life right from the start.

But, what should you feed your child and how much should you give them? For a new parent this can be a minefield. Especially when they start going to school. There, their level of activity will probably rise and they will need to be concentrating and learning at far higher intensities than previously. They will need more stamina, the ability to think and reason more clearly, all while still growing.

Then, there is puberty. If you think about it, children’s minds and bodies have so much going on inside it is no wonder they are so reluctant to get up in the mornings.

The best guide your children can have in terms of diet is you. You cannot expect your child to enthusiastically eat broccoli if you refuse to touch it. Nor can you expect your child to drink water if all you drink are sugar-laden energy drinks. Avoid giving your child sweet, fizzy drinks, energy drinks or low-calorie drinks as all these are laden with sugar.

A growing body needs the right nutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fat, all of which are the fuel required in order to develop correctly. Not only that, but they need these elements in different amounts at different ages.

Nutritious and nutrient-dense foods to include in your child’s diet, unless they are allergic to any of them are:

Lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, unsalted nuts and seeds.
Lunchbox possibilities: Chicken drumsticks, lamb sausages, hard-boiled eggs, snap-beans, small packet of nuts.


A variety of fresh fruit. Try to avoid shop-bought fruit juices as these have added sugar in them and usually all the fibre has been removed. Instead, make your own fruit juices and leave the fibre in. Dried fruit’s sugars are concentrated so limit the amount of those. One quarter cup of dried fruit is the same as one cup of fresh fruit.
Lunchbox possibilities: Apple, pear, banana, dates, diced coconut, orange, naartjie, pineapple cubes, mango cubes, strawberries, blueberries, a small avocado or avocado chunks – do not forget to drench these in lemon juice or they will go brown.


The bane of every child’s life. Introduce them to your child’s diet as early as possible. Fresh, organic vegetables are best. You don’t need a large property to grow your own as most vegetables grow well in pots. Have a good mix of colours – green, dark green, purple, red, orange, yellow and white. Have leafy, starchy and bean varieties as well.
Lunchbox possibilities: Romaine lettuce, blanched red, yellow or orange pepper strips, small radish, baby tomatoes, broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, carrot slices, cucumber cubes as well as a small tub of hummus they can use as a dip.


If you can’t cut out grains rather choose whole grains like oatmeal instead of sugary breakfast cereals. Instead of pasta and rice rather have quinoa, brown or wild rice. And if you must eat bread rather have whole-wheat or rye bread.
Lunchbox possibilities: Rye bread, chicken and salad sandwich; Rye bread, tuna and mayo sandwich; Rye bread, sardine and mayo sandwich. Avoid shop-bought sardines in tomato sauce as the sauce can be high in sugar and salt.


For good bone health and development include milk, sugar-free yoghurt, cheese, butter and fortified soy beverages in your child’s diet.
Lunchbox possibilities: Chunks of cheese, a small tub of sugar-free yoghurt – add fresh fruit like strawberries and blueberries. Do not give your child yoghurts with fruit already added as these contain large quantities of sugar and preservatives.

Foods and drinks to avoid

Additives including sugar

Sugar occurs naturally in fruit and milk. It is the added sugar that your child needs to avoid. Sugars like refined white sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey etc.

Saturated and Trans fats

Fat is both good and bad for you. It all depends on the fat in question. Fats to avoid are trans fats, also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. The best fats are those which provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E. These include olive oil, butter, nuts, avocados and oily fish such as sardines.

Unhealthy snacks

Children are born with a sweet-tooth and while it is impossible to stop them from having sweets, cakes and other unhealthy foods all the time, the trick is to not have them at home or to use them as treats. Seen as treats, these unhealthy foods become desirable and make it that much harder to keep your child on the path to a healthy life. Unhealthy snacks include most breads and specifically white bread, candy, cake, breakfast cereals – these are laden with sugar and salt, low-cocoa content chocolate like milk chocolate, biscuits, syrup, honey, doughnuts, ice cream, jam, jelly, molasses, muffins, pancakes, pizza, pudding and waffles.

Packaged or processed foods

Avoid packaged or processed foods as these carry hidden sugar and salt which may not be listed on the label. Another processed food to avoid is processed cheese. Yes, those already sliced cheeses do make it easier when making your child’s sandwiches but they are not healthy.

Keeping your child on a healthy diet may mean a complete revamp of your own diet. If you need help in creating a diet plan to suit you and your family, contact your doctor and set up an appointment today.

For more information please contact:
Lorisha Singh RD (SA)
BSC Med (Hon) Diet, IPPN UWA, PGPN Boston University of Medicine | Consultant Clinical Dietician
Shifa Private Hospital
Telephone: +27 31 240 5000
Ethekwini Hospital & Heart Centre (Suite 10)
Telephone: +27 31 581 2411
Email: info@lenmed.co.za or admin@lorishasingh.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis