Food needs are high during adolescence
Like other members of the family, children of school age and youths need to eat healthy, balanced diets. It is especially important that girls eat well so that when they are women, they are well nourished and can produce healthy babies.
Appendix 2, Table 4, shows the nutrient needs of older children. Notice that:
the needs for most nutrients increase as girls and boys reach puberty because they are growing so quickly and often gain half their final body weight during adolescence (10-18 years). Adolescent boys have especially high energy needs and that is why they are often hungry and eat large quantities of food;
girls needs for iron more than double when they start to menstruate. After this time and until menopause, girls and women always need much more iron than boys and men (see Topic 5, page 48);
if adolescent girls become pregnant, they have even higher nutrient needs. These can be met by giving larger or more frequent meals and snacks, selecting foods particularly high in nutrient content, and ensuring that the diet includes a wide variety of foods. The combination of pregnancy and growth makes iron needs so high that it is usually advisable to give iron supplements.
All children, especially girls, need iron-rich diets
Hungry children cannot study well
Older children who are hungry or who have poor diets are likely to:
have little energy to play, study or do physical work;
be anaemic and/or lack vitamin A or iodine (see Section C, page 9, and Topic 11, page 91).
Children who are hungry have short attention spans and do not do as well at school as they should.
Overweight and obesity among children and youths are becoming problems in some places, especially urban areas. Children, like adults, are at risk of becoming overweight or obese if they eat too much, especially energy-rich food (e.g. fatty and/or sugary foods), and consume too many fizzy drinks, and are not physically active.
All children need three meals and some snacks each day
You can help the older children and youths in your area to be well nourished if you advise their parents to give them three good meals and some snacks each day. Children should have:
breakfast. This is always important but especially so if the child has to walk a long way to school or work and/or does not eat much at midday. One example of a good breakfast is a starchy food (porridge, bread or cooked cassava) with milk, margarine, peanut butter or cooked beans, and fruit;
a meal in the middle of the day (see Figure 11). Parents should try to give children a variety of different foods if they take food to school or work (e.g. bread, an egg and some fruit). If children buy food from street vendors or kiosks, they should know which foods give the best value for money (see Topic 2, page 27). If schools in the area provide meals or snacks, you may want to suggest ways to make these as nutrient-rich as possible, for example, by increasing the combination of foods used. If a school has a garden, you may want to make suggestions for increasing the variety of foods grown;
a meal later in the day. This may be the biggest meal of the day for many children and so it should be a good mixed meal (see Topic 3). Make sure parents realize that fast-growing children are usually hungry children and that they are not being greedy if they want to eat a lot.
Discourage sticky, sugar-rich and salty snacks
There are examples of suitable snacks for older children in Topic 3. Children should know that sweets, sodas and lollies:
can cause tooth decay;
can result in an unbalanced diet if eaten in large amounts;
are poor value for money.
The risk of tooth decay is greatest when foods contain large amounts of sugars and starch that stick to the teeth (sweets/candy, dried fruits, for example) and are eaten often, and when oral hygiene is poor (no or insufficient tooth brushing).
Salty snacks, such as packets of crisps, may also be poor value as they give few nutrients and too much salt, and are costly.
Some children, especially adolescent girls, need to know that it can be dangerous to diet. It is better to stay slim and healthy by eating good foods and being physically active.
Figure 11. School-age children need good food in the middle of the day
Advise parents to use iodized salt in family meals if it is available. People who lack iodine cannot work or study well. Iodine-deficient girls who become pregnant risk having a baby who is mentally or physically damaged (see Section C, page 9).
Deworm children regularly, especially those with heavy wormloads. Deworming improves growth and helps to prevent anaemia.
Make sure that girls and boys know how to avoid unwanted pregnancies (see Topic 5) and HIV/AIDS (which often leads to malnutrition). If a child or youth is HIV+, give advice on feeding (see Topic 10, page 85).
Teach children about good nutrition in schools and clubs.
SHARING THIS INFORMATION
Before sharing this information with children and their families, you may need to:
1. Find out. What meals and snacks are eaten at home by older children and youths. What meals and snacks are provided by schools, employers and vendors. How often children eat. What is eaten for breakfast. How many children do not eat breakfast. What the blocks to feeding older children better are (money, knowledge, time, customs). What the nutrition problems of older children and youths are. What knowledge of nutrition older children have and what they want to learn.
2. Prioritize. Decide which information is most important to share with parents, other caregivers and children.
3. Decide whom to reach. For example: mothers, fathers, other caregivers, older children and youths, and school and youth club staff.
4. Choose communication methods. For example: talks, discussions, quizzes, competitions and demonstrations of good meals and snacks, at community and parent/teacher group meetings, and at schools and youth (e.g.Young Farmers) and child-to-child clubs.
Examples of questions to start a discussion
(choose only a few that deal with the information families or children need most)
Why do older children need good meals? What happens if children do not eat well?
Do girls and boys have different nutrient and food needs at different ages?
How often should older children eat?
Why do children need breakfast? Do older children usually eat breakfast? What do they eat? Could we improve breakfasts?
Do children get food at school? Do they take food to school? Are these good mixed meals and snacks? Can we improve the foods children eat during the day?
Do children get a good meal in the evening? Should parents improve these meals? If so, how?
Which snacks or meals do children buy from vendors? Do they know which are good value and which are poor value?