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Why older children need good food

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:

All children, especially girls, need iron-rich diets

What happens if children are not well fed

Hungry children cannot study well

Older children who are hungry or who have poor diets are likely to:

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.

Feeding older children and adolescents

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:

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:

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

Other ways to improve older children’s nutrition


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?

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