This week the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition published a report which reviewed the scientific evidence around children’s food in the 1-5 year old age group.
As you might expect they found that children are eating on average:
- Too much sugar
- Too little fibre
- Too much protein
- Too much fat
- Drinking drinks which were not recommended for little ones
- Not taking their vitamin D supplements
So, no surprises there but here are the recommendations which you may find interesting.
The recommendation is 15g a day of fibre. That hasn’t changed but the report highlighted that most of us aren’t getting this much. Including wholegrains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts (as butter or ground), seeds and plenty of fruit and veg are the way to increase fibre. Children under 2 don’t need wholegrains all the time but getting them used to these will help later on. Sprinkling seeds onto salads or cereal or mixing beans into pasta sauces are great ways to add them. If your child won’t eat brown bread, try 50/50 as an alternative.
I am sure you were told when it came to weaning that you shouldn’t add salt to babies food but the recommendation is now to not to add it to food up to the age of 5. Why? Because we are all eating too much salt and if we just eat food it is naturally in like meat, fish, fruit and veg, and foods which it is in as part of the processing like bread and cheese then we will get enough. You can still give bread and cheese, just try and give a range of other foods which don’t have salt added to balance it out.
There were no specific numbers put on sugar recommendations for little ones previously. The NHS advice was to avoid where possible. We all know how hard that is. The new guidance says to give no more than 5% of a child’s calories from sugar. We don’t want to be counting calories so what does that look like in practice?
- Try and give plain yoghurt with your own fruit added, rather than yoghurts with added sugar/fruit syrups
- Limit the portions of sugary foods like cakes and biscuits – even the ones marketed to toddlers can be high in sugars
- Opting for just milk and water to drink
Iron is a crucial nutrient, particularly as little ones grow. Red meat, oily fish, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals and pulses are good for adding iron. Enjoy these foods with fruit or veg to help the body absorb the iron. Lots of children don’t get enough iron which can leave them feeling tired. Girls especially need to get used to including iron as they have higher requirements once they go through puberty.
Alongside breastfeeding for as long as you like, having other drinks to aid hydration is important. Previously advice was to give children from 1-2 years of age whole milk (blue top) as a drink. Now from 1-5 it is advised we give whole or semi skimmed (blue or green top) and not to give 1% or skimmed until they are 5. You can use any cow’s milk before 5 in cooking. (If you don’t want or can’t have cow’s milk – unsweetened and fortified plant milks can be given as a drink from one year of age but not rice milk until age 5 due to arsenic levels)
Formula milks (including infant formula, follow-on formula, ‘growing-up’ or other ‘toddler’ milks) are not required by children aged 1 to 5 years. There may be some medical exceptions but this is for the general population.
Children under 5 should avoid all sugar sweetened drinks. Water or milk are the best options.
We ideally get all our nutrition from food however it is recognised that this is not always possible. Vitamin D particularly is an issue in the UK because it is made in our skin and we don’t get enough sunlight to be able to make enough. So “children aged 1 to 5 years should be given a daily supplement of 10 micrograms (μg) also known as 400 International Units (IU) vitamin D and 233micrograms (μg) vitamin A unless, contrary to recommendations, they are consuming more than 500ml of formula milk a day” Previously vitamin C was also on that list but SACN says “vitamin C supplements are not necessary for the general population. However, there is no evidence that taking vitamin C supplements at the current recommended level of supplementation has any adverse effects.”
There are more areas I could have covered but I wanted to highlight some key areas from the report which need our focus as parents. There is plenty more I could say about nutrition for 1-5 year olds. Feel free to ask questions or book an appointment to unpack what that looks like for you and your little one.
The full report can be found here