Healthy Eating – Children to Students

teenagers eating pizza

Throughout the month of June we are chatting to Tracy Sparrow about healthy family eating. We know that it can be quite complicated and daunting when you try to cater to every individuals eating needs in your family, but it is so important for us to create this culture. Many diseases and conditions can develop from unhealthy eating habits, so throughout this series we will be sharing some practical advice on all the different stages in life and their eating needs. Today we will look at older children, from 6 upwards and their needs with regards to nutrition.

The first thing that we need to know about having healthy meals for the whole family, is what the South African Food Based Dietary Guidelines are and what they tell us to eat. They were developed to provide an efficient tool to eliminate or greatly reduce nutrition-related diseases. They provide a pattern that all South Africans five years and older should be following and they highlight 3 areas that you should look at.

A Healthy Lifestyle:

  • Enjoy a Variety of Foods
  • Be Active
  • Drink lots of Clean, Safe Water

Planning Good Meals:

  • Make Starchy Food part of Most Meals
  • Eat Plenty of Vegetables and Fruits Everyday
  • Eat Dry Beans, Split-Peas, Lentils and Soya Regularly
  • Fish, Chicken, Lean Meat or Eggs could be eaten Daily
  • Have Milk, Maas or Yogurt Everyday

Moderation and Balance:

  •  Eat Fats Sparingly; Choose Vegetable Oils rather than Hard Fats
  • Use Salt and Foods High in Salt Sparingly
  • Use Sugar and Food and Drinks High in Sugar Sparingly
  • If you drink Alcohol, Drink Sensibly

Healthy Meals for Children 

Research indicates that the nutritional intake and growth rate of younger children, up to twelve years, can have a profound effect on their susceptibility to obesity and chronic diseases in later years.

This is especially important in South Africa, where there is both under-nutrition – leading to stunted growth – and over-nutrition. There has been an alarming increase in the number of obesity related diseases in SA children, including those younger than ten and this is major concern. A shocking example of this is the many children who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a disease normally associated with overweight adults.

Pre-school children represent a particularly vulnerable sector of our society, as they are unable to make educated food choices and rely on adults for the provision of appropriate foods.

Basically, adequate nutrition intake for younger children may be reached by providing three meals and two to three small, nutritious snacks. A child’s total intake should be based on the above mentioned Dietary Guidelines. Sweet treats should be limited and sufficient water intake should also be ensured.

Some helpful ideas to add to the lunch box:

  • Brown bread sandwich with peanut butter / cheese and tomato / hummus / avo /tuna-mayo / chicken-mayo
  • Little packets: fruit/ small tomatoes / cucumber and carrot sticks / peanuts and raisins / popcorn
  • Fruit / Fruit sticks / dried fruit / yoghurt
  • Mini Pita’s / whole-wheat pancakes or crumpets /boiled baby potato / crackers like Provitas / rice cakes
  • Small sweet treat/chips: once a week or according to school request.
  • Always ensure water is available
  • Be sure to pack enough for snack breaks and after school (especially if playing extra sport or in after-school care)


Adolescence is a critical period of growth and development, so good nutrition is essential. During adolescence, the need for most nutrients including energy, protein, vitamins and minerals increases. As appetite is also likely to increase, it is important that food choices are made carefully. It can be tempting at this time to increase the intake of snack foods and fast foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Once again the South African Dietary guidelines are designed to help young people choose foods that will help them stay healthy.

Being overweight and underweight can be a concern at this time. A healthy diet will meet the needs of the individual without providing too much or too little energy (kilojoules). Following fad diets to lose weight is not recommended and may be dangerous. A healthy diet that includes a variety of foods from each food group, coupled with regular physical activity will help teenagers to grow, develop and be healthy.

During adolescence, teenagers grow and develop at different rates and it is sometimes difficult to accept a changing body. Some teenagers develop unrealistic expectations about how their body should look and may need some professional help with this. An accredited practising dietician can provide expert nutrition and dietary advice to ensure teenagers are meeting their nutritional needs. They can also work with teenagers to improve body image and self-esteem.


As a student, you usually are eating on a budget and only realise that you need food when your tummy is rumbling away (which it seems to be doing a lot). It’s important to be planning ahead when it comes to meals and stocking the cupboards. Buying take away foods may be convenient, but it’s definitely not cheaper and will increase intake of saturated fats, salt and sugar.

Look for fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season as they are much cheaper and you can usually buy them in bulk. A pocket of ranges will be perfect this time of year and it’ll boost your vitamin C intake as well, to save you from the expensive medicines you’ll need if you get sick.

A great tip is to cook in bulk (or get your mom to do it for you) and then freeze the meal in smaller portions so that you can have a decent home cooked meal every night without all the fuss. Make a point of adding a nice salad or fresh vegetables to it and you have a well balanced meal on your plate.

Tracy Sparrow is a dietician in Nelson Mandela Bay with her own practice. If you’d like to make an appointment to find out more about Healthy Family Eating you can contact her on Tune in to Kingfisher FM every Friday between 11:00 and 11:30 for your latest health chats.