The four tenets of Nutritional Immunology—adequate sleep, reduced stress, exercise and healthy eating habits—apply to children just as they do to adults. In fact, many scientists are saying children need more of these habits in their lives than adults. For instance, a 1-month old baby needs about 15 hours of sleep a day, while a 7-12 year old needs 10-11 hours and a 12-18 year old needs 8-9. Studies show that many school-age children do not get adequate sleep every day because of the pressures of school, friends and family activities.
• School: An unstructured classroom; unclear or unreasonable expectations; fear of failure
• Home: Lacking family routines; moving to a new community; over-scheduling; prolonged or serious illness; poor nutrition; change in family situation; financial problems; family strife; unclear or unreasonable expectations
• Peers: Changing schools; dealing with a bully; trying to fit in
A child’s stress can often appear to multiply depending on the number of issues the child is dealing with as well as the nature of those issues. Stress can result in inappropriate behaviors, difficulties in school or health problems. If you spot signs of stress in your child, try looking back over recent events to see if you can find the causes and help ease the stress your child is dealing with.
Like adults, children need exercise. While studies recommend a minimum of 30 minutes per day for adults, research indicates that children need at least one hour of exercise a day. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day for children and adolescents. As they state,
Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. It also increases the risk of stroke and such other major cardiovascular risk factors as obesity, high blood pressure, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and diabetes.
Running and playing not only provides exercise, but also helps build coordination and encourages healthy bone and muscle growth in children. Exercise also helps relieve stress, encourages better sleep patterns and supports healthy weight.
Children need all the nutrients that adults need; they just need them in different quantities at different times in their lives. As children grow, their nutritional needs and tastes in food change. It may be difficult at times to make sure they receive adequate nutrition. If you’re worried your child isn’t receiving adequate nutrition, there’s no need to resort to vitamin and mineral supplements when you offer nutrient-dense foods for your child to choose from.
If you are having trouble getting your child to eat healthy foods, which is often the case with toddlers and young children, here are a few tips to help you get past those food fights:
• Remember, young children tend to skimp on certain food groups, but there are always alternatives to meet their nutritional needs. How they eat over time is what matters, not one day or even a bad week.
• Avoid sugary foods and drinkslike sodas and sugar-laden fruit juices. • Limit fast foodsthat are heavy on fats and choose fruitratherthan French fries where possible. • Avoid foodswith preservatives and stimulants.
• Keep track ofwhen your child seemsto be hungriest—breakfast, lunch?—that’s the best time to insist on nutrition. Meet protein needs by serving soy milk for breakfast and peanut butter or soy products for lunch as these can cover daily protein needs.
• Don’t leave themost nutritiousfoods until dinnerwhen children may be tired and not interested in eating. Offer fruits and veggies all day long so you—and your child—can relax at dinner.
Most importantly, parents need to remember that children generally follow the example their parents set. If you are eating nutritious healthy meals, exercising, getting enough sleep and reducing stress in your home, it’s more likely that your children will follow your example. After all, “do as I do” is much easier to teach than “do as I say!”