Malnutrition and infection impede the physical and mental growth and development of millions of children.
Older children can learn how to prepare for, cook and serve meals to younger siblings. Children can spread awareness about of breastfeeding and its benefits to babies. They can learn about a balanced diet, the importance of sharing food fairly and help to monitor the diet of young children.
Scroll down to read our Top Ten messages on Nutrition for children to learn and share, plus ideas on what children can do to understand, find out more, take action and reflect on this topic.
Download our 100 Messages PDF to have a copy of all our messages for printing and sharing.
To have a balanced healthy diet, eat different food of different kinds. GO, GROW and GLOW for strong bodies and happy minds!
Eating good food as often as possible leads to good health for everyone in the family. GO foods are energy foods like cereals (wheat, maize, rice, soya, millet) and root crops (sorghum, potatoes and yam). GROW foods are protein foods like meat, fish, nuts, beans and groundnuts, milk, cheese and eggs. GLOW foods are fruit and vegetables and these are high in vitamins and minerals and help make the body and mind strong and develop well. Read more about good Nutrition here.
Malnutrition means Bad Nutrition and happens if we eat too little, too much or mostly junk food. Avoid malnutrition! Sit and eat enough good food at mealtimes, but not too much.
Everyone in the family needs a share of all the food there is to eat. Girls and boys need the same good food to be healthy. Small children eat slowly and need to eat more often than older ones (4 times a day). They need to be watched and encouraged to eat enough. It’s easier to check young children eat enough if they eat from a separate plate or bowl. Children who have disabilities or are sick have a special need for enough good food and may need help with feeding. Pregnant and breastfeeding women especially need good food. Older people sometimes don’t feel so hungry but need enough good food and may need help to eat. Read more about Malnutrition here.
To check that babies and young children are growing well, watch and help record their lengths and weight at a clinic as often as instructed by a health worker.
We all need to understand the shape of the growth curve on a growth chart for children under 2 years old. Sometimes this is called the ‘road to health chart’. The chart has a smooth upwards curve as the baby grows from month to month. When the baby’s weight is recorded on the growth curve it should follow the shape of the curve. If it doesn’t we need to take the baby to the health clinic for checks. Children who are not eating enough will be quiet and will not learn well. It’s important they have help from health workers to grow and develop well. For more information see our Checking that Babies and Young Children are Growing Well Information Sheet.
Help avoid lifelong harm to young children. Tell adults to have them checked if you see their arms or body looking thin or their face or feet looking swollen.
Malnutrition means ‘bad nutrition’. A child has malnutrition when they are not getting enough good food or they may be sick and their body cannot get the goodness from the food they eat. An overweight or obese child can also be malnourished. They are eating too much of the wrong food and this is dangerous too. A child who is eating too little food can have swollen feet, a swollen face, or a swollen tummy. If the child’s body starts to have an unhealthy shape they need medical care. For children under the age of 5 years, we can use a special measuring tape to measure around the middle of the upper arm which usually means the child’s body is a healthy weight. If the tape shows that they are too thin, they need to be taken to a health worker.
When young children are ill they may not eat well. Give them healthy drinks e.g. breastmilk, milk or home-made soup. Also, give extra food when they start to feel better.
When children are ill they still need lots to drink and liquid food like soup and other foods they feel like eating. When they begin to feel better, children need extra food to help them get strong again. Children with long-lasting illnesses or special needs may need extra help or special food as suggested by health workers.
Be a breast milk champion! Breast milk is always fresh and clean and the ONLY food and drink a baby needs from birth to 6 months.
When babies start breastfeeding very soon after they are born, the mother produces the right milk for babies. The first milk (called colostrum) is thick and yellow and full of FANTASTIC, EXTRA things that baby needs and protects from disease. Babies need feeding every time we see the signs they are hungry like crying, opening and closing the mouth, sucking sounds or movements and looking for food. Breast milk is complete food and drink for baby. It contains GO, GROW and GLOW food and all the liquid baby needs. The ONLY other food or drink or medicine given to baby must be advised by a health worker and given ONLY with a clean cup and a spoon. Breast milk is clean and hygienic. Bottles do not stay clean and should not be used. Find out more about Feeding Babies & Young Children here.
Help prepare and give older babies good food (6 months to 2 years). They need breast milk plus family food and snacks 3-4 times a day.
When they are 6 months old, babies start to move and develop a lot and need more food with GO, GROW and GLOW than breast milk gives. Babies have small tummies that fill up quickly and no teeth, so give small meals of soft, safe good foods a little and often. Do not add water to the food. At 6 months babies need 2-3 meals and 2-3 snacks and lots of breast milk each day. At 9-12 months babies need 3-4 meals per day. Over one year, babies need 4-5 meals per day. Give a variety of natural and colourful family foods to babies and young children to enjoy new tastes. Do give sugary or salty food or drink. Breast milk is wonderful food as it changes as the baby grows! From 6 months, babies, should have soft, safe foods of different colours. If babies don’t like the taste of a certain food at the beginning, keep trying! They will when they are ready. Find out more about Feeding Babies & Young Children here.
Eat a rainbow of fruits & vegetables including leaves (red, orange, yellow and green). They contain micronutrients too small to see, but are vital for our body and mind.
Colourful fruit & vegetables contain different vitamins & minerals. These are important things too small for us to see or taste but they help to make us strong and GLOW! Eat plenty of colourful fresh fruits & vegetables every week. Use drying or bottling to preserve fruits & vegetables for eating when they are harder to grow. Vitamin A, iron & iodine are three important micronutrients (there are many more).
In some countries the government asks or encourages food manufacturers to add micronutrients to foods like porridge or sugar. This is called “fortification’. Red, yellow & orange foods contain vitamin A that helps our bodies to be strong & helps our eyes work well (tomatoes, sweet potatoes with orange flesh, palm oil, meat, dairy & eggs). Liver, lean meat & fish contain iron. In some countries iodine is added to salt. In some places it’s important for children to be given extra micronutrients (such as Vitamin A) to prevent disease & these are given as pills.
Children should never drink tea & coffee as these drinks make it difficult for their bodies to get iron from food. Sugar drinks like cola are expensive, bad for teeth and take away young children’s appetites for good food. Find out more about Micronutrients here.
Wash your hands well using water and a little soap. Rub for 20 seconds, rinse, shake and air-dry after toilet and before preparing food and eating.
We wash our hands with soap and water to get rid of dirt and germs. Soap sticks to germs and water does not. When we wash our hands in a hurry, or without soap, we leave germs on our hands and these germs can make us ill. When our hands, face and fingernails are clean, we protect ourselves against germs that make us ill.
Wash fresh food well as you prepare it. Use cooked food immediately or make sure it’s stored away from flies to make it safe to eat later.
Wash hands with soap for 10 seconds before touching any food. Wash fruit and vegetables in clean water before eating them or preparing them. Don’t eat uncooked fruit or vegetables unless you know they are washed and prepared by someone who knows how to wash their hands properly. Wash plates and utensils and all the things that touch the food, keep the water pot clean. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Let each person eat from his/her own plate, especially if someone in the family is ill. Dangerous germs grow easily in food and make us sick. To prepare food that is not fresh, heat it till it bubbles. Don’t eat food that smells or looks bad. It may contain dangerous germs that make us sick.
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