All Children Have the Right to a Healthy Diet

By Jenni Harter

All children need a balanced diet in order to enjoy optimal health and to reach their full potential. The South African Revised Dietary Guidelines state that people should have a variety of foods from various food groups such as protein, grains, fruit and vegetables and dairy and that they should aim to:

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Eat beans, lentils, split peas and soya beans on a regular basis
  • Make starch the main part of their meals
  • Have milk, yogurt or maas (thick soured milk) every day
  • Avoid hard animal fats and instead include vegetable or olive oils
  • Eat fish, chicken, lean meats or eggs daily if they want to
  • Avoid sugary and salty foods and drinks
  • Drink plenty of clean water

Babies and young children need more fat than an older person because their brains are developing and they are undergoing very rapid physical changes including bone growth.

The First Six Months
The best food for babies is breast milk, particularly in poor African communities where residents often have to deal with unclean and unsafe water supplies that make formula feeding unsafe, according to USAID’s Infant and Young Child Nutrition Project, and where families cannot afford to continue to purchase formula milk for their babies. An adequate and healthy diet is essential for new mothers so that they can produce their own nutrient-dense, safe and free breast milk for their babies.

After Six Months
After six months of age, the first solid food can be introduced to a baby in addition to milk. Simple foods such as fruit or vegetables are best to start with (mashed banana is ideal). At first, the baby will only need a teaspoon so that he can get used to having food in his mouth. One food type at a time should be tried in case the child is allergic to anything. This makes identifying the problem easier. Once the baby is used to eating, soft cooked meat such as chicken and fish can be introduced and also hard boiled eggs, bread, lentils, other beans and full fat dairy products.

8-9 Months
By the age of 8-9 months the baby might have two or even three meals a day comprising of mashed or finely chopped foods and soft, easy to eat finger foods. Ideally, they should be having breast milk and full fat dairy and different foods from all the food groups.

A Year Old
By his first birthday a baby should be eating three meals a day, plus his breast milk. He should have three or four portions of starch food for carbohydrates, such as rice, bread or potatoes. He should also have three or four portions of fruit and vegetables and two portions of meat, fish, eggs or beans for protein.

2-3 Years
The South African Revised Dietary Guidelines recommend that children in this age group should be fed five small meals a day, including dark leafy green vegetables, orange coloured fruit and vegetables, meats like chicken and fish, and eggs. They should continue to be breastfed until two years and beyond and be given yogurt, cow’s milk or maas every day.

3-5 Years
Children this age should have regular small meals and healthy snacks including foods from all the food groups. They should drink cow’s milk and fresh, clean water every day.

Many African Children Go to Sleep Hungry

Unfortunately, children from the poorest of communities often don’t have enough to eat and their parents or carers may not have the ability to follow dietary guidelines. In the 21st century, no child should go to sleep hungry but this is the reality for lots of people in Africa, where 75% of South Africans don’t have adequate access to food, one in five children are growth restricted from malnutrition and one in 10 babies die within the first year of life. Children who have lost their parents may not have had the benefit of breast milk so it is even more important for them to have a healthy diet. Kwikmed say that in order to help children’s bones grow strong, they should have protein enriched foods like fish, poultry, eggs and meat that contain calcium and all the nutrients needed to help their bones grow strong. Children who have not had enough to eat or those who haven’t had access to the right kind of foods should be given a good children’s multi-vitamin.

Food 4 Africa

Food 4 Africa works to provide all children below the poverty line with meals – our aim is to give every child affected by poverty, one vitamin enriched meal every day. You can help us save lives and bring hope for the future by sponsoring our projects with a regular donation or sending a one off donation. No matter how small, every amount counts to give all children their most basis human right: food.