Nutrition For School-Age Children: Guidelines For A Healthy Diet

Time for reading: ~23 minutes Last Updated: August 17, 2022
Nutrition for School-Age Children: Guidelines for a healthy diet

Nutritional advice for school-aged children. The nutrition of school-aged children is extremely important for the development of the body.

Nutrition of school-age children

In the fast-developing world, where everything around us is developing at lightning speed, the problem of nutrition at school age is becoming more and more popular, because it directly affects the health of future generations. Increasing public access to information enables the growth of a generation well-versed in healthy lifestyles and healthy eating. The culture of a healthy lifestyle, and hence healthy eating, is becoming more and more popular. The focus of the current development is to present and evaluate school-age nutrition, healthy and alternative (non-traditional) nutrition and the main nutrients that play an essential role in the development of organisms.

Relevance and importance of the problem

The relevance of the problem is determined by the established need of organisms for substances that will be useful for them. Children and adolescents need a varied and healthy diet, which is necessary for their growth and development. Unbalanced nutrition at this age is the cause of diseases at a later stage. During this time, many eating habits change, likes for one food and whims for another. Family, friends and the media (especially television) influence food choices and eating habits. School-aged children often tend to eat a greater variety of foods than, for example, their younger siblings. 

The purpose of the present work is to present and examine the healthy and non-traditional nutrition of school-aged children, the main nutrients - proteins, fats, carbohydrates, water, mineral salts, vitamins, ballast substances that contribute to the proper development of children's bodies and are in accordance with the globally introduced requirements for proper nutrition at this age.

Basic tasks:

To present school-age nutrition accepted as the most beneficial for children;

To consider healthy and non-traditional (alternative) nutrition, and the ways to implement them;

To make a comparative assessment between healthy and unbalanced nutrition;

To present the main nutrients, their benefits, ways to combine them, as well as the main benefits of including them in the children's menu.


Nutrition at school age

School-age nutrition, of course, is best suited to be balanced and healthy. Healthy food provides the child with the necessary substances, which are mandatory for proper development and for ensuring the appropriate nutrition of all organs in the system. Healthy eating habits should be created as early as possible in the child, because they are much more difficult to change later. The healthier the school-age diet, the better the body grows and develops. Stretching and development are two sides of a biological process that takes place in the child's organism. 1

Growth - reflects quantitative changes and is characterized by growth in height, weight gain, enlargement of organs, etc. It is done by increasing the number of cells or their volume.

Development - includes qualitative changes that are expressed in the differentiation and improvement of cells, tissues, organs and systems. It is caused by structural changes.

Everything necessary for the implementation of these processes is obtained through the nutrients that enter the body. For this reason, it is essential what will be provided to the organism in order for the biological process in the child's organism to proceed qualitatively, and from there the qualitative growth and development of the child. At school age, nutrition is essential and determines the child's future. In adults, it provides energy for the performance of various types of activities, but in children, it is necessary not only for vital functions, but also for processes in the entire organism.

Healthy nutrition - basic requirements

Healthy nutrition strengthens health, contributes to proper physical and mental development, increases endurance, work capacity and resistance to various diseases. Nowadays, nutrition is not only a biological, but also a complex social process, because food is not the result of mother nature alone, but is obtained as a product of various forms of human labor. These products are called - food products, because man has managed to turn food almost entirely into a commercial commodity. Food is the most ancient and irrevocable immediate material connection of man with nature. In developed countries, there has been no starvation for a long time, but the problem of "what to eat so as not to gain weight" exists. 2 Most people are confused by the mixed signals they receive about what healthy eating actually is. Especially confusing are the messages from the various diets that aim to reduce weight. In view of this, too few people are aware, for example, of how much bread, rice and pasta should be consumed daily, and what exactly "five a day" means (meaning eating small portions, five times a day). During its activity, the organism constantly expends energy, which is restored with an adequate amount of food, and this balance is called energy balance. When less energy is supplied with food than the body uses, a negative energy balance results. This causes the body to use reserve substances,3 As a result, a protein deficiency occurs and the assimilation process becomes difficult. By the same principle - when more energy is brought in with food, a positive energy balance is obtained. The body fills its reserves of glycogen and fat, begins to spend energy uneconomically, weight increases and obesity is reached.

The measurement of the consumed energy and the energy value of the food is carried out with the same unit of measurement - Joule. The older unit of measurement is the kcal. One calorie is equal to 4.184 k J. Currently, we have access on the Internet to developed "sample" tables with energy values ​​of foods included. An example can be seen in Appendix 2., to the present development. The normal course of processes in the body is guaranteed with the optimal intake of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, salts and water. According to age, sex, weight, climate, as well as physical activity, the amount of energy required for the body is determined.


Milk and milk products;

Meat, fish and eggs;

Bread, pasta, sugar;

Pulses (raw vegetables) and nuts;



Fruits and their juices.

Taking into account these main groups of food products, a healthy diet should ensure their daily intake in an appropriately balanced relationship, starting from early childhood.


average energy requirements;

recommended dietary intake of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals;

adequate dietary intake of protein, total fat, fatty acids, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes when a recommended dietary intake cannot be determined;

adequate dietary intake of water;

upper limits for safe intake of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes;

recommended intake intervals for protein, total fat, fatty acids, total carbohydrates and dietary fiber.

Imbalanced nutrition occurs when there is a discrepancy between the composition and caloric content of food and the body's needs for nutrients and energy. When such a discrepancy is present, malnutrition or overnutrition is observed. Malnutrition is observed in many countries of the world. But more common in the 21st century is subsistence. In most countries, the number of overweight population is increasing every day. Bulgaria is also part of these statistics. Many studies show that people who are overweight get sick more.

It is clear from everything stated here that in order for a meal to be healthy, it must meet certain requirements. To be precise - it is necessary for each organism, in accordance with its specifics, to be supplied with the necessary nutrients - including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, water, mineral salts, vitamins and ballast substances. In other words, in order to obtain a correct energy balance in the body, it is necessary that the nutrients are found in strictly defined ratios, i.e. to be balanced. The balance is calculated based on the caloric value of the food and the body's energy expenditure. The developed "food balance theory" is one of the basic principles of nutrition hygiene. It reflects modern scientific achievements on the complexity and variety of substance-metabolic (physiological-biochemical) processes. Based on the same theory, the proportions of individual nutrients and their ingredients in different menus are determined according to age, gender, physical activity, etc.

When drawing up and monitoring the implementation of a healthy nutritional regime for children, the following three main points must be taken into account:

in the child's organism, the assimilation processes prevail over the dissimilation processes;

metabolism is more intense in the growing organism;

the digestive system of children is still insufficiently adapted.

For example, in infants, the regimen and ingredients of the offending substances should be given in exact proportion and given at a time as required when drugs are given from the pharmacy - hourly. The nutrition of children and adolescents must not only cover the body's energy losses, but also provide 10% more calories, in order to provide the necessary "physical conditions" for growth and development.

The average need for energy needs for children from 10 to 19 years old is over 2000 kcal/ day. Already at different ages of 1 year, the difference in needs between the two sexes becomes apparent. Naturally, it is higher in boys, given the levels of physical activity. From the beginning, the difference is not big and varies by about 100 kcal/ day, reaching over 700 kcal/ day in the adolescent period of 14-19 years of age.

All these needs must be met, through an appropriate culture of healthy eating


Average energy requirements for boys and girls from 1 to 19 years by age group*










1 – <3





3 – <5





5 – <7





7 – <10





10 – <14





14 – <19





*Average energy requirements refer to recommended levels of physical activity for the respective age.


Non-traditional (alternative) nutrition (PREMIUM)


The concept of "alternative nutrition" includes the application of dietary regimes of different duration, differing significantly from the basic requirements for healthy nutrition.

The most common forms of this non-standard nutrition are currently:

High-fat - low-carbohydrate diet (VMNVH)

In this type of diet, the main source of energy is fat (50-60%). Carbohydrate consumption is reduced to 20-30% of the total caloric intake for the day, protein – 20%. Suitable foods are:

mainly fatty types of meat, but also dry types;

mainly fatty types of fish, but also dry types;


full-fat dairy products (cheese, yellow cheese, cottage cheese);

nuts and seeds;


fats (coconut oil, olive oil, butter/ghee, sour cream);

berries - strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries.

Due to the high content of carbohydrates, they are avoided, but you can still consume them in small quantities: rice, potatoes, beans, pasta, bread, oats, root vegetables, sweet fruits. The important thing is that the total amount of carbohydrates does not exceed the daily threshold of 20-30%.

Keto nutrition (ketone diet) (PREMIUM)

This way of eating originated as a treatment diet for epilepsy, but is gaining popularity as a way to lose weight. In the classic ketogenic diet, the macronutrients are distributed as follows: more than 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have been reduced most drastically, and this is at the expense of the increased amount of fat. The goal is to get the body into a metabolic state called ketosis and use fat as its main source of energy. When fat is broken down, ketone bodies are formed, which the body uses for energy instead of glucose (which is used for energy in the evenly balanced and high-fat diet).

Suitable foods are:

fatty types of meat;

oily types of fish;


full-fat dairy products, fatty types of cheese and animal cream;

nuts and seeds;

low-carb vegetables;

fats (coconut oil, olive oil, butter/ghee, lard, avocado);

small amounts of berry fruits - strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries.

Other types of fruit are high in carbohydrates, which makes staying in ketosis very difficult.

Although the keto diet is suitable for some diseases, it was created as a method to treat epilepsy. People who cannot control their appetite for sweets say that with this way of eating, the hunger for sweets disappears. Entering ketosis, ie. switching from energy source glucose, to ketones, takes time. It is colloquially called the “keto flu” and can last for 2-3 weeks. During this time you don't feel well, you may have headaches, dizziness and other unpleasant conditions. Keto diet can be dangerous in type 1 diabetes. It is imperative to consult a doctor and adjust the dose of insulin, because it is likely that smaller doses will be needed. Keto eating is difficult for most people because many of the comfort foods that are loved and preferred must be restricted. When eating out, you should read the menu in detail to see what each dish contains. Eating more meat can disrupt ketosis because the body can also produce glucose from excess protein. That is protein sources should not be overdone either. With this way of eating, it is extremely important to eat a lot of green leafy vegetables.

Vegetarianism - plant-based nutrition (PREMIUM)

In this type of meal, in its most general form, meat, fish and seafood are excluded from the menu. There are 4 main types of vegetarianism (Marsh et al., 2011), which differ in relation to the foods of animal origin present in them. These are: lacto-vegetarianism, ovo-vegetarianism, lacto-ovo vegetarianism and veganism. Other types are: flexitarianism, pescetarianism, pollotarianism and others.

• lacto-vegetarianism - excludes meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products are consumed;

• ovo-vegetarianism – excludes meat, fish, poultry and dairy, eggs are consumed;

• lacto-vegetarianism – excludes meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and eggs are consumed;

• veganism – excludes meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, as well as other products of animal origin such as honey, gelatin.

• flexitarianism - mainly vegetarian diet, in rare cases meat is also included;

• pescetarianism – excludes meat and poultry, fish and seafood are consumed;

• pollotarianism - excludes meat, fish, seafood, poultry meat is consumed.
Suitable foods are:




bean foods;

nuts and seeds;

vegetable fats;


dairy products.

This way of eating is easy for people who don't like meat to follow because only one type of food is excluded. The fewer foods that are excluded, the easier the diet is to follow.

Vegan - a completely plant-based diet (PREMIUM)

A vegan diet is the most restrictive form of vegetarianism. All foods of animal origin are excluded, including bee products (honey, royal jelly, bee pollen) and gelatin. This type of diet also has many varieties, the most common of which are:

• Whole-food vegan diet - fruits (recommended in their entirety, not in the form of fresh or smoothies), vegetables (raw and past thermal treatment), nuts, nut oils, seeds, cereals* and legumes are consumed;

• Raw-food vegan diet – raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds or plant foods prepared at a temperature below 46 ˚С are consumed. It is believed that above this temperature the beneficial substances in food are destroyed;

• 80/10/10 (Fruitarianism) – was developed by Dr. Douglas Graham. The main food here is raw unprocessed fruit (sweet and non-sweet types), green leafy vegetables and in limited quantities (up to 10%) avocados, olives, nuts and seeds. We're essentially talking about a high-carb, low-fat, plant-based diet here, as 80% of total calories come from carbohydrates, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat.

• The starch solution - its creator is Dr. John McDougall. Like the 80/10/10 diet, it also emphasizes carbohydrates and minimizes fat. The difference is that the main source of carbohydrates are foods containing starch - potatoes, rice, corn, wheat, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, spaghetti and others. Fruits are not considered as the main food (as it is with 80/10/10), but are rather an addition to it, 1-4 pieces per day. Vegetables are also considered a supplement to the main menu, rather than a main food source of energy. Fats from nuts, seeds, avocados are taken in small amounts, excluding vegetable oil. Salt and sugar are not excluded from the menu, but it is good to be careful with them.

• Raw foods until 4 p.m. (Raw till 4) – low-fat and low-protein diet, as legumes, nuts and seeds are minimized at the expense of carbohydrates (fruits and starchy foods), which represent about 90% of daily caloric needs . Raw fruits (maybe smoothies) are consumed until 4 pm. Dinner consists entirely of carbohydrate foods, rich in starch (starch) - rice, potatoes, pasta and others. Vegetables are mostly used as a side dish, mostly leafy greens and tomato sauce.

• The thrive diet - was created by the professional athlete Brendan Brazier, plant-based foods are consumed, mostly raw or with minimal thermal processing such as: beans, seeds, hemp, vegetables (including green leaves), fruits , cold pressed fats, apple cider vinegar, brown rice, seaweed (sea vegetables). 8

Suitable foods are:




bean foods;

nuts, nut oils and seeds;

algae (spirulina, chlorella);

nutritional yeast;

tofu and tempeh (made from soy), seitan (high in gluten);

fermented plant foods.

Non-traditional (alternative) nutrition includes various forms of limited intake of nutrients and energy with different motivations. The most common reason for its use is to reduce body weight. If this regimen is administered under medical supervision for a short period of time, it usually does not pose a risk to human health. The diet is reduced to a restriction of energy nutrients (fats and carbohydrates), combined with increased physical activity. If the diet is applied for a very long time, nutritional deficiencies may occur, which will lead to a number of disturbances in the body. Applying complete fasting regimes for more than 7 days represents a serious violation of the body's nutritional needs. Cell metabolism is disturbed, disease processes may begin.

As a result of alternative nutrition, protein, vitamin B12, folic acid, iron and zinc deficiencies can occur, leading to the development of anemia. In addition, the functions of the immune system, enzyme and endocrine functions are strongly disturbed. The more drastically a person deprives the body of the nutrients it needs, the greater the health risks. 

Essential nutrients (PREMIUM)


Proteins are the main building material for the human body, because their function is to build muscle tissue. Some of them can be used to meet energy needs, as 17.48 kJ (4 kcal) of energy is released during the breakdown of 1 g of proteins .     If there is not enough protein in the food, the body's development slows down, weakness, rapid exhaustion, etc. appear. Proteins cannot be stored in stock. When they enter the body in abundance, they are converted into fats and carbohydrates, and the nitrogen contained in them is excreted in the urine. They can be converted into fats and carbohydrates when they are abundant, but the reverse is impossible. For this reason, they are essential and cannot be replaced by other nutrients. The main source of proteins are:

Milk and milk products;

Meat and meat products;


Legumes and cereals.

The body's protein needs depend on age, gender, body mass, body activity, etc. In order to ensure the necessary completeness of dietary protein, it is necessary to have a favorable ratio of proteins of animal and plant origin in the menu. For children of school age, it is recommended that the proportion of animal protein be no more than 50%. The variety of food products in the daily menu is of particular importance for the supply of proteins in the body during the school-age period.


Fats are also known as lipids and are complex organic substances. The main function of fats is absorption of certain vitamins and providing energy. They also play a role in the taste qualities of food, which is precisely why people prefer food rich in fat. Sources of fat include:

Animal products;

Nuts and seeds;

Vegetable and animal oils.

Depending on the bonds in the fat molecule, they are saturated and solid or unsaturated and liquid. Saturated and solid fats are difficult to break down and are not recommended in large quantities, because they are not broken down, but are very often stored as reserves by the body. Such are most fats of gyotian origin, palm and coconut oil, margarine. Unsaturated fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats are important for the body because it needs them and cannot produce them on its own. These are - linoleic (omega-3), linolenic (omega-6) and archidone fat. Omega-3 is contained in fish inhabiting fast and cold waters (trout, salmon, barbel, etc.), and omega-6 is contained in flaxseed.

In the food industry, hydrogenated and trans fats are often used, due to their low price and durability. These fats are artificially created through the process of hydrogenation - liquid vegetable oils are heated at high temperature in the presence of catalysts and hydrogen. They are not useful because they contain quite dangerous substances - the leftovers from the hydrogenated catalyst process and the added improvers, decolorizers and preservatives. In most countries, manufacturers are required to list the content of these health-threatening substances on the labels.

Cholesterol is a white fatty substance contained in the cell membranes of all tissues of the human body and transported in the blood plasma of all animals. Minimal amounts of cholesterol are also contained in plant membranes.  The body produces it in the necessary quantities, for this reason it is not necessary to introduce it with food. Its level increases when eating foods containing a large amount of fat of animal origin. For this reason, it is necessary to monitor it, because excessive amounts of cholesterol in the blood are life-threatening. It is essential to know that high cholesterol does not lead to specific symptoms or complaints and most often vascular diseases occur unexpectedly, so its level should be monitored at least every 5 years.

Fats in the body can be formed from carbohydrates, and in some cases from proteins, so they are most often accumulated as an excess in the body. When preparing food, it is recommended to use all types of fats, but the most noble effect are fats of vegetable origin. They should be at least half of the used ones.


Carbohydrates, which are oligosaccharides (monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides), starch, pectin, cellulose, etc. are the main source of energy for the body and during their breakdown of one gram, an average of 17.48 kJ ( 4 kcal) is released   . A part of them turns into fat. Carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed into the body mainly as glucose, breaking down into carbon dioxide and water. Thanks to the hormone insulin, carbohydrates are maintained at a constant level in the blood, and blood glucose increases under the influence of adrenaline. Increased carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Increased consumption of carbohydrates can lead to diabetes and most often to obesity and atherosclerosis with all its bad consequences (myocardial infarction, stroke, dementia, etc.)


Water plays an essential role in sustaining life on earth. It occupies most of the human body and is important for the normal course of life processes in the body. Children, as well as adults, should be taught to drink water only when they are thirsty, and this should be done slowly and in sips. Thirst is best satisfied in this way. Rules like "2 liters of water should be drunk per day" have not been scientifically proven yet.

Currently, there is a tendency to drink mineral water purchased in plastic bottles, because it is more useful. This is a redundant conspiracy, the product of the big marketing programs of the water bottling companies. In Bulgaria, the population has access to BDS-compliant water, which is a guarantee of its harmlessness, while boiled water in plastic bottles does not always meet hygiene requirements.

Mineral salts

Mineral substances are macroelements (calcium, tin, copper, sodium, sulfur, which are 80% of the body's mineral substances) and microelements (iron, iodine, cobalt, manganese, fluorine, zinc). They should also be contained in food, bearing in mind their vital biological and physiological importance. They are included in the composition of all tissues and take part in exchange processes, the maintenance of alkaline-acidic balance and the normal salt composition of the body. They are also involved in the construction of the bone system, they are part of many enzymes, hormones, some mineral salts are even part of the hemoglobin composition. The transmission of nerve impulses is related to the presence of mineral substances. It is very important, through the correct intake of food, to provide the body with mineral salts in the correct proportions, because this is how their influence is best.



Vitamins are those substances that are needed in small amounts, but are vital for the normal functioning of the body. The complete absence of any vitamin from food can cause a disease called avitaminosis. If the lack of vitamins continues for a long time, a state of hypovitaminosis occurs. It is characteristic at the end of the winter period - there are feelings of exhaustion, fatigue, etc. and is better known as "spring fatigue". This condition can easily be corrected by consuming foods rich in vitamins. Nowadays, people prefer the use of synthetic vitamins, which do not always produce the desired effect, because they increase the activity of enzymes that destroy not only excess but also available vitamins. Several dozen vitamins are known, which are indicated by a Latin letter.

All vitamins are important for the body, as each is involved in a very specific process of metabolism and cannot be replaced. Their intake should be closely monitored, especially in children and adolescents, because have a serious impact on the basic vital functions and development of the body.

Ballast substances

Ballast nutrients are the indigestible parts of everyday food. In general, they are carbohydrates and lipids, mostly of plant and very rarely of animal origin. These are cellulose, lignins, beta-glucans, inulin, various oligosaccharides and waxes, the most important for the human body being cellulose and pectins. The main function of ballast substances is antioxidant-purifying, they also improve peristalsis. Ballast substances give volume to the food, which makes it easy to move through the intestines and makes it low-calorie. Wheat bran, peach, pumpkin, potatoes, etc., are rich in such substances. The most are contained in boiled wheat (40-50 g in 100 g), rye bread (6-8 in 100 g), raspberries (4-8 g in 100 g), black currants (4 g in 100 g of fruit), peanuts (9-11 g in 100 g of fruit). The recommended daily dose for each person is about 40-50 g. The regular consumption of ballast substances is associated with improved digestion, regular bowel movements, improved personal weight, as well as with a reduced risk of developing a number of chronic diseases, such as type II diabetes , cancer and obesity. 



School age (6-18 years) is characterized by significant changes in height and intelligence, puberty begins, the intensity of metabolic processes increases. Motor activity also increases, which leads to an increase in energy expenditure. Biological factors determine high requirements for essential and vital nutrients - proteins, fats, carbohydrates, water, mineral salts, vitamins and ballast substances. According to gender, age, weight, etc. the body's needs are different, but the main goal is to satisfy them in the right way, by procuring the necessary substances. This is achieved through healthy eating. It is in this period of a person's life that the most important and irreversible processes take place, how they will pass depends on what is given to them as a resource. The main requirements for the daily menu are:

The food products should be appropriately combined in the individual food intakes, and in the first place it would be proper to satisfy the protein needs, to which the import of fats and carbohydrates is balanced;

For optimal digestibility of food, it is necessary that it contain adequate amounts of minerals and vitamins;

The requirement for variety means including at least one representative of each food group in the all-day diet, and if possible at each meal: carbohydrates (potato, rice, whole grain breads, pasta, oatmeal, corn, etc.), fruits and vegetables , sources of proteins (milk and dairy products, meat, fish, eggs), some types of fat (vegetable are recommended), and in the smallest and insignificant amounts of sugar products.

The correct diet is important for the good absorption of food, for good appetite and the health of the growing organism.  It has been established that if the intervals between individual meals are 3 to 4 hours, the most suitable is a four-fold feeding regimen, with the amount of food distributed as follows: breakfast 20%, lunch 35%, dinner 25% and snack 20 %.

In order to ensure rational nutrition, it is necessary not only to ensure the average daily needs of energy and nutrients in the period from 6 to 18 years, but also for the food to be varied, served in a form that stimulates the appetite, in a pleasant and calm environment, which is important for good digestion. 

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