The child has now reached an age when, in addition to the requirements of the body for growth, repair and exercise, we have to consider the work of the brain in connexion with the diet. It is recognized by all that a growing boy or girl requires a large amount of nourishing food, and that at the same time the amount varies very largely with the individual. Consequently it is not advisable to stuff the child who does not appear to come up to an imaginary standard, nor to starve the child who seems to go beyond it. If the child is having a duly apportioned amount of work and play, of sleep and out of door exercise, his appetite will be the best guide as to the amount of food required. The appetite must be a healthy one, i.e. trained on a diet of wholesome plain foods, for a pampered appetite, previously developed on dainty highly seasoned dishes, cannot be regarded as of any value whatever as a test. Children with a debased appetite of this sort, which is of course due to faulty feeding at home, had better be sent to a boarding school at once where the social customs will soon effect a perfect, if at first a somewhat painful, cure. At this age one often meets with the child who cannot take this and cannot take that at home, although on physical examination no defects are visible. He or she had better also be sent to board at school. It cannot be too strongly impressed on parents that the inability of healthy children to take ordinary food is imaginary, is produced directly by previous erroneous feeding, and is fostered by parental weakness. The proof of this is shown by the fact that when the child is placed amongst other children who are eating ordinary food, the inability promptly disappears. On the other hand one must remember that there is not infrequently met with the neurotic boy or girl with certain idiosyncrasies as regards diet. These require special study and special treatment. The amount of exercise which a child takes in the open air will have a direct influence on the appetite, and also on the quantity of food he should take. Exercise before food should not be pushed to the extent of producing exhaustion, or both the appetite and the digestion will be impaired. The natural man tends to rest after a meal but the healthy child will be eager for exercise. Consequently it is not necessary to forbid such exercise, provided that it is of the nature of play, and not of a tiring character. A strenuous game of football immediately after dinner is distinctly injurious.
The quality of the diet should be such that a due proportion of proteins, carbo-hydrates, and fats enter into it. The chief difference from the feeding in the earlier years is that a larger amount of beef and mutton is called for. Although the proteins required can be supplied in other foods, meat has the advantages of being the most concentrated, the most digestible, and the most palatable form in which they can be given. Meat should be given twice a day, once to provide for the wear and tear of the body and a second time to supply the means for growth, as Dr. Clement Dukes rather quaintly expresses it. Additional proteins are to be supplied in the form of milk, eggs, oatmeal, etc.
The freshness of the food is a most important consideration. A preference is to be given to freshly killed English beef and mutton over the imported and frozen meats. Salted meats and tinned meats are useful as supplying a variety in the dietary, but if used too frequently they fail to supply the proper amount of nutrition, become monotonous, and lead to positive dislike and loss of appetite. Similarly tinned vegetables and fruits are to be reckoned as very inferior to fresh ones for regular use. If from any reason, such as the frequent use of preserved foods, a distaste for meat or vegetables is produced, the result will be that the feeling of hunger will lead the boy to satisfy it by eating undesirable things such as sweets, pastry, etc., in excess. These latter appeal to the boyish appetite at all times, and are not in themselves injurious when given in moderation at meals. It is when wholesome and appetizing food is not supplied at table that the habit of eating unwholesome things between meals is developed.
The quality of the food depends greatly on the cooking. As plain cooking is all that a healthy boy's appetite demands, it is not asking too much to say that the food ought always to be well cooked. " Take what you get and be thankful " used to be a common saying in the domestic circle, but now we think that a boy who refuses to eat a raw steak or a charred piece of roast beef is justified, and the seniors who insist on his eating badly cooked food are unworthy of their position of responsibility.
Tea and coffee may be added to the dietaries hitherto given, but should not be taken in excess or too strong. Milk at this age will be taken much more readily if flavoured with tea or coffee. With regard to alcohol for schoolboys, two questions may be asked : first, is it necessary, and secondly is it beneficial? The consensus of medical opinion has decided both these questions in the negative. If then, on physical grounds, alcohol has been considered unnecessary and not beneficial, on moral grounds one can urge with confidence that alcohol should not form part of a youth's diet during school life. The use of alcohol for medical reasons is considered elsewhere.
A system in vogue at certain boarding schools calls for notice. It is that of supplying only light articles of food at certain meals and allowing the boy to supplement those from home hampers or stuff bought at the tuck shop. The youth of twelve or fourteen is allowed to regulate his diet in accordance with his mature experience and likings. As a test of what a boy can eat and digest and still live this method is instructive and interesting, but on every other ground it is strongly to be condemned. While undoubtedly many parents are foolish as regards the way they feed boys and girls, one expects in an educational institution, where the development of the mind is presumably under careful supervision, that the development of the body will be equally carefully supervised. No one has yet suggested that at this mature age a boy should be allowed to decide what his lessons are to be and when he is to do them. But the choice of what and when he is to eat is left to the boy, without experience, without self-control, and without any knowledge of dietetics. School customs die hard, but the early death of this custom would be welcomed by all who have at heart the welfare of schoolboys.