Beginning nutrition education in early childhood is an important part of helping to ensure that children will achieve healthful lifestyles.
Childhood nutrition is meant to provide essential nutrients and a healthy diet for the children. The purpose is the same as adult nutrition that is a wholesome meal such that all nutritional requirements are met in the form of a healthy balanced diet.
Childhood is a very important and critical phase of one’s life. These are the growing years of the children and extremely important for the development of their mind and body.
Hence, children and adolescents have different dietary requirements compared to adults. They require a healthy balanced diet which includes essential vitamins and minerals. For example, Calcium and proteins are a must for the development of bones.
The kind of food and nutrition required by a child depends on age, genetic composition, and the daily activities involved. Children are prone to falling sick but focus on their health and nutrition can act as a saviour.
Why is Childhood Nutrition so important?
Formative years of a child are extremely important and critical as they play a significant role in shaping their mind, body, personality.
This is the reason why one must focus on the nutrition of the children as it paves the way for their growth and development. It is a concern for many parents.
This phase is also important because this is the time when children gain height and grow tall which makes a good diet and nutrition all the more important.
- Lack of proper nutrition in children leads to issues like malnourishment and it hinders proper development and growth. Not including the right ingredients/food in the diet or intake of unhealthy food may even result in obesity in children which is seen as a very common problem these days and is a concern for many.
- Just born infants have a low level of nutrition, energy, fat, and proteins. They need a good source of nutrition and energy in the form of a healthy diet.
- The amount of nutrition required for growth is the maximum at this time. A large portion of food consumed is used for the growth of the child during this time.
- Proper nutrition and intake of the right food are important for the development of the mind and the nervous system of the child up to the first 2 years after birth.
- The adolescence period is a very critical phase in life. It is the transitional phase of life that marks the development and growth of the child. This phase is important as it determines and witnesses an increase in the height and weight of the child. According to the researches, an increase of 20 Kgs in weight and 20 centimetres in height is observed in boys and girls show 16 centimetres of height and 16kgs of increase in weight during the adolescence stage.
- Lack of proper nutrition in the baby while in the mother’s womb, can lead to diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, lung disease later in life.
- This period of growth is also important for the formation of bones. Lack of calcium in children may even lead to Osteoporosis.
- Binge eating, unhealthy eating habits become a cause of obesity in children. This may lead to various other diseases in the childlike high blood pressure or cholesterol, PCOD, etc. These issues not only affect the health of the child but it also has a negative impact on their confidence and self-esteem.
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Nutritional factors and their impact on Children’s Growth
Children are high on energy, enthusiasm, and involvement in physical activities. The energy requirement of each child varies according to their physical activity and energy drained. So, as per research, it is recommended that energy intake in the form of food should be 3-4 per cent more than the energy used.
Protein intake is extremely important for the development of bones, muscles, skin, and building/repairing tissue, cartilage, hormones, enzymes. Protein requirements per child vary as per their weight. According to Experts, it is recommended to have 1gm protein per 1kg of body weight daily. Milk, cheese, fish, eggs, nuts, seafood, beans are excellent sources of proteins.
Fats are considered to be a rich source of energy. Researches suggest that it is not advisable for kids to consume more than 30 per cent of calories intake of Trans-fat, saturated fat (butter, beef fat), polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3,6 essential fatty acids -EFAs, nut oil, fish oil, vegetable oil) should be less than 10 per cent of calories and remaining should be monounsaturated fats (chicken fat, vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, olive oil).
Trans fats are artificially created fats. It affects the body’s mechanism to regulate cholesterol. These fats are not healthy for the child. Processed foods and Deep-fried foods are rich in trans fats and hence should be avoided.
Children should have a diet rich in carbohydrates as they are a good source of energy and help children stay active. Milk, quinoa, oats, bananas, buckwheat, etc. are sources of good carbohydrates.
Water is essential for everyone including children as it helps prevent heat stress, dehydration and helps the body and mind function properly and stay alert. Children lead a very active life and hence produce more body heat as compared to adults. This makes it even more important for the kids to consume water.
Grains can be classified as whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains have products made of the whole grain kernel, hence they are more healthy and nutritious. For example, whole wheat flour, brown rice, oatmeal.
Refined flour is the processed form of grains and comparatively less healthy as while being milled and process, many of its nutrients and benefits are lost. Examples of refined grains are tortillas, white bread, white rice, cereals, etc.
Fruits and Vegetables
Consumption of fruits and vegetables is a must for children as they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibres. Intake of fruits and vegetables is important for sharp memory, to fight germs, for stronger bones, and for good health.
Nutrition for Children, According to their age:
Infants (up to 6 months of age)
Nutrition in children varies with age. For babies/infants up to the age of 6 months, the entire diet is the mother’s breast milk. Breast milk is a must for the babies as it contains all the nutrients required for the baby’s health, growth, development, and being.
According to researchers and doctors, infants of this age group should be breastfed every 2 to 3 hour or at least 8-12 times a day. Alternatively, there are products/ formulations available in the market as a substitute for breast milk in case the baby does not have access to breast milk.
There is goat’s milk or lactose-free formulation also available in the market for babies who are intolerant towards milk or lactose. But the frequency for the consumption of these products is different from that of breast milk. Usually, this form of milk is fed 6 to 9 times a day.
Solid food in the form of iron-rich cereal can be given to the baby once they are 6 months of age. Gradually, vegetables and fruits are included in the diet.
From 12 months of age, the growth rate of a child reduces, and hence their diet and nutrition become a high priority. Toddlers are fussy eaters, one day they will be hungry and in the next, they will not eat at all. Their food has to be healthy and high on nutrients.
Calcium is required for the development of teeth and bones. Milk is the best source of calcium. Other calcium-rich food options that should be given to children of this age group are soy milk, tofu, cereals, oatmeal, etc. Fibre is a must for toddlers and must be included in their diet as
It aids digestion, keeps the heart-healthy, and prevents constipation. Sources of fibre are beans, fruits, vegetables, whole- grains, etc.
Grade schoolers (6-7 years old children)
It is important for children of this age group to have a protein-rich diet. Good sources of protein are beans, eggs, milk, peanut butter, etc. This is the time when the right eating habits have to inculcate in the children. Sugar, sodium, and fats should also be included in the diet but in moderate proportion.
Adolescence is marked by puberty in teenagers. In this phase, children need more calories to support and make up for the changes in the body. There is an increase in body fat of girls and an increase in blood volume and lean body mass in boys of this age group.
Deficiency of iron is observed in teenagers especially in girls due to loss of iron during menstruation. It is also important to increase the intake of calcium for both boys and girls as it is important for the development of bone mass.
It is important to include milk, milk products, calcium-rich food, yoghurt, cheese, dry fruits, nuts, iron-rich cereals, fruits, vegetables, etc in the diet.
Healthy tips recommended by Dieticians to ensure a Healthy and Nutritious diet for Children
- Never underestimate the importance of breastfeeding and always support it as it is essential and the best diet for babies.
- Include plenty of vegetable legumes, fruits, milk, cheese, yoghurt, cereals in the diet.
- Also, encourage physical activity/ exercise for children as it is required for growth and overall development of the child.
- Prepare healthy snacks/ tiffin that is nutritious as well as tasty.
- Prepare as well as store the food carefully.
- Never give breakfast a miss. Breakfast should be healthy, balanced, and rich in protein as it will keep them full for longer. Including Greek yoghurt, fruits, boiled eggs, peanut butter, whole-grain toasts is a good and healthy option to ensure nutrition in children.
- Monitor their eating habits. Talk to them, know what they like, make them comfortable, understand their food preferences, and make them understand as well. This will help build trust and make it easy for you to plan their meals and to understand their taste.
- Limit sugar, avoid sugary drinks, including more fruits in the diet, and modify the recipes to make them tasty as well as healthy.
- Research and know more about a healthy diet, nutrition for children and may also consult paediatricians to enhance knowledge about kids’ well being and their health.
It is true that it is easier said than done. Inculcating the right eating habits is a task and can be quite challenging at times. Having said that, one must also remember that when it comes to your children and their health, it is totally worth it.
We need to teach our children to eat Real food.
No fast foods, No junk foods, No processed foods.
Just Honest, Nutritious, Real food.