Nutritious food is essential for survival, physical growth, mental development, performance, productivity, health and well-being throughout the lifespan; From the earliest stages of fetal development, infancy, and from childhood, adolescence and to adulthood. (1) The baby's diet should provide adequate nutrition for healthy growth and development. Food should be consumed in moderation. This may happen if parents do not follow the normal healthy routine of their children it may lead to excess weight gain. These include oily food sources, unlimited junk food, the use of high-energy beverages instead of milk and water, etc. (2) Nearly 1 in 3 children in America is overweight or obese. Despite all the focus on kids being overweight and obese, many parents are still confused, especially when it comes to what kids eat. How much does your child need? Is he/ she getting enough calcium? Enough iron? Too much fat? Whether you have a toddler or a teen, nutrition is important to his or her physical and mental development. (4)
Here's what children need in their growing period –
1. For Babies (Birth -1 year)
• Breastfeeding - Within the first hour of life it is considered one of the most important steps in infant survival. In India, however, only 56.6% of babies start breastfeeding within one hour of life. (5) The fluid produced by the breasts in the first few days after birth is called colostrum. The more you breastfeed, baby's sucking will stimulate your supply of extra milk. There as concomitant breastfeeding is a critical aspect of caring for infants and young children. Proper eating habits stimulate maternal bonding and mental and social development. It leads to improved nutrition and physical growth, reduces the incidence of common childhood diseases and better resistance to coping with other diseases. Improved health outcomes in young children have long-lasting health effects throughout the life-span, and reduced risk of certain non-communicable diseases. (6)
• Low birth weight:
For a healthy baby to grow, mothers need nutritious food and rest, adequate antenatal care, and a healthy environment. Together, these ingredients create a healthy pregnancy , it can help to prevent and treat conditions that cause low birth weight. The weight of the newborn is an important indicator of maternal and fetal health and nutrition. Newborns with low birth weight have a higher mortality rate for the first 28 days of life. Those who survive are more likely to suffer from poor growth and lower IQ. The effects of low birth weight continue to age, increasing the risk of chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes. (3)
• In about six months most babies are ready to start solid foods such as iron-fortified cereals and filtered fruits juice, vegetables, and fresh meat. Because breast milk alone cannot provide enough iron and zinc. So along with breast milk fortified grain and meat can be especially helpful to satisfy their need. (2) It is the key to prevent malnutrition. Foods that meet minimum standards and levels of diversity are important in preventing micro-nutrient deficiencies, stunting and wasting. (3)
• When we start adding food, do not go with low-fat foods. In general, do not limit fat to less than two years of age because a healthy amount of fat is essential for infant development and neurological development. (2)
2. For Toddlers (1-3 years) & Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Toddlers and preschoolers are growing faster and their cravings come and go in spurts, so they may eat a whole lot one day and then hardly anything the next. It’s normal, and as long as you give them healthy choices, they’ll get what they need. (3)
• Calcium, the body building block, is needed to develop strong, healthy bones and teeth. Babies may not believe or care about that milk "does the body well," but it is the best source of much-needed calcium. However, sometimes there is a milk-allergy, lactose intolerance, or those who do not like milk. Lactose-free milk, soy milk, tofu, sardines, and calcium-fortified orange juices, grains, waffles, and oatmeal are some of the calcium-filled options. In some cases, it may be advisable to have calcium supplements. (2)
• Fiber is another important factor. Toddlers begin to say “no” more and that preschool children can be considered especially for what they eat. Kids may want to stick to the bland, beige, starchy diet (chicken nuggets, fries, macaroni) ,but this is a best time to introduce fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, which provide fiber. Fiber not only prevents heart disease and other conditions, but also helps for digestion of food and prevents constipation. (1)
3. For Grade-school goers (5-8 years)
It is not uncommon for a 6- or 7-year-old child to suddenly decide to become a vegetarian when he understands animals food sources and where food comes from. This does not mean that your baby will never get enough protein; Animal tissue is not the only source of protein. Rice, beans, eggs, milk, and peanut butter all contain protein. So even if your child goes to "no-meat" for a week or so, he or she will still be able to get enough protein. (2) Areas that might be a little too sufficient are sugars, fats, and sodium.
• This is a time when children start going to school and have less control over what they eat, especially if they find it in the restaurant itself. Cakes, sweets, chips, and other snacks can be turned into a lunch.
• The body needs carbs (sugar), fat, and protein, but it should be eaten in moderation, as too much can lead to unwanted weight gain and other health problems.
• Waste is a life-threatening condition caused by malnutrition and / or disease. Reflecting the rapid deterioration of nutritional status in the short term of period, children suffering from malnutrition have reduced their immune system, which increases the risk of death due to the high frequency and severity of common infections, especially if severe.
4. For Preteens (9-12 years) & Teens (13-18 years)
As adolescence begins, young people need more calories to support the many changes they will face. Unfortunately, for some, those extra calories come from a fast food or a “junk” diet with a small amount of nutritious food. (1)
• Some adolescents go the opposite way and restrict calories, fats, or carbs. Adolescence is a time when children begin to realize their weight and body, which, for some, can lead to eating disorders or other unhealthy behaviors. Parents should be aware of changes in their child's eating patterns and make family meals even more important at least once or twice a week. (7)
• Micro-nutrient deficiency: Micro-nutrient deficiency caused by insufficient intake of one or more vitamins and minerals. It is important in preventing malnutrition in all its forms and reducing the spread of diseases especially during pregnancy and childhood. Iodine deficiency, for example, the world’s most secure cause of cognitive impairment, can lead to a variety of health and developmental disorders, including disability and mental retardation. For children living in countries where the death of children under the age of five is high and vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem, vitamin A supplementation provides significant protection against blindness and reduces the risk of death from preventable causes such as measles and diarrhea. (5)
• Like calories, calcium requirements are high. Calcium is more important than ever because most bones are formed during this time. Encouraging children to have milk, dairy products, or other calcium-rich alternatives, should help them get more calcium. (7)
• The sex of the baby can play a role in whether you need certain nutrients. For example, young girls need more iron than their male counterparts to replenish the hemoglobin which is lost in blood during menstruation. (6)
Water: Drink Up
Water makes up more than half of a child's weight and is needed to keep all body parts functioning properly.
• No specific water is recommended for children, but it is a good idea to give them water all day - not just when they are dry.
• Babies usually do not need water in the first year of life.
• If your child does not like the taste of water, add lemon or prepare juice for better taste.
• Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water.
• Children should drink plenty of water when they are sick, when it is hot outside, or when they are exercising.
While getting your child to eat healthy - no matter how old he or she is - can be a never-ending battle, worth fighting. A healthy child becomes a healthy adult, and only with your help and guidance will your child become both. In the early years of a child's life, it can be a good window to promote the development of healthy eating habits in children. The food experience and preferences of should begin in childhood and continue to grow as children switch to solid foods. During this time, baby food preferences are also influenced by the availability, accessibility, and familiarity of food and parental guidance. Therefore, if children are going to learn to choose and choose healthy foods, they need an early, good, repetitive experience with these foods.
2. https://childhood-obesity.imedpub.com/ Journal of Childhood Obesity
4. Committee on Nutrition (Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics)
5. Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS, 2016-18) by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India.
8. Photos : from different websites in Google