Did you not begin to worry about your child’s nutrition since you learnt of your pregnancy? Wouldn’t you make healthier choices so your baby in the womb grew better? Did you not avoid certain foods, even if you had an iota of doubt about whether it was “safe” or not?
Once the baby is born, you know what she had to be fed. For the first six months of a child’s life, breastmilk or formula are the sole source of nutrition.
It is the period after the first six months when other foods are introduced that we often find ourselves lost when it comes to children’s nutrition.
While the primary hurdle in a child’s nutrition is access to healthy food, loss of appetite, picky eating habits, illness, teething, food allergies and lack of awareness also adversely affect optimal growth.
The only way to ensure optimal growth of a child is to give the baby nutritionally adequate and wholesome meals.
Here is how good nutrition aids in overall development :
1) Enhances Cognitive Development
In the first year alone, a baby triples her birth weight and her height increases by 50%.
80% of the cognitive development takes place in the first two years as the brain triples in size. Good nutrition ensures that the growth takes place at an optimum level in these crucial years and beyond it.
2) Good Nutrition Promotes Emotional Well Being
A well balanced and nourished diet promote the emotional development of a child. In fact, vitamins and minerals like calcium play a crucial role in developing the emotional system.
3) Ensures Optimal Growth
During the early years the body of a child grows at an alarming rate. A healthy diet, rich in Calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals will ensure optimal skeletal and physical growth.
4) Positively Affects Social Behaviour
Research has proven that proper nutrition during childhood positivity affects an individual’s social behaviours and development.
5) Good Nutrition Today Means A Better Tomorrow
What a child eats today, it has a major impact on how he is going to feel today, tomorrow and in the future. A balanced diet that is healthy and nutritious helps keep obesity at bay and eventually reduces the risk of chronic diseases and promotes overall health. Thus, good nutrition goes a long way in contributing to overall development of a child.
However, incorporating essential nutrients into a child’s diet may be a challenge.
Here are a few ways I try and enhance the nutritional value of my child’s meals :
1) Add Superfoods
Superfoods are foods that are nutritionally dense and hence considered to be good for one’s health. Some of the popular superfoods are blueberries, kale, whole grain, kiwi, seeds, and nuts. While you may think it is not feasible to use these ingredients in everyday Indian cooking, they can be blended into everyday meals. Dry roast seeds and power them to use as seasoning or stuff them into a paratha. Schedule a time for eating nuts (for my kid it is before leaving for school)
2) Fortified foods
In addition to a healthy diet, fortified foods can provide nutrients that are not easily available and absorbed from regular foods. For example, DHA is a building block that is found in just a handful of foods. To make sure my child gets enough of this important nutrient , I have started giving Enfagrow A + to my child. This fortified nutritional powder is made for children aged 2 years and above to assist in brain development, immunity and overall physical growth. Thus, it helps out in more than one aspect. When it comes to mental development, Enfagrow A+ also contains DHA which is the building block of the brain.
3) Add a healthy twist to every meal
We try and add veggies to almost everything. When it comes to cooking for a child, no recipe is sacrosanct. Add grated veggies and fruits to porridge, khichadi, pancakes or even dosas and idlis.
4) Resort to age old wisdom
Indian cooking uses a lot of whole grains, cereals, pulses, legumes and spices which enhance the nutritional value of food. Some of these ingredients even have medicinal properties.
5) Stay clear of bottles and packages
Even the biscuits and cookies that claim to be rich in fibre and healthy are full of sugar and refined flour. If we scrutinise the amount of salt, sugar and other preservatives in bottles of sauces, creams, dressings, condiments, and other packaged food, we will be left startled.
6) Reduce salt and sugar
Replace sugar with natural sweeteners like fruits, dates, jaggery or honey. Adding natural herbs and spices reduces the need for salt.
Nutrition during growing years is like a puzzle parents have to put together with different food groups and the right eating habits. It’s something you have to work on everyday. The results are seen slowly but surely. By understanding what your child’s nutritional needs and taking steps to meet them can help your child develop optimally physically and mentally in the long run.