Child Nutrition

You know that proper nutrition is very important for your child's growth & development but you are not sure about which foods are especially nutritious for a young child like yours. Steer through the articles to find out how to keep your child healthy and full of vitality. If you have a fussy eater, learn how to get him to eat all the wholesome foods his body requires.

    • Fussy Eaters
    • Junk Food and Obesity
    • Vegetarian Diets
    • The Goodness of Vegetables
    • Juices
"My daughter hardly eats. I run after her, take her to the park, use pranks, force or even 'bribe' her to eat but she still doesn't. What should I do? I am totally frustrated and worried."
  • Questions like these seem to be a major concern for most parents with young children. Relax --you are not alone. Many children have eating difficulties at some point after the age of one or two.Although it is a real worry, in most cases, the child doesn't truly even have an eating "problem". It may be that a child who previously ate anything and everything you put in his or her mouth has now learnt to discriminate. He or she has finally developed a personality of his or her own that can assert foritself.
    The important thing to remember is that children will eat when they are hungry; unless they have a medical problem. If a parent has become preoccupied by a child's eating, the child can learn to control or "blackmail" the parent through it – by eating or not eating. Often the first sign of illness is a loss of appetite. But under normal physical and emotional conditions, children will eat when they are hungry and stop when they've had enough.
    Your child may cringe at the sight of a nutritious dinner you have so lovingly prepared – simply because his or her tummy is full of chips. It is but natural for parents to want their kids to eat foods that provide balanced nutrition. But the fact is, kids love junk food and will like having a lot of it. Don't deprive them of their after-school snacks but limit them if you expect your child to eat a full lunch/dinner.Try to incorporate healthy snacks in your child's daily diet regime. Pre-school children have small appetites and can't eat a lot in one sitting. They need healthy snacks between meals that are nutrient dense, high in energy, and easy to digest. Try limiting the quantity and go for spacing out the timings of the snacks -- so that your child will be able to eat his regular food at meal times.
    Meal times should be a pleasant experience and not a battlefield. A feeding problem is often the result of parents coercing their children to eat. You must remember that food fussiness is not due to the loss of appetite or a "sluggish liver"; it is an attention seeking prank bypre-schoolers. Make every effort to make your child look forward to those times.
    1. Give the child the food he or she likes the best (amongst the nutritious ones) for 2 to 3 weeks and omit all the foods that he or she dislikes. This will help to make him or her less suspicious and tense about food and get them to come happily to the dining table.
    2. If your son or daughter eats small portions, don't worry. Each child is different. Also, remember that day-to-day intake of food may vary just like your appetite does.
    3. Try smaller portions (serve less than what you think your child will eat). Piles of food can often turn off a child's appetite.
    4. Refusal of fruits and vegetables is a very common problem. Make them more tempting and/or more fun but do not camouflage a detested food by mixing it with something else. For instance, cutting vegetables in fun shapes may turn previously rejected vegetables into food that's fun to eat. A child should eat because he or she wants to and not for any other reason.
    5. Children should be encouraged to feed by themselves. Often parents of fussy eaters feel that their child will eat more if they feed him or her. Consequently, he or she starts equating being fed with love and when his or her parents stop feeding at some point, he or she views this as a rejection and stops eating. Eventually, the parents give in and resume feeding. What does the child learn through this process? Manipulation.
    One hears innumerable stories about the ploys used by parents to get their children to eat. Some have to tell them a new story with each mouthful; some have to take them outside to distract them; some have to bribe them with gifts. These tactics are not advisable. Bribes indicate to the child that eating is an unpleasant activity and one has to be compensated for it.
    The key to tackling fussy eaters is to be patient. The more worried and anxious you are; the less is your child likely to eat. It takes time for children to develop good eating habits. A certain amount of freedom concerning their diet should be allowed by adopting a relaxed attitude. The best thing to do is to set an example by demonstrating good habits. Reduce your own intake of chips, soft drinks and junk food,andsee the magic unfold!
Diksha's parents were shocked when the doctor attributed their plump 5-year-old daughter's lack of concentration to malnutrition. How could a chubby girl from an upper middle class family be 'malnourished', they wondered?
  • Like most people, her parents were mistakenly equating chubbiness to healthiness.
    Like it or not, our kids today are a part of the junk food generation. This phenomenon is not only prevalent in developed countries but has also started gaining momentum in developing countries like India.
    It is important to remember that physical and mental development of a child depends to a large extent on the nutrition he gets in the first 2-3 years of his life. Genetic factors do play an important role in the growth and development but there are areas in which you can make a difference. A diet dependant on junk food is loaded with empty calories, saturated or trans-fats and lacks sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals in it. It is an important cause behind obesity and disturbed attention. Besides, obese children with faulty dietary habits might often be anaemic and may have a low resistance to diseases, with recurrent day to day infections caused due to poor intake of micronutrients.
    Remember that the first step towards solving a problem is realizing and accepting it. Parents usually overlook their child's chubbiness and it slowly gets out of control. Obesity is controllable. It just needs commitment especially from you and other family members. Be a good role model and practice what you preach. Try stopping the buying of junk food so that your child won't have access to it at home. Don't purchase junk food for your own consumption also because he'll realize that you don't mean what you say. You have to try and be a good role model for your child .Try out interesting recipes that use nutritious ingredients and make meal times interesting, enjoyable and satisfying.
    So, what can you do to change your child's eating habits? What if he refuses to eat what is put in front of him? Well, the first thing you should try and do istonot let him satiate his appetite and cravings in between meals. Snacks such as chips, fizzy drinks, tinned juices and chocolates are either full of sugar or full of fat.Therefore, they have a high calorie count with minimum or no micronutrients. Also, if children eat such snacks just before a meal, they will not want the nutritious food that is served to them.
    In an age of 24-hour television and computer games, most children don't get enough physical activity to burn calories, which ultimately get converted to fat. As a parent, you must ensure that your child spends enough time each day running around or playing outdoor sports. If need be, you should go along with him.
    You must include vegetables in every meal and encourage your child to take them. It will soon become a habit. Encourage the intake of fruits and salads in interesting shapes and forms. This healthy ways of eating should ideally be introduced when the child first startswith semi-solids; but it's better late than never. Healthy mid-afternoon snacks made at home should replace pre-packed munchies. As a parent, you should try to limit your child's intake of table sugar, that being the main cause of obesity amongst children. Also, limit the consumption of desserts like chocolates, cakes, and ice creams. This will not only help keep off the extra weight, but will also prevent development of caries and cavities in teeth.
    Finally, if, even after taking all these precautions your child continues to gain weight, take him to a doctor. There could be some medical or endocrinal problem that is causing his or her obesity.
    Help your children maintain a healthy life style:
    • Don't use food as a reward or punishment.
    • Involve your children in meal planning and grocery shopping. This helps them gain practical experience and gives them a role in the decision making process.
    • Eat meals together as a family and eat at the table, not in front of a television. Eat slowly and enjoy your food.
    • Go out together as a family for walks, jogging, cycling, swimming, or other outdoor physical activities.
Vegetarianism is a way of life for a vast majority of people in India. It can be a very healthy way of eating, especially if it includes eggs (ovo-vegetarians) and milk products –and if the said meals are planned thoughtfully. It is important to include a variety of foods rich in vitamins and minerals, along with proteins, carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids so that nutritional deficiencies do not occur.
  • The quality of animal protein is superior to that of plant protein as animal protein supplies the body with all the essential amino acids whereas plant protein is deficient in some of these. However, when meals include food from a variety of dietary sources, the diet becomes balanced because the missing amino acids or nutrients from one source get complemented by those from other sources.
    A toddler's diet is extremely important. It is vital to his rapid physical growth; general health and well-being; his ability to learn and play; and also his future health. Therefore, extra efforts should be made to ensure that he gets the right types of food.
    Milk and Milk Products
    Milk (especially the full-cream variety) and milk products are very important for growing children, as they are a good source of calories, calcium, proteins, and vitamin A. These are especially important for vegetarians, as they form one of the major sources of nutrients and proteins from animal sources.
    Calcium contributes to the formation and maintenance of boneswhile Vitamin A is crucial for healthy eyes. A vegetarian child should be given full-cream milk at least for the first five years and then low fat or toned milk can be introduced.
    If a child is intolerant to cow's milk, he can be given calcium fortified soya milk.
    Milk can also be given to children in the form of Yoghurt (Dahi), Paneer, Cheese, and desserts like Kheer and Custard. Children who are lactose intolerant can tolerate the above milk products.
    Eggs
    For ovo-vegetarians, eggs serve as an important source of some of the essential nutrients. Eggs are an excellent source of good quality animal protein and provide the body with the all essential amino acids needed for proper growth and development. Other than protein, they also contain essential vitamins (except for Vitamin C) and minerals.
    Fruits and Vegetables
    All children should be encouraged to eat at least five portions (500g) of helpings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. They provide all the essential vitamins andminerals, dietary fibres and phyto-nutrients needed by the body. It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables because one particular kind may not be rich in all vitamins and minerals. Some sources are rich in a particular nutrient while others may be rich in other nutrients.
    Fruits are also especially rich in Vitamins and Minerals and dietary fibres. Whole grains are rich in fibre;vitaminsB complex and E; minerals; proteins, andcomplex carbohydrates especially the slow releasing kind that provide more sustained energy.
    The proteins in whole grains lack certain essential amino acids required by the body, and should therefore be eaten with pulses, milk, and milk products; to ensure that the intake of all the essential amino acids happens.
    When whole grains are processed or polished, they lose a lot of their nutritional value -- especially B vitamins. Therefore, it is desirable that you encourage your child to consume whole grain products. Whole grain products also serve as a good source of dietary fibres.
    Legumes or Pulses
    Legumes or pulses (lentils) are the main sources of proteins for vegetarian children. Although they are a good source for proteins, they (except for soya beans) do not provide all the essential amino acids required for proper growth and development.Therefore, these must be eaten with cereals and/or milk products. Besides proteins, pulses also provide complex carbohydrates, vitamins (especially the B vitamins), minerals and dietary fibres. Soya beans do contain all the essential amino acids needed by the body as also useful amounts of iron and calcium.
    Nuts and Seeds
    Nuts and seeds are high in calories and are nutrient dense. They are rich in proteins, some of the vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids, and fibres.
    Almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamias and walnuts are especially rich in some needed nutrients as well as in polyunsaturated fatty acids. As far as the seeds are concerned, sunflower, pumpkin, flax and sesame are the best.
    Always give ground nuts to avoid choking – especially if your child is under the age of 5 years. Salted nuts are likely to have higher sodium content, so it is better to buy the unsalted versions.
    Fats and Oils Fats and oils are an important source of energy and essential fatty acids. They help the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
    Intake of saturated fats (whole cream milk and butter) along with hydrogenated (VanaspatiGhee) and trans-fats should be restricted because they raise the level of LDL cholesterol that can cause health related problems. Although oils and fats should be generally restricted, they should not be restricted in under-5 or preschool children as they are important for the proper development of the brain and other vital organs. Omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) is essential for aiding brain development and should be made a part of your pre-schoolers' diet as brain development is maximum till the age of 5 years.
    It is possible for children to get adequate nutrition from a vegetarian diet as long as the diet is well balanced and includes all the essential nutrients that a growing child needs.
Mothers tirelessly tell their children to eat vegetables.This is because most children are fussy and do not like eating green, leafy vegetables. They do know that vegetables are good for their health but do they know why?
  • Carrots
    Carrots are good for the eyes because they are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene amongst the commonly consumed vegetables. Consumption of beta-carotene helps improve vision and the immune system. That's not all that the carrots can do. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, which can combat oxygen free radicals. As an antioxidant, it also promotes skin health.
    Pumpkins
    Pumpkins are packed with beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body.Like carrots, it helps improve the immune system and assists in maintaining a healthy vision. It is also a source for alpha carotene, which, like beta-carotene, is a carotenoid and possesses Vitamin A activity. Pumpkins also provide with vitamins B5, and potassium.
    Spinach
    Spinach is loaded with carotenes and folic acid. It is also rich in vitamin C, calcium, fibre, and carotenoids like lutein and bioflavanoids. Calcium helps strengthen bones, caroteneoids help maintain healthy vision, and lutein acts as a potent antioxidant. The fact that spinach is also rich in fibre makes it a good stool softener too
    Tomatoes
    Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a type of carotenoid which acts as an antioxidant. Cooking it, as against eating it raw, is more effective because the process helps release the lycopene from the 'fruit'.This makes it easier for the body to absorb the lycopene. Tomatoes also provide Vitamin C which is good for the immune system.
    Beetroots They are a good source of Vitamin C and folate, and are also known to be rich in antioxidants –that help promote skin health. The green leafy parts are especially nutritious as they contain high quantities of calcium, beta-carotene, and iron.
    French Beans
    French beans are a fair source of Vitamin C, potassium and folic acid.
    Green Peas
    Green peas are a part of the legumes family but are cooked like any other vegetable. They are a good source of dietary fibre. Peas are richer than other vegetables in thiamin (Vitamin B1), which is essential for energy production.
    Always buy fresh vegetables that are seasonal. Not only do they cost lesser, they are also full of flavour. And because they are fresh, their nutritional value is at their optimum.
    Vegetables should be washed before peeling and cutting and they should not be kept soaked in water because some of the vitamins leak out. Avoid use of baking powder as well asheavilyprolonged cooking methods -- to maximize nutrient retention.
Fruit juices are considered as popular drinks amongst pre-schoolers and many mothers are keen to offer juices anytime to their children. The biggest virtue of fruit juices is that most children accept them with eagerness and love to drink them. They help in providing instant energy. However, excessive intake of fruit juices may lead to obesity and dental caries due to their high sugar content. Some of the packed or tinned fruit juices are not nutritious as they are sugar based syrups with merely 10% fruit juice or essence of fruits. Seasonal fruit and vegetable juices with their nutritional virtues are listed below:
  • Pomegranate Juice
    This is packed with natural polyphenols and thus possesses antioxidant properties. Pomegranate juice is also rich in phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
    Orange Juice
    Orange juice is a good source of Vitamin C, which acts as a natural antioxidant and thus helps in maintaining the integrity of one'simmune system. Vitamin C also promotes healthy skin and gums. Calcium enriched orange juice scores extra points. When consumed with the meals, it helps in the absorption of iron from dietary sources.
    Mango Juice
    Mango juice is not only rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; it is also rich in enzymes -- especially the ones that soothe the stomach. Mangoes contain an enzyme with stomach soothing properties -- similar to papain found in papayas. These comforting enzymes act as a soothing digestive aid and can be held partially responsible for that feeling of contentment you experience during and after eating mangoes or drinking mango juice. Mango and mango juice is a rich source of Beta Carotene which serves as a potent antioxidant and aids in maintaining a healthy vision.
    Apple Juice
    Fruit sugars such as those found in apple products serve as an immediate source of energy. Apple juice also serves as an excellent means for providing essential fluids to the body. New research suggests that apples are rich in phytonutrients, which - like antioxidants - help in boosting the immune system.
    Tomato Juice
    Tomato juice has amazing health benefits. Lycopene found in tomatoes has excellent antioxidant properties.
    Carrot Juice
    Carrot juice has a number of benefits. Beta Carotene found in carrot act as an excellent antioxidant and also helps maintain healthy vision.
    Juices - in general - are good but it isn't wise to overindulge in them. Excessive intake of fruit juices may contribute to diarrhoea, obesity and dental caries. Prolonged exposure of the teeth to the sugars in juicescouldbe a major contributing factor with regards to dental caries.
    Fruit juice should only be used as a part of a meal or a snack. It should not be sipped throughout the day or used as a means to pacify an unhappy child. The ideal amount is 4-6 fl. ounces per day (for 1-6 yr olds). However, it is important that children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits to meet their recommended daily fruit intake – more so because of the additional benefits of fibres and phyto-nutrients that direct fruit intake helps provide.
How can I make sure my kids maintain a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they think is "health food"?
  • At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through periods when they eat healthier and have good appetites, and then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what they eat, how much they eat, and even when they eat. This is why eating disorders can develop in some kids and teenagers. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach kids about nutrition and what foods are healthy. Be patient, but continue to model and talk about healthy eating habits. To begin with, discuss about the importance of healthy and timely eating. Talk about the food pyramid; help them understand the food groups and how they function. As healthy food is not always boring food!
How can I make sure my kids maintain a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they think is "health food"?
  • At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through periods when they eat healthier and have good appetites, and then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what they eat, how much they eat, and even when they eat. This is why eating disorders can develop in some kids and teenagers. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach kids about nutrition and what foods are healthy. Be patient, but continue to model and talk about healthy eating habits. To begin with, discuss about the importance of healthy and timely eating. Talk about the food pyramid; help them understand the food groups and how they function. As healthy food is not always boring food!
How can I make sure my kids maintain a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they think is "health food"?
  • At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through periods when they eat healthier and have good appetites, and then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what they eat, how much they eat, and even when they eat. This is why eating disorders can develop in some kids and teenagers. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach kids about nutrition and what foods are healthy. Be patient, but continue to model and talk about healthy eating habits. To begin with, discuss about the importance of healthy and timely eating. Talk about the food pyramid; help them understand the food groups and how they function. As healthy food is not always boring food!