Frequently asked Questions from Mothers*
How can I make sure my kids eat a healthy diet, when they refuse to eat anything they consider as 'healthy food'?
- At some time or another, all parents worry about their child's eating habits. Kids go through times when they eat healthier and have good appetites. Then they also go through stages when all they want to eat is junk food. Kids quickly learn that they can control what to eat, how much to eat, and even when to 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 kind of 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.
My child refuses to eat almost everything. What should I do?
- Some children have extra-sensitive taste buds. Many children also tend to have a strong sense of smell, and they will complain about aromas that you may not even be able to sense. It's important to be patient with them, but it's also important to continue offering them a variety of healthy foods to try out. Never force your child to eat, but always invite them to eat food when all are on the table. Avoid offering junk food as a substitute - this will only teach your child to demand treats. When you eat healthily, your child will notice the choices you make and eventually see the importance of good nutrition. This will gradually inculcate good eating habits amongst them.
My son loves to play sports. For past couple of months he has been training hard and has become very skinny. How can I tell if he's eating enough to grow normally?
- Your pediatrician can tell you if your son is growing normally by routine height and weight measurements plotted on a growth chart. Hard training will not stunt his growth, as long as he is eating adequately. If he seems overly fatigued and lethargic, he may be eating too little. An easy way to boost calorie-balance is by replacing water intake with more milk and juice. This will balance the amount of calories he is burning in the play activity. Active children may need as many calories as their parents, if not more. For example, the average 6-year-old needs 1,800 calories/day (40 cals/lb) plus more for sports. Adding on sports and the number jumps by 300 to 600+ calories.
I know that calcium is needed for strong bones, but does calcium intake also affect my child's weight?
- Researchers have noted that people who drink more calcium-rich beverages, like milk, compared to low-milk drinkers have lower body weight. Lower intake of dairy products is related to higher body fat levels in children. Dairy foods provide more than just calcium. Dairy foods provide high quality protein, vitamins A and D, and minerals, calcium and potassium, all nutrients needed for healthy growth and development. Children between the ages of 2 to 8 years need two servings of dairy foods each day.
What constitutes a healthy diet for my child?
- A healthy diet helps children grow and learn. It also helps prevent obesity and weight-related diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or fatty liver. The following guidelines will help you give your child a balanced and nutritious diet:
• Offer five servings of different fruits and vegetables each day
• Choose healthy sources of protein, such as lean meat, nuts and eggs, beans, peas etc.
• Serve whole-grain breads and cereals because they are high in fiber and also provide satiety
• Boil, grill or steam foods instead of deep frying them
• Limit fast foods and junk foods
• Offer water and milk instead of sugary fruit drinks and sodas
There are three key words that should define optimum diet for the best immune function:
• BALANCE, viz. foods should be derived from all groups including fruits and vegetables, cereals and grains, dairy products, meats, etc.
• VARIETY, viz. within each food group, a variety of foods should be
• And finally, MODERATION; neither too little nor too much is good for the immune system
Some parents still believe that a fat baby is a healthy baby. Is this true?
- Just as under nutrition is harmful for immunity, so is over nutrition and obesity. An obese child has impaired function of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and cell-mediated immunity. Paradoxically, some of it is due to reduced intake of essential micronutrients such as iron and zinc.
Does falling sick often increase immunity?
- If your child is ill, it means he's strengthening his immunity. Germs, bacteria and viruses are naturally present in our environment. When your child is exposed to them, his defenses may not always protect him. Once inside, these germs quickly find a home inside the cells of your child's body, where they take over and use the cells to make more germs.
However, during all this, your child's body is not just standing idly; it has an immune system that is attempting to fight off the infection by sending in an army of chemicals, antibodies and blood cells. Unfortunately, the battle itself can make your child feel sick, while some of the body's defensive chemicals can cause unpleasant symptoms such as fever.
The amazing thing about the immune system is that it has a memory. Once it has seen and fought a germ, it remembers it and can mount a much larger response the next time the germ visits. Often killing the germ before it can establish itself and cause illness. This is called "immunity" and it is also the basis of all the vaccines that you give to your child to help prevent serious diseases.
The thing about illness and children, particularly younger children, is that they haven't been around for very long and their bodies have not met many of the germs that surround us. Therefore, they get sick often. This leads to an important fact - in order to build immunity, children have to get sick.
I've had a lot of success losing weight with a low-carb diet. My daughter is really struggling with her own weight issues. Is it okay to put her on the diet that I'm on?
- It's great that you've made a commitment to lose weight and had success with a plan that works for you. But it's not a good idea to put kids on diets that are designed for adults.
Kids have different nutritional requirements - as they grow, they need certain nutrients and vitamins to develop well. If you're concerned about your daughter's weight, talk with your doctor and consult a nutritionist who can help in planning a personalized diet plan for your daughter that will suit her needs and demands. And try to adopt a healthy lifestyle where you eat family meals together and find activities that all of you can enjoy, from bike rides, to hikes, to cricket, to hide and seek. When parents approach healthy food and exercise as the norm in their household, kids adopt that vision much more easily.
My child is very fussy about eating. How can I get her to eat different foods?
- It can be frustrating when kids want to eat the same thing every day - but it's not uncommon. Encourage them to try at least a few bites of different nutritious foods at each meal. Kids are often slow to accept new tastes and textures, so you may have to present a food 10 to 15 times before they'll try it. Look for recipes with ingredients your kids like, and invite them to join you in the grocery shopping, cooking, and serving of foods. Don't let them fill up on juice. You may even try offering veggies as between-meal snacks.
It's important not to let a child's pickiness become a source of mealtime tension. You shouldn't cook special meals just for a picky eater, but do include something
he or she likes in every meal. And although it might be tempting, don't use food as a reward. Telling kids they can have a chocolate if they eat their vegetables only reinforces the appeal of the chocolate over the veggies.
My son is 6 years old, and I just got his BMI result that says he is overweight. What does that mean? What do I do now?
- BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a calculation that uses height and weight to estimate how much body fat a person has. A child who is overweight is at increased risk of developing health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, high cholesterol and a fatty liver. Parents are encouraged to share this information with their child's doctor/nutritionist, who can help interpret the results and make recommendations.
- Here are some tips to help kids maintain a healthy weight:
• Offer fruits and vegetables at meals and snack times and encourage your child to eat five or more servings a day
• Serve appropriate portion sizes
• Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and offer low-fat milk or water instead
• Limit time spent in front of a screen, including TV and computers, to less than 2 hours a day
• Set a good example by eating healthy, being physically active, and limiting the time you spend in front of a screen
• Encourage kids to be active every day. Experts recommend that kids get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily
Is it really true that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?
- Breakfast is indeed a very important meal. As the name suggests it breaks the long fast. A good breakfast fuels you up and gets you ready for the day. In general, kids who have breakfast have more energy, do better in school, and eat healthier throughout the day. Without breakfast, people can get irritable, restless, and tired. So make time for a nutritious breakfast - for yourself and your kids.
Why is a balance in diet so critical? Isn't a nutritious diet equal to a balanced diet?
- A balanced nutrition and not just any nutrition is crucial for your child's growth. Different nutrients work together and complement one another. Sometimes without one, the other may not be effective. When all the nutrients are present in the correct proportion and in the right amount in your child's diet, they form balanced nutrition.
- So, a diet that might be rich in only a few nutrients is nutritious but cannot be called as a 'balanced diet'. That is because not all the essential nutrients are present in it or they are not present in the right proportion or the required quantity. You might try and give your child nutritious food but it may still not satisfy all his daily nutrient requirements.
Any suggestions for healthy, kid-friendly snacks?
- Fluids help kids re-hydrate, especially after long games in hot weather. Cool water and 100% fruit juices are ideal. Kids may actually drink more fluids from sports' drinks because they are flavored and may therefore improve re-hydration. Watermelons, oranges, apples, and grapes are good examples of fruits that have high water content. They are known to help with re-hydration. Peanut butter and cottage cheese sandwiches, fruit, tofu or chicken salads are healthy snacks you can offer your child.
Why are healthy lunches and snacks important at school?
- Your child's school lunches and snacks are a major source of the essential vitamins and minerals they need to grow and develop over the years. The foods you pack for your child will give them the energy and nutrients needed for learning and development. Without enough energy from food, they may feel tired and find it difficult to concentrate in class. Just like adults, if tasty healthy foods are not available when your child is hungry, the chances that he or she will reach for unhealthy junk foods is greater.
My family is vegetarian. How can I provide foods to meet my child's growth needs?
- A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet that includes milk and eggs can meet a child's needs for growth and development. For strict vegetarians, care must be taken in meal planning because the diet does not include animal products. Alternative food sources of some nutrients like protein, iron, calcium and vitamin B-12 must be used in this case. In addition, the diet may consist of mainly low-calorie, high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains. These foods are healthy, but can fill up the stomach before the child has eaten enough protein-rich foods.
- A registered dietician can provide helpful information about vitamin and mineral supplements, meal planning and the amount of calories and protein needed for growth and development.