By Prof Dr NORIMAH A KARIM
Early childhood nutrition can bring great benefits to your child’s health.
WE are all aware that good nutrition is important for all stages in life. However, it is especially important for infants, toddlers and young children as they need various vitamins and minerals in balanced proportions to help their bodies and minds develop and mature.
Giving your child a healthy and balanced diet will also keep malnutrition problems at bay as well as help to create good nutrition habits in your children for years to come.
If a healthy body and mind is what you want for your child, then understanding nutrition is of utmost importance. Good nutrition can help maintain your child’s mental and physical health as well as development. His diet must contain adequate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.
Nutrition plays a vital role in your child’s bone development throughout life. As your child’s bones grow, so does his height. Bone is a living and growing tissue; childhood and the early teen years are the best times to build up bones.
Give your child a diet that includes sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients can be found in milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. You should also encourage your child to get some sun as the sun provides natural vitamin D.
As your child grows and develops, he or she will become more active. An active child needs to have healthy muscles in order to make sure they can move safely. To build and repair muscle tissues, give your child a diet that contains adequate protein. Protein can be found in lean meats such as chicken and turkey, eggs, cheese, milk, nuts and legumes.
The foods your child eats will provide the energy his body needs.
The main source of energy is carbohydrates. Provide him with complex carbohydrates that not only provide him with energy, but also fibre, vitamins and minerals. Good examples include cereals (preferably whole grains) such as rice, bread, oats, breakfast cereals, noodles and pasta.
Giving your child a healthy, balanced diet will help prevent obesity and chronic lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and hypertension, and even certain cancers. Giving correct portion sizes at a young age and eating a healthy, balanced diet will help prevent your kids from being overweight as they get older.
The toddler and pre-school years is when children start to learn more actively; and at these ages, multi-dimensional learning occurs through observation, study and play. Therefore good nutrition and good health during the early years of a child’s life is crucial. They help a child achieve his or her full potential by boosting intellectual development, enhancing learning ability and producing better performance in school as well as in the later years.
Undernourished children have lower resistance or immunity to fight infections, thus becoming sick more often, hence missing school and failing to keep up with school work. Give your growing child a good headstart in life by ensuring that he or she receives a healthy nutritional foundation.
As a parent, you can help prevent nutritional deficiencies in your child by providing him with a well-balanced diet. Remember that you don’t need a degree in chemistry or medicine to do this. You can start by simply selecting and cooking the right foods containing the essential nutrients his body needs to grow and develop. Use the Malaysian Food Pyramid or the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines as a guide to help you.
Another way to teach your child about good nutrition is to invite him to help with the preparation of meals. Your child will be happy to tell you how he had helped to prepare the sandwich.
As your child grows older, you can involve him more in meal planning and preparation, and at the same time teach him about good nutrition. This will also provide him with skills that will last a lifetime.
Allow your child to help you choose some dishes for the day and give him choices to select from; if he does not like the choices, then you choose, but explain why. This will give your child a sense of ownership and involvement in the food selection process and he will be more inclined to eat the foods he helped choose.
Read the label
Shopping with your child is another great opportunity to educate him about the different types of foods and their nutritional value. You can also teach him some smart shopping tips, like reading food labels and taking note of expiry dates.
Teaching your child about good nutrition can also be done by involving him in the planting of some fruits and vegetables in the garden. When he helps you grow them, explain to him the goodness of each fruit and vegetable. He will be proud to eat them, knowing that he had a part to play in growing them.
Remember the saying “monkey see, monkey do”? Your child learns about nutrition by watching what and how much you eat. So practise what you preach and eat nutritious foods and fruits and vegetables in front of your child as often as possible. You cannot expect them to eat their carrots and tomatoes while you eat chocolate cakes and burgers.
It is also important to remember that physical activity is just as essential to your child’s overall physical and psychological health. Encourage him to be active every day by helping you around the house, kicking a ball around, playing a game of chase, or having fun on the monkey bars at the park.
Children should also do moderately intensive physical activities, like cycling and swimming, or participate in sports like football, badminton or basketball at least five to six times a week.
Limit your child’s physical inactivity and sedentary habits like watching television or playing video games.
If you have questions about nutrition for children or specific concerns about your child’s diet, talk to your child’s doctor or a nutritionist or dietitian.
Prof Dr Norimah A Karim is a Nutritionist. This article is courtesy of Positive Parenting Programme by the Malaysian Paediatric Association and supported by an educational grant from Wyeth Malaysia. The opinions in the article are the view of the author. For more information, please visit mypositiveparenting.org.
Taken from Lifestyle, thestar online, www.thestar.com.my.