What is Nutrition?
Nutrition refers to the food or supplements we eat that provide our body with the energy and essential nutrients required for growth and development. Thus, our daily diet is our constant source of nutrition as it supplies fuel for proper functioning of the body. However, it is important to eat everything in a balanced proportion as over or underconsumption of food/nutrients may lead to unwanted results like obesity or malnutrition.
Why is Nutrition Important?
Many children around the world suffer from malnutrition - a condition where the body does not get adequate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals that are essential to ensure the healthy functioning of tissues and organs. This may be due to lack of sufficient food intake either during childhood or when the child is in the mother’s womb during pregnancy. Consequently, the child’s physical and mental growth is hindered. In addition, the child’s immunity suffers, leaving them unable to fight certain illnesses. This is why it is vital that children be given a nutritious diet in the early years of their life.
How are Growth and Nutrition Related?
Nutrition is extremely important in childhood, as it forms the basis for the development of a healthy adult body. Young children require various nutrients including vitamins and minerals that help with normal growth. These nutrients play a role in strengthening the teeth, bones, joints and muscles, and help in effective functioning of the body’s organs. Not only physical but early mental development is also affected through nutrition. This includes brain development, memory and attention.
How do you Make a Child’s Meal Nutritious?
As a parent, you need to ensure that your child does not overindulge in processed junk food like pizza, burgers, ice cream, chocolate and carbonated beverages. These food items have a negative impact on your child’s health. They have little nutritive value and give rise to problems like obesity and dental cavities. Thus, you might make meals more appealing by adding more vegetables, using creativity to cut them into different shapes. Try to add more colour to the meals. Adding more amounts of grains, cereals, fruits, nuts, and veggies in your child's meals ensures that their body is supplied with the necessary nutrients. Pay attention to the following pointers:
- Provide meals at the same time every day
- Regulate the portion size
- Try to feed your child fresh whole foods
- Avoid processed and fast food
- Maintain the right balance by adding equal portions of veggies, grains and fruits
- Avoid unnecessary sweets
- Try to include more home-cooked meals
- Maintain good hygiene to avoid contamination and disease
Useful Information about Food and Nutrition
For a newborn or infant, breast milk should be the only food and drink to be given in the first 6 months after birth. After 6 months, in addition to breastfeeding, other food items can be gradually introduced.
The child needs to be fed 2 to 3 times a day from the age of 6–8 months and 3 to 4 times a day starting at 9 months. Depending on your child's appetite, one or two snacks such as fruits may be given between meals. The baby should be fed small amounts of food that can be gradually increased in quantity as they grow.
Fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, fish and meat are readily available food items that have a high nutritive value. Include these in your child’s daily intake to ensure the proper supply of vitamins and to prevent disorders like anaemia.
Use iodized salt instead of ordinary salt to ensure optimum development of your child’s brain.
What to do if Your Child’s Growth is Stunted despite Proper Nutrition?
You may observe that your child is not meeting the required standards of mental or physical growth. If they show abnormal signs such as swelling in parts of the body, low body weight or inattentiveness, despite healthy food and eating habits, then you should visit a child care specialist to determine the underlying cause. This will help in early diagnosis and treatment and prevent unwanted complications.