The ages from birth to age 8 yrs is considered early childhood, and up to the age of 5 is a fascinating time of tremendous growth and development at a fast pace. During the first few months, parents notice profound changes in their babies almost daily. It is at this time that the body and brain develop the fastest. By age 8, almost 95% of the brain has already developed and laid the foundations for future learning. On the other hand, the body will continue to grow till the late teens.
Nature and Nurture are the two main influencing factors in every child’s growth and development. Nature refers to the genes the child is born with, whereas Nurture is the experiences and nutrition the child receives. Nature-wise there is nothing much we can do once the child is born. However, nurture-wise, there is a lot that we can do. Besides giving your child an array of experiences, childhood nutrition is also paramount.
The nutrition received in childhood, a time of growth and development will directly affect the child as they grow up. As challenging as it might be for adults to maintain a healthy diet, it is even more difficult for children. However, since early childhood is the formative years for habits to be used in their entire lifetime, as parents, we must persist and stay on track to develop healthy eating habits in our children.
Let’s explore the importance of childhood nutrition in developing 3 key areas of a child- their body, mind and spirit.
- Body: As building blocks to grow big and strong
- Calcium and Vitamin D
- Essential Fats
- Mind: Food for Thought
- Spirit: Good food for the Body and Soul
Children are naturally active, as they should be, and are constantly on the go, exploring and trying out new things. They need a diet rich in nutrients that provides them with the necessary fuel to carry on their very active lifestyle while also protecting them and keeping them healthy.
The benefits of good nutrition in a well-balanced diet are that it prevents malnutrition, helps build the child’s immunity, reduces the chances of the child being underweight or obese and even minimizes the chances of chronic health issues when they get older.
The nutrition in childhood for optimal development of your child’s body should be rich in-
The benefits of nutrition high in calcium and Vitamin D will directly and positively impact the development of bones and teeth in children. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, and dairy foods are the obvious choice. Still, certain green vegetables, legumes and fruits, and fish with edible soft bones contain natural and easily absorbable calcium.
The importance of proteins in childhood nutrition cannot be stressed enough. These are the building blocks for muscle repair and development. Eggs, seafood and fish, lean meats, cheese, beans and nuts are a few popular foods rich in proteins.
Nutrition in childhood needs to have a good portion of carbohydrates, as these are energy-giving foods for children. Due to their high activity levels, children need a lot of carbs in their diet. Foods like whole grain bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta, rice, and even certain fruits and vegetables like sweet potato, corn, pumpkin, bananas and apples are a source of good and healthy carbohydrates.
This is a necessary element of childhood nutrition as they help absorb certain vitamins necessary for skin health and provides insulation and protection to vital organs apart from other functions. Nuts, seeds, and certain fish are good sources of essential fats.
A child’s brain develops at a very rapid pace, collecting and storing immense amounts of information very quickly. The child’s attention span, learning and memory are all affected by the foods they consume. Therefore children need a nutrient-dense diet to help them concentrate, understand and assimilate as much as possible in the environment they are exposed to.
Certain foods need to be a part of childhood nutrition that helps the brain stay alert. Foods are rich in Vitamins D and E, Omega 3, and Folate, all help to keep the brain sharp and healthy. Green Leafy vegetables, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, and yoghurt keep the brain sharp and enhance its development.
Eating food should make us happy. It must appeal to all our senses, especially sight and smell. Food that is colourful with varied textures and tastes can be fun to eat, so liven up your plate with salads, vegetables, elements from different food groups, and ‘eat the rainbow!’.
Healthy foods don’t have to be boring. Pair a leafy vegetable preparation with roasted papad or put it on a canape cup to make it look interesting. You can make “soft taco shells” out of small-sized ‘chapatis’ and fill them with cooked vegetables for an interesting and healthy presentation. Colourful idlis/dosas made with grated or pureed fruit will liven up any plate and bring a smile to your little one’s face.
Limit sugary drinks, fizzy drinks and packed juices. Eat the actual fruits and choose to drink water instead, or a simple homemade drink like ‘nimbu panic, ‘Aam Panha’, or ‘Kokum Sharbat’ would be an even better alternative the ready-made drinks. ( click here to read more on ‘best healthy drinks for kids).
Make ‘healthy eating’ a way of life right from the beginning; as we grow up, it will come naturally to us and be easier to follow. Following a balanced diet and keeping the meal simple is key, along with some good habits that can make the meal experience fun.
Along with good childhood nutrition, a few habits can be introduced early.
- Eating together as a family
- Please switch off the TV, mobiles and tablets and keep them away from the dining area. It can be distracting.
- Please talk about the food, where it is from, how it is prepared, maybe some interesting facts about it, or maybe even play a game, like naming all the different things you can make with a single ingredient, e.g. a potato.
- Serve smaller portions and encourage your child to serve themselves some more if required. This will make them feel less overwhelmed when they see a full plate and will reduce the wastage of food.
- Enjoy meal times and avoid rushing through them. Even though it is frustrating when a child eats slowly, it will help them understand their bodies and realize when their tummies are full.
- Excessive snacking between meals should be avoided. Keep snacks simple and portions small so as not to spoil the child’s appetite.
As parents and professionals at Eurokids, we are aware of the benefits of nutrition and the value of good childhood nutrition, which is why at our centres, we try to teach good food habits from the beginning. The children follow a preset menu designed by our in-house nutritionists, and they learn to feed themselves by hand and with cutlery, even hold a tumbler and drink by themselves. The children are even encouraged to try out different foods. Ultimately, it is our aim to help children comfortably reach their developmental milestones and make things easier for parents at home.
Click here to know more or to visit a Eurokids centre for preschool admission for your child.