Whenever the topic of nutrition and diet comes up, I am always reminded of a quote from the French author Francois de la Rochefoucauld. He had said that “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art”. And I must say that truer words have never been spoken. Making deliberate, informed judgements about what to eat and how to eat it are two crucial aspects of eating, which go beyond simply satisfying your hunger. Everyone must make it a point to ensure that whatever goes inside them doesn’t hamper their health but instead is beneficial to their bodies. When it comes to children it becomes a much more vital issue because children require the right amount of essential nutrients and vitamins during their growing years when their muscles and brains are constantly evolving.
We can think of children as young seedlings that require the right amount of sunlight, water and nutrients to grow into healthy, vibrant plants. And much like these little plants, a child’s early nutrition and food have a significant impact on how they will grow up to be physically and mentally healthy. Nutrition is not just about filling little tummies with enough calories to keep them going. In order for their bodies and minds to develop and flourish, we must provide them with the necessary building blocks. So, let’s look at some of the key nutrients that children need for their overall development and growth.
Protein: Proteins are the building blocks of life as we know it and they are extremely vital to be ignored while planning a diet for growing kids. Protein is necessary for the growth and development of muscles, bones, and organs as well as for the building and repair of tissues. Fish, poultry, lean meats, beans ,eggs, lentils, and tofu are all excellent sources of protein for kids.
Carbohydrates: Children need a lot of carbohydrates for them to lead an active life because they are the body’s main source of energy. In addition to being great sources of carbs, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes also include fibre, vitamins, and minerals that are crucial for a healthy digestive system.
Fats: The growth of the brain and nervous system as well as the absorption of some vitamins are reliant on fats. However, not all fats are equally advantageous. The body benefits from unsaturated fats, while trans and saturated fats are detrimental. Unsaturated fats are found in foods including avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
Calcium: Strong bones and teeth require calcium to form, especially in the early years of a child’s life. Children who don’t get enough calcium may develop difficulties later in life, including bone fractures. Leafy greens, dairy products, and fortified foods are all excellent sources of calcium. Now fortified foods are those nutrients that aren’t present naturally in the food. These foods are intended to enhance nutrition and provide further health advantages. Some common food items that are fortified are wheat flour, cereals, milk and fruit juices.
Iron: Iron is required for the synthesis of haemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. Children who do not consume enough iron may develop anaemia, a condition that causes exhaustion, weakness, and other issues. Red meat,chicken,fortified grains, fish and beans are all good sources of iron.
Vitamins and minerals: Vitamins and minerals are necessary for the optimum functioning of the body. Children require a wide range of vitamins and minerals for proper growth and development. Among these Vitamins A,C and D are among the important lot. The human body requires vitamin C for the growth and repair of tissue, vitamin A for eyesight, and vitamin D for increased bone strength. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products are all abundant in vitamins and minerals.
Now it’s time to explore some other ways to ensure that young kids never miss out on their essential nutrient intake:
Make mealtime fun: Children are more likely to indulge in healthy eating habits when they are fun, so why not make meal time enjoyable and entertaining? You can make fun shapes out of food, create funny faces with veggies, or have a picnic with your family.
Get creative: Kids can get bored pretty easily with the same dishes every day. Their taste buds always crave different aromas and flavours and you should definitely cater to that. You can play around by incorporating new spices, herbs, or ingredients into the recipes of common and familiar dishes or you may try learning entirely new healthy cuisines from Youtube or elsewhere.
Involve children in meal planning and preparation: Children will be more eager to eat new dishes when they are involved in the preparation process of the dish. You could sit down with them and plan for the day’s meals along with including them while shopping for the grocery and cooking.
Regulate intake of junk food and sugary beverages: It is understandable that junk food and sugary drinks are appealing to kids but in the long term they give rise to many health problems like obesity. Cut down its consumption and provide healthy alternatives such as milkshakes or fruit drinks.
So, we all can agree on the fact that feeding young minds is all about giving them the right kind of nutrition and diet so that they can grow into healthy and happy individuals. So, let us prioritise feeding our little ones with nutritious meals and snacks. It will make them both physically and mentally healthy and help in reaching their full potential. Remember, it is never too early to begin developing lifelong healthy eating habits.