Why Is Nutrition Important for Child Development?
Our relationship with food, whether good or bad, gets established at a very young age. It is common for children to be fussy about certain kinds of food and parents usually give in to their child’s preferences and start making only the kind of food that the child will eat.
However, by eliminating certain kinds of food from the child’s diet, parents might be putting their children at risk of malnutrition. While avoiding junk food and take-away might seem like the healthy route to take for your kids, even traditional, home-cooked meals might not contain all the nutrients required for a child’s healthy, physical and mental development.
Building a strong nutritional foundation in a child’s diet is crucial for them to grow into healthy adults. Imbibing good eating habits right from childhood helps in building immunity against various infectious diseases, ensures proper development of the brain and other vital organs and improves a child’s activity levels and cognitive functioning. Therefore, proper nutrition for children is important, as it sets the stage for them towards living a healthy and balanced life in the future.
Quite often, we associate malnutrition with stunted growth and underweight children. However, a child being overweight or obese can also be an indicator of malnutrition. Making sure the child is eating regularly and not going hungry is important, but the food they consume might just have empty calories with no real nutrition. Approximately half of these empty calories come from soda/ aerated drinks, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and similar fast foods. This is why noticing patterns in your child’s dietary habits is of utmost importance.
Breakfast is a very important meal and it is important to make sure that while the child is still at home and can be supervised, they eat a wholesome, healthy breakfast. Eating a healthy breakfast is associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory), reduced absenteeism, and improved mood.
Your child might seem to consume liquids in different forms but we must make sure they are drinking adequate amounts of water as well. Hydration is extremely important when it comes to improving cognitive functions in children and adolescents, which is important for learning.
Most children have a sweet tooth at some point. Do not cave in and let them eat sweets in excess. Some children might not eat their meal without a non-vegetarian dish. This is a great source of protein, but make sure they get a side of vegetables along with it. Choose lean protein from sources such as poultry, beans, seafood, nuts and seeds. Green leafy vegetables might not be their go-to food choice; try grilling, steaming, baking, or broiling vegetables or mix it in with their favourite food. Keeping an eye on the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, canned/ packaged food among children and adolescents decreased is also important.
Different foods provide different nutrients but an excess or dearth of any particular kind of food can lead to deficiencies in a child. Deficiencies of essential Vitamins and Minerals are the most common cause of illnesses in children; for example, a deficiency in Vitamin A leads to weak immunity in children, increasing their risk of blindness and diarrhoea. Vitamin B deficiency can lead to brittle hair, muscle pain, fatigue, and cramps. In children, iron deficiency can lead to frequent respiratory and intestinal infections.
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In the process of making sure your child eats the right kind of food, parents have to be extremely careful about policing their children. If your child is being fussy about eating something, try to encourage them into eating the food or find a way to include that ingredient in some other form. Scolding the child and forcing them to eat something might make the child averse to the idea of even trying that food item.
Scaring the child into eating something is to be avoided. We must aim at relaxed eating. It takes conscious effort to form a healthy relationship with food, but it is possible. The key to making children try different kinds of food is to make them feel more at peace with food, help them recognize what is good for them, and make them stop the unhealthy eating habits themselves.
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