The first few years of life are full of exploring and discovery for kids. If you are a parent, you are familiar with the struggle of making your fussy child eat a healthy diet at right time with healthy nutrients and required amounts. Good Nutrition gives your child what he or she needs for growth, health, and energy for playing, moving, and learning. A balanced and nutritious diet is very important at this age group, as food not only nourishes the body and provides energy to grow and explore, but at the same time, it teaches what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat, which is an important aspect of developing and reaching milestones. Optimum nutrition is essential for the normal growth and physical and cognitive development of infants and preschoolers.
“I do not generally recommend counting calories for children, rather focusing on offering a varied diet and instilling positive eating behaviors overall”. But still, for knowledge, A Toddler needs about 1000 calories a day and calories increase with the age, and by the time child reaches a preschool, they should be eating between 1200 to 1400 calories per day, able to feed themselves. At this stage, the child should be eating from each of the food groups: milk and milk products, grains, fruits and vegetables, pulses and meat, fats and sugar.
Key nutrients requirement
Carbohydrates: As carbohydrates are an important source of energy, starchy foods such as rice, potato, sweet potatoes should be encouraged. Start introducing wheat, Dalia, oats, jowar, ragi, etc.
Protein: Protein intake ranges from 14.5g/day in 1-3 years olds up to 19,7gm/day in 4-6-year-olds. All preschool children should have an adequate intake of protein and to meet this need, they can have milk and milk products, pulses, chicken, eggs, nuts.
Fats: A low-fat diet for children can result in insufficient energy. Sufficient and good quality fats like pure ghee, white butter, nuts, eggs, chicken, fish should be taken.
Fiber: Dietary fiber should be encouraged like wholemeal bread, wholemeal breakfast cereals, pulses, vegetable, and fruits to have a good digestive system.
Limit your child’s calories from
Sugar: limit added sugars, as it may add unnecessary weight gain, may develop anemia may have dental caries, trigger aggression, hyperactivity, and restlessness in kids. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit and milk are not added sugars. .Examples of added sugar include table sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, sweeteners, candies, chocolates, and honey. Check nutrition labels; choose cereals with minimal added sugars. Avoid drinks with added sugars such as soda, fruit drinks, sports, and energy drinks.
Saturated and trans fats: limited saturated fats- fats that mainly come from animal sources of food, such as red meats, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. Look for ways to replace saturated fats with vegetables and nut oils which provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E. Healthier fats are also naturally present in olives, nuts, and seafood. Limit trans fats by avoiding foods like bakery items, ice creams, chips, fried namkeen that contain partially hydrogenated oil.
Sodium: Most children have too much sodium in their daily diets. Encourage snacking on fruits, vegetables, roasted nuts, roasted makhana instead of chips, cookies, dry cakes. Check nutrition labels and look for products low in sodium.
Best formula to fuel your child’s growth and development
Give your whole milk until he or she is 2 years old. Your child’s body needs extra fat in whole milk to help him grow. After your child is 2 years old, you can give skim or low-fat milk. Toddlers should be offered milk and water in a cup rather than a bottle. Toddlers who drink from a bottle for too long are at an increased risk of tooth decay and ear infections.
Be patient and let your child learn how to feed him or herself. Children between 1 and 2 years are still developing eating skills. Encouraging them to chew their food slowly and well. To start with, give finger foods like vegetable and fruit sticks, French fries, small cutlets, roasted makhana, channa, healthy cookies, etc. Food may end up on the floor or your child instead of in his or her mouth while eating with a spoon. It will take time for your child to learn how to use a spoon. Avoid giving your child a fork until he or she can use it without hurting him or herself.
Make mealtime fun. Limit TV, computers, pets while eating. Offer your child new textures, colors, and tastes to keep food appealing and fun
Follow the same routine, as children like to follow a particular routine, Have 3 main meals and 2 or 3 snacks at about same time every day.
Serve healthy foods for meals and snacks. Children can choose what and how much to eat from the meal. Never force-feed your child. Always cut up foods into small pieces and watch your child while they eat.
Serve the same foods to the whole family. Don’t make special foods. Offer new food at a time and do not mix foods. It is said that after 1 year of age, a child should eat from mother’s plate, whatever she is eating.
Praise good eating habits. Don’t label your child as “picky”.
Set a good example! Try new foods and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and avoid processed foods and sugar-sweetened drinks, candies.
To prevent choking, never allow your child to run, play or lie down with food in the mouth. They should eat seated at the table.
You have to ensure that they have enough water in a day to keep their bowel movement strong.
Do not offer food as a reward, this teaches your child to eat for reasons other than being hungry. Offer other rewards like a fun activity, stickers, giving extra time for playing or watching a favorite show, or a small toy.
In nutshell, choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients. Eat enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your height and build. Kids should be physically active, happy, and cheerful at the end of the day.
(The Author is a Consultant Dietician and Nutritionist)