10 Dos and Don’ts for Kids’ Nutrition - Nutrition by Lovneet
So often we talk about kids’ nutrition yet it remains an area where most of us(parents) struggle the most. Ask any parent what is the most challenging part of parenting and they would straightaway point towards food. While there are no set rules for kids’ nutrition, there are certainly ways to set things right.
“Catching them young” is a phrase that aptly summarizes the strategy for kids’ nutrition.If you want your kids to be healthy eaters, you need to start when they are young. You have to inculcate healthy eating habits as soon as they start taking solid foods. In a nutshell, you need to focus on the daily nutrition of kids.
To all mothers, though body mass index matters for healthy kids, what needs to be understood is that unless your child is weak, the size of our child alone doesn't decide if he/she is healthy.
So what are the parameters of kids’ nutrition?
If your child is eating three wholesome meals and two snacks a day that mostly include a portion of ingredients from all five food groups of kids’ nutrition, is generally active and gets adequate sleep and met all growth milestones, your child is healthy. Kids’ nutrition should be a mix of carbs, proteins, good fats, and fiber.
Now the next question comes how to ensure these parameters are met?
Here is a list of do's and don'ts kids’ nutrition:
1. DON’T - Skip Meals.
DO - Prioritise mealtime.
Children learn from what they see. If your are going to take nutrition, chances are they might end up doing the same. As a family, if the parents skip their meals due to work stress or grab a sandwich on the go, kids also learn that it is okay to skip meals. When it comes setting the goals of kids’ nutrition, eating together as a family is essential in more ways than one:
∙Establishes routine & give kids comfort: With the fast-paced environment, in most households, the only time kids actually sit down with their parents are mealtimes. It's comforting for them to correlate food with family time, which again would encourage them not to skip meals. Make the mealtime a happy affair for everyone and kids’ nutrition would not feel like a challenge anymore.
∙ Talk to your kids: Communication is the key to building stronger bonds and lays a healthy foundation for kids’ nutrition. You can bring a connection between your family members if you show interest in knowing what's going on in their lives.
Even if it's a piece of trivial information, give them an ear. Mealtimes can be interactive to check what they have eaten and prefer their vegetables to eat better.
∙Motivate to eat vegetables: Most children tend to skip vegetables and greens, which are an important part of kids’ nutrition. Parents usually check the overall quantity of food consumed and feel it's okay since the child would have finished the proteins and carbs in their plate.
Carbs and protein are important as far as kids' nutrition is concerned but they are not everything. Filling the stomach with only protein and carb will not help in full development. Encourage better habits by saying, "This will help you grow tall" or, "That will help you do amp up your game."Vegetables are a significant part of daily nutrition for kids. Also read how to introduce new foods to your kids
2. DON’T – Keep them out of the kitchen.
DO – Involve them in the kitchen.
Have your kids accompany you for grocery shopping. Teach them to read food labels and let them choose what they want based on it. Also, do the vice versa for junk food. Read out the nutrition label and educate them about trans fat, how it affects their bodies, and the like. That way, they know about what goes into their bodies and the healthy rules of kids’ nutrition.
The kitchen of the house is the first lesson in kids’ nutrition for the young minds. Start giving them the freedom to start cooking and for younger kids, allow them to help you in the kitchen.
This can be taken as an opportunity to discover their hidden talents and even make them aware of the efforts that go into cooking, making them waste little to none. It’s helpful to let them discover kids’ nutrition step by step.
3. DON’T – Allow easy access to junk food.
DO - Limit the intake of sugar and refined carbs.
Don't give children a free rein at your pantry to munch on junk food as and when they need as this can cause a dangerous spike in blood sugar, which in turn brings fluctuations in energy and mood.
For kids’ nutrition, The American Heart Association suggests that children should limit their sugar consumption to 12 grams a day, which is approximately three teaspoons.
A can of soft drink contains up to 40g of added sugar. Processed foods have alarming amounts of sugars in them. Sugar has no role to play in kids’ nutrition.
Read labels for added sugar that could be disguised with ingredients like corn syrup, cane juice and crystal solids, and maple syrup, honey, and brown sugar.Factoring all these sugars while calculating the total sugar intake is crucial as it causes hyperactivity, type 2 diabetes, mood disorders, and increases the risk of obesity.
How to cut down sugar from your kids’ diet?
Don't do a complete ban on sugar: This would cause more cravings and children might also tend to overfeed on it when they finally, lay hands on it.
Tweak recipes: Go for naturally sweet elements than white sugar or just cut down on sweetness where possible.
Encourage them to have more fruit: Fruits have natural sugar called fructose, which satiates sugar cravings in a healthier way. Make desserts that are centered on fruit.Try a fruit milkshake.
Milk & water are the best drinks: Encourage kids to stay hydrated and reach out for abottle of water over a can of soda or processed fruit juice. A glass of milk(dairy or non-dairy) per day is good for calcium and Vitamin D. Fruits are richin vitamins and fiber and keep them hydrated.
4. DON’T – Fill your pantry with packaged foods.
DO - Stock Up on Healthy Foods.
Children burn more calories than adults and are always hungry. It is thus recommended to break up the meals into five times a day as opposed to only three meals a day.It's common for kids to snack on processed foods like chips, biscuits, and more, which are dangerous for kids’ nutrition.
A habit begins at home and though it might seem impossible, stocking up your pantry with less packaged foods and more wholesome snacks like fruits, nuts.When it comes to kids’ nutrition you can try even easy things like a peanut butter sandwich.
Here are a few tips that might be useful:
∙To work vegetables and fruits as part of the diet, include them in every meal. For breakfast, one portion of any fruit seasonally available, in addition to the irregular breakfast, is a must. There should be various vegetables served each day for lunch and dinner and not just one kind.
You can also make healthy snacks for kids by using vegetables, check recipes here
∙Load up on tasty, healthy snacks for kids: Most of the time, kids choose junk food either because it tastes better with lots of sugar or because it is easy to grab and go. Junk food is another villain that must be kept away from kids’ nutrition.
The solution to this is to keep whole fruits at accessible places. Other healthy snacks that ensure kids’ nutrition are roasted chana and makhanas, nuts, homemade popcorns, besan chillas, egg, or a vegetable sandwich, pack it with flavors making kids want to eat it.
∙ Reduce fast food and low nutrient snacks like chips, biscuits, and sodas, which are not good for kids’ nutrition. Don't ban it but give it as a rare treat.
5. DON’T- Force them to eat.
DO – Teach satiety & self-regulation of food.
A usual practice in Indian households is to express love with food – a lot of food. While food is the epicenter of kids’ nutrition, overfeeding is just not acceptable.
It's important to realize that overfeeding can cause digestive issues, fatigue, and lethargy and all of this does more bad than good. It is not the best habit when it comes to kids’ nutrition.
Serve children portions of food, which are appropriate to their age. It's another issue to serve more than what they can eat and then either waste the rest of the food or keep it for an adult to finish, which again adds to the adult's calories. When in doubt, serve a size smaller. It's always better to take a second helping if hungry.
That way, the child also learns to know when they are full and respond to it. This virtue will help them even during adulthood to not overeat, which is another issue related to kids’ nutrition.
6. DON’T– Use food as an incentive or punishment.
DO – Help them build an attitude of gratitude towards food.
Most educationists condemn the carrot-and-stick approach, and the same goes for kids’ nutrition. It's wrong to persuade kids to eat food as a reward or punishment for any activity done. This makes them associate food with emotions, which can adversely affect them in the long run. Offer hugs, praise, time together, and attention instead of food treats\.
7. DON’T – Eat while watching mobile or TV.
DO – Keep gadgets off the dining table.
When we say keep gadgets away from the dining table, it applies for adults too. So this lesson in kids’ nutrition is for adults too. Kids learn what they see, and we need to set an example if we want them to eat healthily. Not just mobile, gadgets like I-pads and phones should be avoided while eating.
It's another common practice to allow kids to eat while they watch TV. The problem with this is that they wouldn't concentrate on what they eat and how much they eat and end up eating slowly with their attention diverted.
Focus on family time, if you want to focus on kids’ nutrition. Let the family connect over the food table. You can utilize the dinner time to know and understand your kid’s likes and dislikes. You can even plan meal menus for the next day and assign them tasks accordingly.
8. DON’T–Ask them to do things you don't do.
DO - Lead by example, and do what you need them to do.
Children imitate adults, as discussed earlier. They notice what we do, even though they might not directly address it to us. As adults, if we gorge on a tub of popcorn or ice cream on the couch while watching our favorite sitcom or drama series and preach to our kids to eat greens on the table, it's bound to backfire sooner or later.
We need to be their role model and encourage them to eat nutritious food while we do the same. Kids do as we do and it applies to kids’ nutrition too. It won’t be incorrect to say that kids’ nutrition is as much about parents as it is about kids.
9. DON’T- Force-feed kids & be adamant on quantity.
DO - Focus on variety and take it slow.
When a baby is about six months old, the real lessons in kids’ nutrition begin as we start offering solids to babies. From then on, introduce one food at a time, but do offer a variety of it.
Again the common mistake is done by parents vis-à-vis kids’ nutrition is to focus on quantity and thus, they often tend to force-feed kids. Offer a few bites to the child and if they are skeptical, ask to try a bit.
One of the overlooked factors in kids’ nutrition, food preference is an acquired taste, and it builds over time, and it could also change with age. Don't get disheartened if your child hates corn now.
Keep offering whenever you prepare it, not expecting them to eat a lot. Kids might surprise you one day. A lot also depends on their growth spurts and mood.Again, instead of insisting your child, try these tricks to amp kids’ nutrition:
∙Introduce food only during meal times, when hungry, and it's their usual time to eat.
∙Offer just one new food item at a time is one of the basic rules of kids’ nutrition.Do not overwhelm them with too many new ingredients. It's also tough to find allergies this way when too many new things are given.
∙Serve new food items with their otherwise favourite food.
∙Get their help to prepare their meal by making do simple tasks like peeling peas.This could help them to get familiarised with it and build interest in kids’ nutrition.
8. DON’T – Limit yourself & kids to indoor fun only.
DO – Bond over-exercise, sports or any physical activity.
When we talk about exercises for kids, it includes all the play-time they engage in where they are physically and mentally active and engage in any kind of movement, be it running around at recess time or playing a sport. Both are equally counted, and it's not necessary to persuade your kids to engage in one particular kind of sport.
Physical activity is crucial to kids’ nutrition. Till they build interest, you need to ensure that they at least have 60 to 75 minutes of any physical activity a day and limited screen time at most of two hours a day.
To increase your child's activity, try to:
∙Limit screen time of the whole family. Even while doing chores, try to involve kids in it.
∙ Do something physical and active together or encourage them to play outdoors with their friends. Throw around a football; go cycling, skating, or swimming; take family walks and hikes.
∙ Be there for your child's sports and play.
∙Encourage daily activity, not just exercise.
∙Start cycling for errands and reduce the use of a car or bike for it.
9. DON’T – Try Fad diets in front of your kids.
DO – Encourage healthy food behaviour.
Kids are naturally inclined to try what parents are doing. With all the fad diets that parents try like Mono-diet, one-meal-a-day and Keto diet (with little to no vegetables and carbs, predominantly fats and proteins alone), the impact we make especially to teens are.
At first, we have to conform to a specific standard of size to look beautiful and feel acceptable; secondly, it makes them do the same unhealthy fad diets to reduce weight quickly. There is no place for fad diets in the world of kids’ nutrition.
The only right way to lose weight is to eat a balanced healthy diet of not more than 1800 calories per day or by consulting with a nutritionist and exercising for at least an hour a day.
Also, if we pick out a particular vegetable from our plate, it's likely that our kids also would be picky eaters. Though we all can agree we have our preferences for vegetables, which we like more than the rest, it's still good to practice for ourselves to try all kinds of vegetables and not just stick to mash potatoes.Kids’ nutrition does demand some togetherness and support.
10. DON’T – Give up too soon.
DO – Seek expert help.
Persistence pays off is a proverb that works well in kids’ nutrition. It's ubiquitous for parents to feel frustrated with their children not eating a particular kind of food at the quantity expected. There are two problems related to kids’ nutrition here. One is the child's unwillingness to try, and the second is if the child has tried but eaten just a bite.
For younger kids, up until six months, have had milk only, and getting them used to the idea of any solid food in its entirety is a challenge in itself. For older kids, many a time, the color, fragrance, texture of food takes the upper handover the actual taste of the dish. So mostly, their 'dislike' is fuelled with fear and less because of the food itself.
Parents need to understand that it might take anywhere from 10-15 attempts to accept a particular type of food, especially for younger kids. There is no magic wand in the world of kids’ nutrition.
Though parenting is a challenge, especially when it comes to getting kids to eat, keeping a check on our expectations is also vital. Parents could try either preparing a variety of healthy foods or combining one new or not preferred food like radish or spinach along with their favourite ingredients like carrot or peas.
Sibling dynamics, friendships, and healthy competition can also change a child's eating habits. Sometimes if a friend of your child is home or if the sibling is willing to try new food, it's likely that your child might feel motivated to do better or be at par with their friend or sibling. So sharing is also important for kids’ nutrition.
You could also try 'food link', which means introducing similar flavoured or colored foods to familiarise. Start with sweet vegetables and fruits as tastebuds have a natural inclination towards sweet dishes. For example, if your child likes sweet potato mash, you can also try carrot mash or pumpkin pie. Variety is key to kids’ nutrition.
We often hesitate in selling expert help. Whether your child is obese or underweight, a nutritionist can help you ensure proper nutrition for your kids with the help of daily meal plans offering delicious food recipes.
If you wish to seek expert help in optimizing your child’s mental and physical health, click here