The Importance of Child Nutrition
Did you know that your child’s brain and body experience rapid and profound growth in the first two years of life? Proper child nutrition is the key to achieving healthy cognitive and physical growth. A well fed child will be equipped with the foundation needed to successfully achieve both cognitive growth and physical milestones.
How do I know if my child is getting enough to eat?
Althea Bradley, MPH, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian, who provides Nutrition Services for teli’s clients. Throughout her years of counseling parents and caregivers regarding child nutrition, she has encountered that question many times. “Parents are often concerned that their child is not getting sufficient nutrients or are missing entire food groups,” notes Althea. “I try to reassure parents by reviewing the child’s growth using a growth chart. I look for increases in height and weight and check that growth is plotting along a standard curve.”
“I also explain that children explore foods and learn new skills in a very different manner than how we (adults) may structure our meals and snacks,” shares Althea. “Parents should look at a child’s eating habits over a week instead of each meal. Children may eat strawberries 5 times in 1 day or refuse to eat meat all day. This is NORMAL.”
What are some basic nutrition guidelines for infants and toddlers?
A variety of foods is the key to ensuring that they consume a well-balanced nutritious diet. Parents should not be discouraged by a child’s refusal of a certain food. “The different tastes, textures, and colors are all new to a child. A wide range of options allows them to decide what and how much they will eat. By one year of age, children should be eating the same foods as the rest of their family with little or no modification,” notes Althea.
Some of the tips Althea provides to her clients are useful for creating healthy life-long eating habits.
- Include all four food groups – fruits and vegetables, dairy (or a substitute like soy, almond, rice or coconut milk), grains and cereals and meat (or substitutes such as beans, nuts, tofu, eggs, greek yogurt or fish).
- Three meals and two snacks per day – A regular schedule helps to avoid a child being overly tired and often hungry, which is not a good combination! A good snack could be a ½ cup applesauce and a cheese stick or 2 tablespoons (T) of hummus with 10 pretzel sticks and 4 baby carrots.
- Serving sizes appropriate for little folks – Remember their stomachs are small! By age 1, 1-2 tablespoons(T); age 2, 2-3 T; and age 3 3-4 T of no more than 3 items per meal.
- Hydrate with 16-24 ounces of liquid every day – Limit juice to only 4 ounces/day; most kids drink about 16 ounces of milk/day (whole milk through age 2).
- Avoid foods that may cause choking – Always cut up food into small pieces particularly grapes, grape tomatoes, hot dogs and raw carrots.
- Avoid excessive fats and sugars – Food high in added fats such as cookies and, donuts should be eaten in moderation.
What are child nutrition issues to be concerned about in children from 0-3 years of age?
The most concerning issues Althea has seen are those symptoms or behaviors that are consistently repeated and tend to intensify over time. In the case of each of the following, you should consult your pediatrician and consider nutrition services.
- Food/ formula allergies or sensitivity.
- Consistent diarrhea, constipation, nausea or vomiting.
- Difficulty transitioning from breast milk or bottle to table foods.
- Picky eaters that display extreme rigid behavior such as eating only one food for extended periods of time and refuse any new food introduction into their routine.
- Failure to thrive or obesity. Insufficient nutrition or overfeeding can lead to developmental delays.
Young children require balanced and healthy meals and snacks to support growth and development. If you are concerned about your child’s nutritional health, teli can help.