Parenting is a full time job that never ends no matter what other responsibilities you may have. From the moment a woman becomes pregnant, it becomes about the child and ensuring that he/she gets the appropriate nutrients required for growth.
The growth of children is primarily linked with what they eat. So ensuring they eat right is not really an option if they are to grow and develop properly, never mind that introducing a healthy diet at an early age also means that they get to develop good eating habits that can last a lifetime.
Most people know that a balanced diet is important but understanding what nutrients are essential to balance out this diet is still a blow over for many parents. So the question begs; what are the essential nutrients for your child and why are they non-negotiable for their health and wellbeing?
- Carbohydrates: These are the primary energy provider for the body. They come in different forms – sugar, starch and fiber. Experts say that kids should eat more of starch and fiber which are broken down slowly, thus, allowing blood sugar to rise at a healthy pace. Sources include whole grain rice, pasta and bread, cereals and potatoes etc
- Protein: With the presence of carbohydrates carrying out its function in the body, Protein can be directed towards the building and repairing of tissue and cells. It is also essentially important for proper physical growth. Nutritionists have said that a child’s RDA should consist of about 12percent protein.
- Fats: Yes, fats! They are important for the supply of essential fatty acids that helps the body absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as Vitamins A and D. “Fat, especially in infancy and early childhood, is essential for neurological development and brain function”. However, they have to be sourced from “good fat,” which lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases good cholesterol (HDL). Good sources include Olive oil, Avocado and Fish etc.
VITAMINS & MINERALS
- Calcium: It is essential that growing children get enough calcium for the development of strong bones and teeth, promotion of their nerve and muscle function as well as activating the enzymes that convert food into energy. Research shows that children, especially teenagers do not get enough calcium. Good sources of calcium include milk, yoghurt, Pumky leaf (Ugu), Spinach, Fortified meals etc.
- Iron: Iron is essential for carrying oxygen through the blood stream of the body. Wonder why your child is always tired and irritable? Well, it just could be iron deficiency which is referred to as Anaemia. Good sources of iron are liver, beans and iron-fortified meals etc.
- Other important minerals and Vitamins for kids include Magnesium (supports the immune system), Potassium(Maintains blood pressure), Zinc (aids digestion and metabolism), Vitamin A, B complex, C, D and E.
Do not just put food on your child’s plate but ensure that meals are balanced out so your child gets the required nutrients for effective body function & development. Fruits, Vegetables, Healthy Cooking Oils, Fortified Meals, Healthy Dairy Products etc are primary sources of these essential nutrients.
Finally, it is also important that portion sizes are controlled so kids are not eating too much or too little. It may seem like a lot of work just to get meals right but like most things, if you make a routine out of it, it becomes a habit that could carry onto adulthood. As it has been wisely said, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.