What is the right diet for a child? What’s a healthy portion size? What about supplements? Parents often worry whether they’re feeding their children correctly, and sometimes it seems like the questions are never-ending! To answer some of these most common questions, we talk to one of the leading pediatricians, Dr. Kiran Krishnamurthy.
Feeding your child is an exercise that often requires you to use all your faculties and strengths, not to mention considerable patience! Here are some broad guidelines to help ease the pressure on you, and make feeding time a healthier and happier time to bond with your little one:
- With newborns, start breastfeeding as soon after birth as possible. The first 45 minutes is when the newborn is most alert and accepting. Beginning early also helps foster mother-infant bonding.
- The first milk, colostrum, is very rich in nutrients and antibodies; hence it is very important to feed it to the baby.
- Exclusive breastfeeding should be encouraged until the child is at least 5-6 months old. After this time, soft, home-cooked food including rice, lentils, soft rotis, fruits and vegetables, mashed, can be incorporated into the daily diet.
- Food that comes in a box, tin or bottle should be avoided at any age. Children should be given fresh, seasonal and locally available foods.
- Force-feeding a child at any age is a strict no-no! This is one of the most common reasons for children to develop poor appetites.
- Encourage infants and children to be seated during meal times. It is important to avoid running around and entertaining them with a song-and-dance routine while eating.
- Undoubtedly, milk is wholesome, nutritious and a complete meal by itself. However, too large a quantity is not only unnecessary but may lead to constipation, anaemia and a reduced appetite. A growing child does not need more than 500 ml of milk in their daily diet (which should also include other milk products like curds and cheese).
- Fruits and vegetables of all colours (green, white, orange, yellow and red) should be consumed during the course of the week. Also, try to include germinated cereal or grain (wheat, ragi or bajra) in the diet, as sprouts belong to the energy-rich ARF (Amylase Rich Food) category.
- Mealtimes should be a pleasant experience for all involved, especially the child. Do not threaten the child while feeding. You might be successful in getting the child to eat a few morsels by generating fear, but this could lead to serious long-term consequences.
- Involving an older child in the process of making food can be fun! Letting them participate in grocery shopping, handling vegetables and cooking gives children a sense of achievement, and encourages them to relish the product of their labour.
- Cola drinks should be avoided as they have high caffeine and sugar content. Not only is caffeine addictive, but soft drinks can also lead to severely disturbed sleep patterns due to high sugar levels. Most aerated drinks also contain high amounts of phosphorus, which can interfere with the absorption of calcium.
- A growing child needs a healthy amount of fat in their daily diet. This includes polyunsaturated ‘good fats’ found in sunflower oil, olive oil, fish, almonds, etc. and some monounsaturated ‘good fats’ as found in peanuts, peanut oil, cashew nuts, etc. Children also need a very small quantity of saturated fats (the so-called ‘bad’ fats) available in ghee, cheese, butter, egg yolks, etc. Partially hydrogenated fats, which can be found as vegetable vanaspati and used in all fast foods and most bakery products, should be avoided.
- Children who eat a wholesome diet, including a wide variety of cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables, do not need any vitamin, calcium or protein supplements.
Meal time should not be treated as a ‘chore’; it should be made more fun by involving the whole family. Time spent together at the dinner table promotes bonding, too. So put on your best smile and enjoy meal times with your child. Happy feeding!
- as told to Pallavi