We all want the best for our kids. Some parents ‘read too much’ trying to do the all-round comprehensive, right thing. Others are
perhaps a little more relaxed than ideal. Life gives us lots of experience to work with, but experience is not always right, depending how we gained it and the school of parenting is not one we get a free lesson with experts in when we are gifted parenthood!
No matter what though, all children have the right to be raised in a family with access to good health care, good nutrition, play and protection and we all do the best we can to achieve just that!
The first 2000 days
In healthcare the first 1000 days has been recognised as a vital window of time with long lasting impact. More recently, this window has been widened as the research becomes thicker to the first 2000 days of life, and thankfully so.
The brain does 90% of its growth and development in the first 5 years of life. This time is crucial for developing learning and emotional abilities and will influence your child’s future school performance and health outcomes.
Optimal nutrition is vital in supporting the rapid growth and development that occurs during this time and this involves, peer modelling and providing opportunities to develop healthy relationships with food, fluids and eating generally.
It begins In Utero
Experiences with food and food preferences begin in utero, with many studies showing that a mothers food intake during pregnancy can impact a child’s preferences in weaning, childhood and beyond. We know this for allergens but also for other foods generally. During the first 2000 days, children's food preferences are also influenced by availability, accessibility, familiarity as well as parental and peer modelling.
Therefore, if children are to learn to prefer and select healthy foods, they need early, positive, repeated experiences with those foods. Persistence is key. Quality proteins, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, minerals such as iron and calcium, vitamin c, fibre, clean water and the list goes on… they build growing humans.
Good varied nutrition and regular movement reduces cardiovascular risk, improves levels of cardiovascular risk factors such as overweight or obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, protects against some forms of cancer, and strengthens the musculoskeletal system. Overweight and obese children are at a higher risk of being overweight and obese in adulthood. Some children may experience immediate health complications such as gallstones, hepatitis and sleep apnoea, or initiate the disease processes that lead to higher risks of morbidity and mortality later in life. Obesity can also affect social acceptance and self-esteem (Griffiths et al. 2006; Guo et al. 2002, Hayden-Wade et al. 2005; Must & Strauss 1999).
But even healthy weight kids can be malnourished, have low energy, become frequently unwell and may fail to thrive. Limited diets, fussy eaters that have only 5 foods that they like, all white are at a higher risk than others with a wider range of food in their diets.
All we can do is try. But that is the key, keep trying and persisting. It’s for their long-term health and development.
Children and young people 0-15 years
The NSW Population Health 2019-2020 statistics on 2-15yr olds fruit and vegetable intake indicated that:
- 64.2% consumed the recommended daily fruit intake
- 5.2% of children consumed the recommended daily intake of vegetables
- Only 58.2% of kids drank up to 4 cups of plain water per day
How can you maximize the nutritional health outcomes of your child?
- Eat a varied diet during pregnancy and lactation to create for your infant a “flavour bridge” to the modified adult diet
- Encourage breastfeeding when possible for the first 6 months of life and longer if you can
- Practice responsive parenting by separating hunger from other distress cues and avoiding always using food to comfort your child
Weaning and toddlers
- Provide positive, repeated exposure to novel foods (especially typically rejected foods, such as vegetables) to promote acceptance of and preference for those foods. It may take up to 10 times of exposure for a child to really taste and like a new food
- Offer developmentally appropriate and healthy foods to your child during the transition to solids
- Serve portion sizes that are developmentally appropriate for your child's age and nutrient needs
- Try to introduce blander/savoury flavours before sweeter ones, as the reverse can prove harder
- Choose when and what your child should eat, but let your child decide how much to eat
- Trust a child of normal weight status to self-regulate their own intake
- Kids often graze as intuitive eaters. They don’t have the emotional eating cues we have as adults. Let them work it out
- Make a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods available and accessible to your child rather than energy-dense, nutrient poor foods
- Expose your child to as many healthy foods as possible. Colour and variety are key
You are what you eat. If it’s good for you, it’s good for them. Some parents like to have ‘adult foods’, which is not ideal role modelling and some parents/carers give themselves treats and not their kids, and even vice versa.
- Create a positive feeding environment by initiating regular family meals and eating together
- Use your own behaviours and attitudes to model healthy dietary patterns
- Family time is so important and eating together at least 4 nights a week is a good routine to have
Just remember, your regular health checks are so very important to monitor the healthy growth of your child. If you have any concerns, please ensure you discuss these with your regular health practitioner.
This article was written by Tanya Nagy, founder of Bite Nutrition.
Care for Kids is excited to invite Tanya to our panel of experts, sharing recipes, up-to-date information and her extensive knowledge around all things parenting, nutrition and keeping us creating beautiful food with minimal fuss!