As a parent, I’m sure you too were pretty impressed by the changes that take place during the first year of your little one’s life… Did you realise that babies generally triple their weight by age one, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This makes the first year of our lives the most rapid period of growth we will ever experience! While the physical development that takes place during that time is very impressive, we cannot overlook the cognitive and behavioral development that takes place during the same time, and healthy and nutritious diet is one of the most important factors in ensuring that a child reaches optimal development.
As I said, the most rapid growth occurs in early childhood, however, rapid growth may also occur in spurts throughout childhood, adolescence, and puberty. During these periods of rapid growth, a child needs adequate dietary intake to provide enough nutrients and energy to grow. A healthy diet, rich in calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals, enables optimal skeletal and physical growth, and ensures that your little one’s body gets all the building blocks needed for a strong foundation.
Brain development can also be affected by the quality of your child’s diet. There has been plenty of research that shows that poor nutrition during fetal development and early life can result in your child having lower IQ scores and can lead to learning difficulties, as well as increase the risk of social and behavioral problems. The best way to avoid this is to provide your little one with adequate vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients, providing enough nutrition for brain development, and being aware of the kinds of foods that you give your child.
One study that I found online was highlighting a dietary study conducted with a group of 7000 children. The study compiled information on how often the children ate different food groups at different ages (3 yrs old, 4 yrs old, 7 yrs old and 8 1/2 years old). At the final assessment researchers also assessed the children’s IQ’s, and tried to establish a correlation between diet and intelligence. The researchers found that eating a diet high in sugar, fats, and processed food at the age of three was associated with a lower IQ at 8 1/2 years old. There was also an association between eating a healthy diet (including salads, vegetables, fish, pasta and rice) at the age of eight and having a higher IQ at the same age. However, reference was made to the fact that the latter findings should be interpreted with a pinch of salt, as it cannot be proven that this diet alone caused the higher IQ.
While my personal feelings on the above-mentioned research are varied, and even though this is only one particular study, one cannot argue that a balanced diet has multiple benefits for everyone, specifically growing children. Among other things, a healthy diet
- helps to improve a child’s concentration, learning abilities and behaviour.
- promotes proper physical growth and development.
- builds up physical strength.
- promotes resistance to infection and a strong immune system.
- minimises future health risks including iron-deficiency, anaemia, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and dental decay.
- helps children establish healthy eating patterns and habits for later in life.
While it is all good and well to say that a child needs a balanced diet to be healthy and to stay on track developmentally, figuring out if you’re on the right track can be confusing. To make things a little easier, here is an idea of how a balanced diet should look…
- Lots of fruit and vegetables.
- Lots of starchy foods, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta.
- Many foods high in calcium and rich in iron – milk and dairy, and other sources of protein, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans are all good options.
- Minimal added salt and sugar.
Now that you know what to aim for and why you’re aiming for it, I thought I would give you a few tips for making it easier to introduce these changes onto your little one’s plate, after all, we know how stubborn and picky kids can be when it comes to food!
- Encourage your child to try lots of different foods. The best way to do this is to set a good example. Why not introduce a new tradition, a night once a week where the family tries something new together. Keep an eye on our site, I plan on adding a recipe section real soon!
- Unless it’s absolutely necessary, try not to exclude particular food or drinks. Allergies and religious exclusions aside, encourage your family to be open to trying new things. Also, keep in mind that even treats are fine as long as it’s in moderation.
- Offer healthy alternatives as opposed to only the usual sugary or fatty ‘treats’. You’d be surprised how quickly a child can learn to enjoy a juicy mango or bright yellow banana just as much as they do a cookie.
- Make mealtimes a fun, social occasion, eating together with your child, talking about their day or discussing their views on life (kids are extremely entertaining and love sharing their opinions after all )
- Avoid fizzy, sugary drinks, encouraging your child to have healthier options like water, milk or even ice-tea. Keep in mind, tactics like these work best if you avoid the sugary drinks as well.
Before I finish off I’d just like to add one more thing. Parenting is hard. We don’t always have the time or means to do 100% of the things we’d like to. Don’t be too hard on yourself, it’s not good for you, and that, in turn, is not good for your family. We all have those days when all we can do is pick up the phone and order a pizza, and that’s okay too. Life, just as diet, is all about balance!
Remember, life, just as diet, is all about balance!
If you’ve enoyed this article, please do share it with your friends and family, and don’t forget to check out the rest of my weblog here (brightnbrainy.com). Thanks!