March is National Nutrition Month. I would like to discuss the important topic of childhood nutrition. Whether you have a newborn or a teenager, what he or she eats is important to both physical and mental development.
The following are my recommendations supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
From birth to 12 months, it’s all about milk, whether it’s breast milk, iron-fortified formula or a combination of the two. Whole milk is not to be given during this time. At four to six months babies can begin solid foods such as iron fortified baby cereal, strained fruits, vegetables and pureed meats. Fat restriction at this age is usually not necessary since fat helps to develop the brain and nerves.
At 12 months, children who have been weaned off breastfeeding may begin drinking whole milk. Low-fat milk would be better if there is a strong family history of obesity or heart disease. Calcium is necessary during this time to help build strong healthy bones and teeth. Milk is still one of the best calcium sources along with fortified cereals and juices. Fiber is also important to help fight obesity and promote digestion and prevent constipation.
Protein is important in this group. If a child won’t eat meat, plenty of protein can be found in beans, eggs and peanut butter. At this age, kids will start eating more not-so-healthy snacks and fast foods. It is important to monitor their intake of fats and salt and the ever-increasing consumption of sugar in all its many forms.
This is the time when junk food can become a bigger part of the diet. It’s also when some kids become very conscious of their weight and may develop eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia. Calorie requirements increase, as does the need for calcium. Low-fat milk and calcium-rich and -fortified foods are still very important. Girls who begin menstruating will need more iron-rich foods, such as meat and poultry, vegetables and beans, and fortified cereals and grains.
It is also now recommended that all children, beginning in the first two months of life, receive at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Discuss this with your doctor.
Getting our children to eat a healthy diet may not be an easy task. There’s too much childhood obesity (one in three children in America), diabetes and even heart disease. We need to monitor our children’s eating preferences and habits and be diligent about encouraging and explaining to them the benefits of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
For us parents, this may be a constant battle, but one well worth fighting to help ensure that our children will grow up to be healthy adults.