Every child has the right to good infant nutrition, but in many countries, less than one-quarter of infants have access to the diverse diet required. Inappropriate feeding contributes to one-third of the cases of child malnutrition. The increasing availability of processed foods and products high in salt, sugar, and fats causes an increase in obesity and poor diets. Good infant nutrition is essential to lay good eating foundations for the rest of life and also to protect children from possible diseases. The child is at a critical development stage, so this is why they must receive balanced and healthy nutrition from birth. What do we call a balanced diet? What can we do if the little ones don’t want to eat everything?
Infant Nutrition in the First Year
Scientists recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the baby’s first six months, supplementing the diet with food for the next six months, or possibly longer. It is also argued that in addition to the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding promotes good health throughout life.
By six months, most doctors recommend starting small portions of pureed foods. Little by little, the baby will begin to incorporate flavours and textures, but above all, nutrients that will help its integral development. From the moment of conception, nutrition is essential as the nutrients ingested could affect a child’s future health. Parents should consider that diet is one of the pillars of health, from the moment of conception. For this reason, food education plays a very decisive role today.
How to Get Good Infant Nutrition?
The basis of good infant nutrition is to eat everything in just the right amount! In other words, do not talk about “bad” or “forbidden” foods. Children can eat everything (always appropriate for their age. Remember that during the introduction of foods, your paediatrician will tell you what foods you can start giving to avoid food allergies, but also remember not to overreact about food allergies.
Generally, the introduction of food begins with the incorporation of fruits and vegetables, followed by cereals such as rice. Later, meat and fish are incorporated. The basis of children’s diets is carbohydrates because they are the fuel they need to grow and do their daily activities. Of course, vegetables and fruits should also be eaten daily (5 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of fruit).
Boys and girls of one and two years of age have higher nutritional needs than an adult, needing between 4 and 7 times more nutrients per kilo than adults do! For this reason, infant nutrition must be adapted to children, not only in quantity but also in quality.
Consequences of Poor Infant Nutrition
Malnutrition is simply a lack of nutrients. A child with an unbalanced diet may be malnourished, and his mental, motor and emotional development can be affected.
Many parents make the mistake of forcing infants to finish the meal without taking into account that their nutritional needs are different from ours. Children self-regulate and eat what they need to eat: during some periods the child will eat more food because they need it to grow, and others have less appetite because they are in a period of growth rest.
Another risk factor is an unbalanced diet. Nowadays, sugary drinks and ultra-processed foods are consumed daily, without taking into consideration their nutritional content. Fast foods, snack foods, high-sugar drinks, frozen dishes, and pastries should only be eaten in moderation.
Read the food labels to determine their caloric content and nutritional value, both overeating and unbalanced eating can cause chronic diseases at an early age. Teach your children to eat well, in a balanced way.
Tips to Help with Good Nutrition for Babies and Small Children
Here are some tips for you to give your child proper nutrition so that they can have normal development throughout their early stages of life:
- Do not force your child to eat: propose foods to your children and let them taste them. If they don’t want to finish the plate, don’t force them. A good tactic is asking them to taste everything you serve and assure that if they don’t like something, you won’t force them to eat it. The most important thing is to try to get them to taste different foods, not to eat everything on the plate.
- Let your children eat a piece of cake, chocolate, or candy: remember that they can eat everything as long as we have measure and control over what they eat. Denying some foods will make them want it even more. Always keep in mind that we should never offer them ‘sweets’ as prizes.
- Choose water as the drink of choice for children: do not forget that sugary beverages (including fruit juices) contain a nutritional value lower than their caloric content. Let them consume them but always remember in moderation.
- Don’t throw in the towel: If your child says he doesn’t like something, leave it for a few days and try again. You can change the cooking, texture, presentation, among other things.
- Prepare a weekly menu before going shopping: the menu will help you keep your diet balanced.
- Don’t overfill the plates: remember that children need child-sized portions.
- Do not talk about bad foods: always highlight the benefits of each food.
- Get informed: the first step is to know how to make a healthy food purchase. If you don’t have nutritious food at home, the diet will not be balanced. Learn about your children’s nutritional needs, read food labels, and look for healthy recipes.
- Be an example: your children imitate you in everything. If you don’t eat vegetables, neither do they. Don’t hesitate to lead by example. You will help them to incorporate all kinds of foods, and you will improve their health and yours too.
- Serve Colourful Dishes: A colourful plate is a nutritionally complete plate. Colours can also be attractive to your children and help them try new foods.
The magic for our children to have a good diet is always to consider moderation and by setting a good example for them. Remember that children need different nutrition than adults. It is a great idea if you ask your doctor or paediatrician for guidance on good infant nutrition. Poor nutrition in children can be a serious cause of different problems when they reach adolescence and adulthood.