How To Set Good Feeding Practices To Give Your Child a Healthy Start

You may have heard that you should start them young on basically anything!

Young children are growing and developing rapidly. So, it’s important they get all the nutrients and energy they need and you should set good feeding practices when you are in the window of opportunity.

Making conscious and careful food choices will help you ensure your child’s growing body and brain are nourished. We often think that food is for our child’s physical nourishment, but we often overlook food’s role in nourishing his or her social, mental and psychological development.

Good feeding practices are not only essential for growth, they set the foundation for eating patterns throughout life. From young, help your child develop a positive relationship with food and eating.

Shared and division of responsibilities

You

Your job starts with being a good role model for healthy eating, mealtime behaviour and active living.

You provide a variety of nourishing food and set a routine (time and place) and let them decide if they eat it and how much they should eat. Avoid pressuring him or her to finish eating everything on a plate as this can lead to anxiety and a poor relationship with food and mealtimes.

Your Child

His or her responsibilities are to learn the skills needed to make good choices from foods offered, to behave at meals, and to eat food the family eats.

Shared

Everyone is responsible to make sure regular physical activity is part of the health goals. Parents, your role is to provide opportunities and encourage your child to get into regular active play.

Why we should encourage vegetable intake right from the start. 

Children need to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits as part of a healthy and balanced diet, to get the nutrients they need. Vegetables provide a range of vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as bioactive compounds, such as polyphenols. Each type of vegetable has a unique combination of nutrients and bioactive compounds.

Eating patterns and preferences are established in early years. This is an important window of opportunity to learn about food and start a lifelong habit of eating vegetables as part of a healthy and varied diet.

Keep in mind the benefits for your child in later life. Healthy dietary patterns rich in vegetables and fruits can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and several cancers.

What young children should be having.

Young children should be having five or more vegetables and/or fruits a day. There is no official recommendation portion size for children. The key here is variety. As a guide, a portion for children is the amount that they can fit into the palm of their hand. Serve at least one portion with every meal and at some snack times. Fresh, frozen, canned and dried vegetables or fruits all count.

Bear in mind that young children’s appetites can fluctuate daily and some will need bigger portions than others. 

Food Familiarity

Health professionals insist on repeated exposures of the food that your child may not eat the first time. The reason behind is very simple – it increases familiarity.

Familiarity has a powerful role in determining whether a child will like and eat certain food. Why familiarity? Knowing eventually leads to liking.

Research shows that it can take from eight to ten taste exposures before the child is willing to give the new food, like a new vegetable, a try. Parents actually report trying three to five times and then give up. 

Some tips on helping your child to get familiar with a new food:

  • Get them to do grocery shopping with you. Show him or her the different food, name them and describe the shapes and colours.
  • Get them to observe how you prepare food in the kitchen.
  • Involve children in growing food like a pot of herbs.
  • Show them picture books of food.

Family Mealtime

Sharing a meal as a family is not just eating the food, it nurtures social skills that can have important, long-lasting benefits. A shared meal means sitting together, facing each other and interacting. 

With scheduled mealtime, you and your child are more likely to eat the right amount for yourselves. You come to the table hungry and stop when full. 

Eating together also promotes family bonding and communication as it is a time to share stories and relate what’s going on and to create family memories.

Some tips on making a family mealtime routine:

  • Eat as a family several times per week and if possible, daily.
  • If daily family meals are not possible, plan ahead and mark the dates.
  • Remove distractions such as TV, smartphones and other electronic devices.
  • Eat around a table to encourage eye contact.
  • Keep family mealtime calm and positive.
  • Set a good example by eating a variety of foods.

Nutrient and Calorie Needs

Children, especially younger ones, need the right amount of nutrients to support active play, learning and growth.

Calories

How much calories depends on a child’s age, growth rate, body size and level of physical activity. Most moderately active to active children aged three to five need 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day. Two-year-olds typically need somewhat less, about 1,000 calories a day.

Take cues from your child. An active child typically has a bigger appetite and asks for the amount that he or she requires. 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates come in the form of starches and mostly naturally occurring sugars, carbohydrates should provide about half of a child’s daily calories. Another form of carbohydrate, which is fiber, is also important. Fiber can be found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans.

Protein

Children need high-quality protein for the growth of body cells including bones, and for body substances such as hormones and enzymes that stimulate body processes. For children aged one to three, 30 g or 6 teaspoons per day. For children aged three to eleven, 50 g spread over two times per day. You can give lean meat, fish, egg and cooked deli meat.

Fats

Fats are indispensable but are to be served in very moderate quantities. It is a concentrated energy source. Fats support a child’s rapid growth, learning and play. Fatty acids are essential for growth and brain development. Food must supply them because the body cannot make them. Sources of fat can either be vegetal (oil, mayonnaise, margarine) or animal (butter,cream, lard). Favour vegetable fats to create variety because they have different properties :

  • for cooking : olive oil, peanut oil…
  • for seasoning, mix or alternative different oils : rapeseed, olive, walnut, sunflower, etc.

Sugary food

These food include: sugar, sweetened drinks, sweets, pastries, cream desserts, ice cream and soft drinks. They contribute, especially in the absence of regular teeth brushing, the formation of dental caries, and are very caloric. Taken in large quantities, they can contribute to the development of obesity and other health problems and diseases in adulthood. But, consumed from time to time and in reasonable quantities, sugary products are compatible with good nutritional status.

Drinks

Water is one of the most essential nutrients. It should be the only recommended drink and be served free flow, before, during and after meals and after a physical activity. Sweet drinks (soft drinks, fruit juices) are to be consumed occasionally because they contain high quantities of sugar, which contributes calories and does not quench thirst. Avoid serving sweet drinks during meals. However, if the drink is made of pure fruit juice with no added sugar, it can be served during breakfast or snack time and can be counted as one of the 5 vegetables or fruits to be eaten per day.

Conclusion

Childhood is a time to establish healthy eating patterns and active living that bring long-lasting health benefits and wellness. It’s also the window of opportunity for your child to learn eating skills in social situations with family and friends. By becoming healthy eaters, they can someday model these eating behaviours for their own children.

References:

Manger Bouger – Programme national nutrition santé (PNNS)

British Nutrition Foundation

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food & Nutrition Guide, Roberta L. Duyff, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2017)

See & Eat organisation

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