Is my child eating a healthy balanced diet? Is he eating enough to meet his daily requirements? These are some of the common questions that concern parents when it comes to child nutrition.
Growth and development of children happens in 3 areas-
- Physical development– Increase in height and weight, development of vital organs, healthy digestive system and functional development happens in childhood.
- Mental development– The brain growth spurt is almost 90% in childhood. Hence nutritionally balanced meals are important for the overall physical and mental development of children.
- Psychological development (from nutrition point of view)- Food choices, trying new foods, like/dislikes of food, following a routine etc all these habits develop in childhood.
As the saying goes ‘you have to nourish to flourish’ so in order to achieve proper growth and development, it is important to provide optimum nutrition to your child since the very beginning.
Children spend approximately 3-6 hours in school hence the tiffin packed for them should be sufficient for them till they reach home. If parents have opted for school to provide meals for their children then they should ensure that the school plans a well balanced menu as per their daily requirement.
How does eating healthy help school children?
- Children are more energetic and active
- Achieve optimal growth- ideal weight and height for age
- Better cognitive development
- Improved academic performance
- Reduced susceptibility to infection and strong immunity, reduced absenteeism
- Reduced risk of health problems- nutrient deficiencies, underweight etc.
How can parents improve the health of children?
Here are some tips for parents to improve their child’s health in school-
- Proper meal distribution– A growing child should eat 3 major meals i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner and 2-3 mid meal snacks. This helps in proper distribution of calories throughout the day and maintains their energy levels.
- Include functional foods- Children meals should include a good balance of dairy foods , fish, eggs, fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains and pulses. Along with a balanced meal it is also important to include foods that will build their immunity.
Children of school going age are more prone to infection that can occur through food, water and air. Hence, it is important to include some functional foods like turmeric, cumin, carrom seeds (Ajwain ), ginger, garlic, amla, fenugreek seeds in their meals to boost immunity and their ability to fight infection.
- Include power foods for the brain– Walnuts, peanuts, almonds are healthy nuts that should be included in kids meals. Walnuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which help improve memory and concentration in kids. Egg contains choline which is good to improve cognitive function. Curds/ yogurt are a great source of probiotics which improve digestion.
- Lead by example- Parents are role models for children since birth. They observe and follow what the parents do. Hence when it comes to food the child also inculcates certain food habits, food choices from the parents.
- Parents must eat and teach the child also to eat a variety of foods. Consuming a healthy colourful plate of food ensures adequate intake of all major nutrients.
- Encourage kids to try out new foods and seasonal foods as well. Let them experience the taste and texture of different foods.
- Also it is important to teach kids to finish whatever is served in the plate or in their lunch box to ensure adequate intake of nutrients and avoid food wastage.
- Pack compact and energy dense foods in lunch boxes- Pack compact and easy to eat food for school lunch. Eg- Dal paratha, vegetable pulav, vegetable cutlets, chapati frankie. These meals can be made more interesting and nutritious with a garnish of their favourite foods like grated cheese or paneer. Nuts can be included in the form of ladoos or chikkis using jaggery as a mid meal snack. Serve appropriate portions as per the child’s appetite and requirement.
- Adequate intake of fluids- Children must drink adequate amount of water and other fluids. Water is necessary to prevent dehydration, aids in proper digestion of food, prevents constipation and flushes out the waste products from the body.
- Avoid giving junk food in school– Parents should avoid giving foods like chips, biscuits, cakes in lunch boxes. Treat them with their favourite food once in a while when they do well at school.
If parents lay a strong foundation of well-balanced nutritious meals and healthy eating habits the child will successfully attain all the developmental milestones and will have good immunity to fight disease and infection.