Why is nutrient-dense food so important for your child?
If your child keeps binging on pizzas and burgers, and makes faces at the sight of veggies, you won’t need a doctor to tell you that he is not getting adequate nutrition. Yes, he might be loading up on refined carbohydrates, fats and excess salt or sugar, but he is not getting vitamins, minerals, healthy proteins or complex carbs. In other words, his diet is lacking the nutrients that matter for growth and development! So, it is easy to see why you need to introduce nutrient-dense foods into his meals as much as possible. For example, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, eggs, peas, beans, nuts, and seeds should be consumed by your toddler on a daily basis. Read on to know more.
Some things you should know about nutrition in India
Children’s nutritional requirements are usually higher than those of adults, as they grow fast. And nutrient-dense foods are rich in essential vitamins and minerals that boost the development of all vital organs and build immunity. Complex carbohydrates and lean proteins offer energy and build bones and muscles. So, when your child replaces nutritious food with junk, he tends to pile up on empty calories instead of actually growing. Plus, children’s tummies are very small, and they can only accommodate small quantities of food at a time. Therefore, eating the wrong kinds of foods can leave your toddler with very little capacity for wholesome and healthy foods.
In India, we are going through what scientists are calling a nutritional transition. If you look around, you will see supermarkets and even local stores stocking up on easy to eat snacks and ready to eat meals. Unless you choose them carefully, you will end up with food items that contain excessive fats and calories. So, it is best to choose natural foods for toddlers, so that they learn to eat healthy from a young age. Processed foods need to be consumed in moderation, always.
Also, deficiencies of important nutrients like zinc, iron, folic acid, iodine and calcium can lead to a whole host of diseases. For example, deficiency of iron can cause anaemia and iodine can cause thyroid problems. Rickets and scurvy are common vitamin deficiency diseases. Lack of calcium in the diet can make your child more prone to fractures. Hair loss, skin lesions, and retarded growth are caused by mineral deficiencies too. Hence, consumption of nutrient-dense foods cannot be stressed enough.
Identifying nutrient-dense foods for toddlers
It is not very difficult to identify foods that are nutrient-dense and that can help a child grow. For instance, fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with minerals, vitamins as well as dietary fibre. Whole grains like barley, oatmeal and brown rice are energy-giving, filling and yet fibrous, so that your child’s digestion system stays smooth. Eggs, fish and lean meats are rich protein sources, while seeds, nuts and oils derived from them provide healthy fats.
Also, all packaged foods come with nutrition labels that mention all the ingredients and nutrients contained. All you have to do is read carefully and then choose. For example, you should choose an item that has less fats and carbohydrates and go for something that is richer in dietary fibre and micronutrients. Make sure you note the serving size of each food item before feeding your toddler. Offering more than the serving size in a day will mean that you are giving him more than is good for him.
Transitioning to nutrient-dense foods
By making some small tweaks to your food or ingredient selection, you can easily make your child’s meals more nutrient-dense. Here are some tips to include essential vitamins and minerals for children in their foods:
- Shift from white rice to brown rice, as the latter contains more fibre
- Replace sugary drinks with water or coconut water or unsweetened lassi, for fewer calories
- Instead of adding cheese or butter to dishes, add more herbs, homemade sauces or veggies
- To moderate the consumption of store-brought mayonnaise, use hung curd flavoured with mustard, pepper, and salt. This will reduce the intake of saturated fats
- Instead of potato chips, switch to salted makhana and home-popped popcorn. Use whole wheat flour or mixed millet flour to make your parathas, instead of plain wheat flour
- To satisfy your child’s sweet cravings, give him naturally sweet fruits like lychees, mangoes, grapes or apples
- Replace at least half the white rice in your dosa and idli batter with a little millet. It won’t change the taste or colour of the batter and yet you will get tasty and nutritious dosas.
Remember that the food choices you make for your kids directly impact their energy levels and health status. So, choosing more nutrient-dense foods can make a huge difference to the health of your child for the present as well as the future.