Children come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Their genetic blueprints determine how fast and how big they will grow. Some children are destined to grow slowly while others make rapid leaps in development. Genetic, environmental, hormonal, nutritional and behavioral factors work together to determine a child's rate of growth. As the caregiver, your job is to provide the right materials for growth - a wide variety of nutritious foods.
Nutrition During Pregnancy
Proper nutrition during pregnancy plays a vital role in determining the health of the newborn child. Through the quantity and quality of what a pregnant woman eats, she provides the nourishment necessary to begin and maintain the growth and development of her fetus.
Guidelines for Daily Food Choices
For most women, a balanced diet during pregnancy will consist of three meals a day.
Meals should contain nutrient-rich foods from each of the following food groups: proteins, fruits, vegetables, grain products, and milk and milk products.
Protein-rich foods have the added advantage of containing iron and B vitamins. Two or three servings of protein foods a day will meet the requirement. Good choices are lean meats, fish, eggs, beans and tofu. Poorer choices, because they contain a high percentage of fat, are hot dogs, sausage, spare ribs, and especially bacon.
Three to five daily servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits are necessary to supply vitamins, particularly A and C. Recommended fruits include citrus (oranges, grapefruits) as well as apples, bananas, guavas, mangos and dried fruit. Vegetables may be dark green -- such as broccoli, spinach or kale -- or a variety of others including carrots, cabbage, squash or baked white or sweet potato. Pure fruit juice should be chosen over fruit drinks, which contain added sugar and provide little nutritional value. While fresh fruits and vegetables are best, frozen or canned may be substituted.
Among the grain products, whole-grain and whole-wheat are best. Six to 11 daily servings are recommended. Any of the following counts as a serving: 1 slice of whole-grain bread, 3/4 cup ready- to-eat enriched cereal, 1/2 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup enriched or brown rice, 2 tortillas, or 1/2 cup spaghetti or other noodles.
Four servings a day of milk and milk products are suggested. These may include: 1 cup of milk, yogurt or cottage cheese, two 1-inch cubes of cheese, 1 cup pudding or custard, 1-1/2 cups soup made with milk, or 1 cup ice milk or ice cream.
For women who can't digest the sugar in milk or are lactose- intolerant, modified milk products are available in the dairy section of the supermarket. These include yogurt -- milk in cultured form -- and low-lactose substitutes. A woman who feels she is not getting enough milk products should talk with her health care provider about other sources of calcium.
Adjustments in diet may be necessary to deal with some of the common discomforts of pregnancy. If nausea is a problem (usually during the first trimester), smaller more frequent meals may help, along with crackers as snacks and liquids between -- rather than with -- meals. Heartburn also can be eased by frequent small meals and avoiding greasy or heavily spiced foods and caffeine. For constipation, which may occur at any time during pregnancy but is more common during the latter part, helpful remedies include increased fluid intake, high-fiber foods such as whole grains, and naturally laxative foods such as dried fruits (especially prunes and figs), and other fruits and juices, particularly prune juice.
For the baby, mother's milk provides the best food to grow on. Breasted babies do not get sick as often and have fewer allergies. Mother's milk is very easy for babies to digest.
For you, breastfeeding helps you get your shape back sooner. It gives you a free hand during feedings and lets you feed a hungry baby fast. Breastfeeding lets you rest when you nurse lying down.
For both of you, breastfeeding offers a special time to get to know each other.
You can breastfeed like all mothers, you want to give your baby the very best in life. Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby. Your milk has everything your baby needs to grow strong and healthy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents should not introduce solids before 6 months of age. Babies' developing digestive tracts can't process solid foods yet; introducing cereal or other starter foods too early can cause digestive problems such as gas and loose stools or constipation. It's best to stick with breast milk or formula for now.
As your baby approaches 6 months, keep an eye out for the clues that will tell you she's ready to expand her mealtime horizons. At 3 to 4 months, she'll start to lose the extrusion reflex that makes her instinctively push her tongue out of her mouth when it encounters anything besides liquid.
Time for finger foods
By 7 months, your baby has started developing the skills necessary to increase her food repertoire. He or she will probably start to try picking up objects with her thumb and forefinger, a skill called the pincer grasp. He or she will also continue to mouth everything it can get her hands on, another sign that he or she ready for an expanded diet.
Foods to introduce during this period are avocados, peaches, cooked carrots, squash, mashed potatoes, and barley cereal.
9 to 12 months
Now is the time to start introducing lumpier, more challenging foods such as oatmeal, noodles, and peas. You can also start feeding her bite-size cooked vegetables such as yams, and combination foods like macaroni and cheese. The baby is also ready to try ground-up or bite-size pieces of bland meat such as poultry, though she won't have the molars to chew it until he or she 18 to 24 months old. Try milling or grinding the meat in a baby food grinder, or cut it into very fine pieces, about 1/8 inch thick. The baby will also like chewing on hard foods, since it’s teething, but make sure it's something that dissolves easily, like teething biscuits.
Children must consume sufficient high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals and energy in their diets if adequate growth is to occur. Many factors determine a child's needs for nutrients:
· body size
· physical activity
· illness or injury
Although a child experiences growth spurts during the preschool years, the most significant periods of growth occur in infancy and adolescence. Even though growth rate slows during the preschool years, the body continues to change dramatically, and preschool children actually need more of certain nutrients than larger children do. Therefore, every meal and snack is an opportunity to meet the special nutritional needs of the preschool child.
Energy in food allows children to play, to learn, and to grow. This food energy is measured in calories. Calories come from carbohydrate, protein and fat. It is important for a child to eat enough calories, or the child's body will use needed protein and fat stores for energy.
Calories must be provided throughout the day. Because they have small appetites, preschool children generally need two or three snacks in addition to three meals every day. If a child skips a meal, not enough calories or other nutrients will be eaten for that day. The calories from skipped meals are not made up at a later meal. Therefore, regular meals and snacks are very important to assure good growth.
The caloric needs of children of the same size, age and sex vary. Until the age of ten, there is little difference in the calorie needs of boys and girls. Generally, children between the ages of one and three need 1000 to 1300 calories per day. Older children between the ages of four and six need 1300 to 1800 calories per day. The needs of individual children will vary with the amount of exercise that child gets. Children who are very active and run, hop, and climb need more calories than those who are less active do. Some children eat more and grow faster than others. Every child eats more on some days than others do.
Since growth requires energy, and energy comes from food, it is no wonder that a child's appetite generally increases during a growth spurt. Fluctuations in appetite and satiety are normal. When growth levels off, calorie needs lessen, so appetite will diminish as well.
Calcium is best absorbed when vitamin D is present in the same meal or snack. Fluid milk is fortified with vitamin D, so it is the primary source of these nutrients in children's diets. Additionally, a person's skin can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
Protein is essential for growth. Protein is used to build new blood, bone and muscles. Because children are growing, their protein needs are higher for their body size than adults. Following age appropriate food patterns will assure that the children in your care will be getting adequate amounts of protein.
Calcium provides the structure of bone and teeth. Because children's bones must lengthen for them to grow, calcium is a critical nutrient during childhood. Children need two to four times more calcium for their body weight than adults need. The calcium that is stored during the childhood years is vital to the health and well being of that person throughout life.
According to the American Dietetic Association, our bodies have the ability to store calcium in our bones until we are about age 30. After that age, we must depend on the calcium that we eat in our food, or we must withdraw calcium from our skeleton's savings account. The denser the bones are in childhood, the better prepared a person will be to support teen growth and still withstand the inevitable bone losses of later life. Perhaps you can now see the importance of eating adequate amounts of calcium-rich foods during the childhood years.
To decide how much to feed a preschooler, just follow the child's appetite. The caregiver should neither coerce a child to eat nor withhold food. Simply offer healthful food to the child and let the child decide how much of that food to eat.
A child may choose not to eat the foods offered for many reasons. Perhaps the child is not hungry or is not feeling well. The child may have an aversion for the food served, or perhaps other happenings in the dining area distract the child from eating. Children sometimes use food as an attempt to exert independence or control over the caregiver by choosing not to eat. In this last case, the child is less likely to continue refusing foods as long as the caregiver makes no issue of the behavior.
Little children have little appetites. Some children will fill up on liquids rather than eat the food offered at a meal. Even milk can take the place of other foods to the detriment of overall intake. If this happens put a cup of water alongside the milk so that the child will be encouraged to quench her thirst without satisfying her appetite.
Some sweet foods, like soft drinks, punch, candies and popsicles, provide empty calories - calories without any vitamins or other nutrients. It is important to avoid feeding children too many empty calorie foods so that their appetites are not satisfied before they can get in needed nutrients. In addition to their filling up on sugary foods, these foods contribute to tooth decay. So it is a good idea to avoid serving too many sweet foods to preschool children. Sodas and other sugary drinks should not be offered in the day care setting.
Like sugar, honey can also be classified as an empty calorie food. Contrary to popular belief, there are no nutritional advantages in choosing honey over sugar. Although honey contains some vitamins and minerals that are not available in sugar, the trace amounts of these nutrients are not significant when compared to daily needs. Honey can be a good substitute for sugar, particularly when a recipe does not permit sugar to dissolve. One caution, however, is that honey should not be served to infants under one year of age. Conditions in the gastrointestinal tracts of very young infants may favor the development of infant botulism when honey is eaten.
The preference for sweet tasting foods is inborn, so children cannot be trusted to choose nutritious foods on the basis of taste alone. Active, normal children may occasionally be offered treats of sugary foods, however, these foods should be chosen to offer some other nutrients as well. For example, ice cream and pudding are made from milk, and cookies or quick breads can be made with dried fruit and whole-grain or enriched flours. It is recommended that sweets, cookies and other sweet baked products be served for snacks no more than two times per week.
Children can be overwhelmed by large quantities of food. It is a good policy to offer small servings and allow the child to ask for seconds. Always keep in mind that that child only knows the amount needed to satisfy a child’s appetite.
The nutritional needs of a teenager vary with their growth. And with increased activity, calorie and nutrient needs increase. Food choices can include snacks, pizza, burgers, and even sweets if everything is in the right balance.
A good plan might include: a bagel, topped with peanut butter and sliced apples, an orange and a cup of skim milk for breakfast. For lunch--a sandwich of lean ham, turkey, or beef, low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts and onions, along with a piece of fresh fruit, graham crackers, and flavored low-fat yogurt. Dinner might be pasta mixed with black beans and low-fat cheese, or a Canadian bacon pizza, fruit salad, skim milk, and pudding for dessert.
For snacks,try bagels and low-fat cream cheese, instant soups, popcorn, pretzels, veggies and low-fat dip. Yogurt, pudding, graham crackers and quick English muffin mini-pizzas make easy, nutritous treats as well.
· www.eatright.com Internet resource
· www.drblank.com Internet resource
· www.kootasca.com Internet resource