Once the days of exclusive breastfeeding are over, parents often find themselves struck by the perennial dilemma – ‘is my child getting the right nutrition’. With so many schools of thought regarding child nutrition, not to mention never ending ‘well meaning’ advice on what’s best for your child, arriving at a defined nutrition plan for your bundle of joy can be a daunting task. If you too are unsure about the kind of nutrition your young one is receiving, this lowdown on essential nutrients for growing children in different age groups may help you set out in the right direction:
Infants : As they say, catch them young. Once your baby is ready to eat solids, introducing them to a wide variety of foods will not only help in developing their palate early on but also ensure they receive the right nutrients from natural sources. Some of the key nutrients for 6 to 12 month old babies include:
1. Iron: By six months of age, your baby may have exhausted the iron stores he/she was born with, and that in your breast milk are fast depleting. It is, therefore, wise to meet iron your baby’s iron requirements through formula or iron-fortified cereal. Eggs, prunes, chickpeas, avocado, chicken, baked potato, ground beef, spinach and broccoli are all rich sources of iron.
2. Calcium: Your baby’s calcium needs in the first year are taken care of by breast milk and formula.
3. Vitamins: Vitamin A, B, C, D, E and K all play have their own unique role in your child’s well-rounded growth and development. Carrots, fruits like oranges, cantaloupe, and sweet potato are a rich source of Vitamin A, which is responsible for development of night and color vision, while Vitamin B can be abundantly found in green vegetables, whole grains, and dairy and poultry products. Vitamin C helps in boosting your child’s immunity and is found in citrus fruits. Though sun remains the single largest source of Vitamin D, we have all heard about the hazardous effects of UV rays. Therefore, it is best to rely on fortified milk and cereals to supply your munchkin their daily dose of Vit D. Vegetable oils are a good source of Vitamin E and leafy vegetables and fruits supply Vitamin K.
4. Zinc: This mineral does more good to your little one’s health than you would’ve ever imagined – from enhancing cognitive development to optimizing cell growth and enhancing immunity. Formula or breast milk will do the trick for your infant.
Toddlers : As babies grow out of infancy and enter toddler years, they still pretty much require all the nutrients they did as infants. However, the body is most in need for adequate doses of iron and calcium to ensure a holistic growth. Breast milk or formula is replaced by whole cow’s milk by now, which meets your toddler’s calcium needs. They need about two cups of cow’s milk at this age. The calcium-rich cow’s milk is, however, low on iron. Therefore, parents must make a conscious effort to include iron-rich foods in their child’s diet at this stage.
School-goers : As school life commences, your child’s activity levels – both mental and physical – go up too. At this stage of growth cycle, your child needs a balanced intake of carbohydrates, fat, proteins, in addition to calcium, iron and vitamins.
Adolescents : Adolescence is the final lap of your child’s growth, and probably the most critical, as their body begins to change to irrevocably. The body needs generous amounts of calcium and iron at this stage. Besides, parents need to play a proactive role in ensuring the child sticks to healthy eating habits inculcated over the years and not drift toward unhealthy choices of fried and processed foods. This is crucial to keep onset of weight gain and obesity at bay.