As a working mother, senior lecturer Lisa Chan, 35, has a hectic schedule juggling her career and family. But no matter how busy she is, feeding her three children nutritious meals is a top priority.
She ensures her three children, eight-year-old Marcus Wong, five-year-old Justin Wong and three-year-old Sherene Wong, have wholesome meals each day because she believes it is crucial to their physical and mental development.
“It is important to feed nutritious and balanced meals to children. I try to incorporate as many of the nutrients as possible – protein, carbohydrate, milk and dairy food – in their diet. Eating nutritious food can help children grow and prevent disorders like anaemia, dental cavities and obesity,” says Chan.
To give her children a good start in the morning, Chan prepares a healthy breakfast each day. Their breakfast menu is varied for it’s also important that her kids like their meals, too. Some of their favourite breakfast dishes include scrambled eggs, cheese sandwiches, oats and pancakes.
For Marcus’ school lunch, she packs cheese sandwiches or homemade buns, and makes sure he has fruits, too.
Her younger children are sent to a babysitter’s home after school. “I’m lucky to have a trusted elderly couple look after my children. They cook with minimal oil and use organic vegetables. Their meals usually have a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and calcium. I usually cook dinner every night, rather than eat out. This way, I am in control of the amount of salt, sugar and oil used in the dishes,” says Chan who plans her meals and weekly grocery shopping.
It requires effort and time management to prepare meals for her family but Chan is a firm believer in feeding her young children well.
Nutrition vital for children's development
Nutrition plays an important role in children’s physical growth and mental development. Consuming a balanced and nutritious diet which supplies important and essential nutrients will go a long way towards supporting your child’s development during this crucial time.
In its 2016 report Overcoming childhood obesity and malnutrition in Malaysia, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) states that Malaysia is one of several Asean countries facing simultaneous crises of over- and under-nutrition. Some children are overweight while others suffer from stunting and wasting.
Statistics from the National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2015) states that 8% of children in Malaysia (under five years old) suffered acute malnutrition.
Online parenting website parents.com reports that every child should have sufficient protein (poultry, tofu), carbohydrates (rice, potato), iron (red meat, liver), folate (lentils, spinach), fibre (multigrain cereal, seeds), Vitamin A (carrot, sweet potato, egg yolk) and Vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomato) in their daily diet. Vitamin A keeps skin healthy. Vitamin C strengthens blood vessels and helps the body heal wounds.
Most children attend preschool between the ages of three and six years old. Their first years in preschool are exciting, filled with many activities, including physical, social and mental. These fun-filled exercises help to contribute to children’s emotional development. It also cements the foundation for a lifetime of learning.
While learning through fun and play are involved at this stage, intense amount of brainwork goes on as children learn their ABCs and 123s. Several nutrients have been extensively studied and deemed beneficial in childhood developmental growth.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a fatty acid found in the brain and eyes. DHA is said to have beneficial effects on children’s brain development. However, many children do not obtain sufficient fatty acids from their daily food. They may not consume sufficient amounts of seafood and liver that are excellent sources of DHA.
Lutein is another vital nutrient. It is a predominant macular pigment in the retina. Vision is believed to contribute to up to 80% of learning. Therefore consuming sufficient lutein for eyes is helpful. Lutein is found mainly in fruits and vegetables.
In preschool, children learn through play. From swinging on monkey bars to beading works, these activities help develop motor skills to aid children’s physical development.
Several nutrients play an important role during children’s formative growth years. Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus by the body. It is also vital for a child to consume sufficient iron too.
Iron is a component of the red blood cells which carry oxygen to the body. Zinc, another micro nutrient, is also essential for growth.
In Malaysia, eating out is common as it’s convenient and affordable. Children may have a meal outside the home at playschool on a daily basis. When eating out, parents have less control over their children’s nutrient intake.
Some children may also dislike and avoid certain food groups which contain the required essential nutrients.
A study found that intakes of certain important nutrients such as zinc and iron were below recommended levels in children transitioning to an adult-style diet.
During this stage, it is helpful for children to consume formula milk tailored to the needs of their age group. Milk should contain important nutrients for mental and physical development too.
At this stage, it’s vital for parents to be mindful of their children’s nutrient intake, and not just the amount of food they have.
After all, the preschool years are the most crucial time for learning, and good health is a prerequisite to helping children achieve their potential.