Balancing your child's diet for optimum growth


It’s never too early to inculcate healthy eating habits in your children. — AFP

Aside from genetics, factors influencing growth include nutrition and a physically-active lifestyle.

Proper nutrition plays an important role in fuelling a child’s physical growth and supporting mental development.

Children grow rapidly in infancy and early childhood.

To support proper growth and development, they must have adequate energy and nutrients.

This is a concern for most mums, especially if their child does not consume a variety of foods and/or has poor eating habits like being a picky eater, as the risk of underweight and poor growth increases.

Left unrectified, undernutrition and/or stunting can directly affect a child’s cognitive and motor development.

This hinders the child’s intellectual growth as he has less energy and interest in learning, resulting in poorer academic performance.

It is also associated with behavioural abnormalities, and may impede proper immune function development.

Parents should not skip regular check-up sessions with their child’s paediatrician.

Make it a point to monitor your child’s growth regularly (e.g. once a week) in between scheduled appointments.

Measure and record your child’s weight and height-for-age using a bathroom scale and a measuring tape or wall height chart.

If his weight and/or height does not follow an appropriate growth pattern or he has little to no weight gain over a period of two to three months, this indicates a potential problem such as poor growth.

A more in-depth evaluation with a qualified healthcare professional is needed.

Eat well

Promote your child’s healthy growth, as well as prevent poor growth or stunting, by inculcating healthy, balanced eating habits in them from young.

This will ensure she receives complete nutrition for growth and becomes accustomed to healthy nutritional choices.

Here are some basic nutrient requirements and why they’re important:

> Calories

Carbohydrate and fats should be her main source of energy for proper growth and development.

Offer healthy food choices that are energy- and nutrient-dense from all food groups at every meal, such as sweet potatoes, corn, fruits, milk, eggs, etc.

Avoid empty calories such as carbonated drinks or candies.

> Protein

It’s the main building block for new tissues, muscles and antibodies to help fight infections.

Give your child two servings of milk, yoghurt or cheese, and one or two servings of lean meat, poultry, fish, egg, tofu or tempeh daily to get enough protein.

If she fails to maintain adequate weight gain, do your best to make up for it by ensuring she receives sufficient vitamins and minerals to catch-up on her growth.

Insufficient intake will only exacerbate the situation and lead to less than ideal catch-up growth.

Here are some important vitamins and minerals:

> Zinc

Zinc is necessary for cells to grow and multiply properly.

It is needed during rapid growth phases.

It also helps in building protein and supporting a healthy immune system.

Studies show that having sufficient zinc is important for catch-up growth and supplementation may be needed, but do check with your doctor first before giving them to your child.

Iron Iron is a crucial mineral for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, and a vital component of the brain tissue.

Deficiencies may lead to slower- than-normal nerve impulses and/or permanent damage to a child’s brain, especially if it happens during her first two years of life.

Do consult your doctor before giving your child iron supplements.

> Vitamin A

This vitamin is important for proper development of vision, an essential component in visual-cognitive learning.

The South-East Asian Nutrition Survey (Seanuts) found that one in 25 children were deficient in vitamin A.

> Calcium and vitamin D

These two micronutrients are essential for strong bones, teeth and good oral health.

Deficiencies may cause rickets, muscle weakness and/or delayed motor development.

Seanuts found that vitamin D deficiency was high in the region, affecting nearly one in two children.

To maximise catch-up growth, include food rich in, or fortified with, calcium and vitamin D, like milk, in her diet.

A holistic diet

Parents should take the holistic approach towards nutrition and provide their child with a variety of nutrient-rich foods from an early age to support the balanced and wholesome development of their cognitive and physical growth.

All nutrients are important, so don’t focus too much on one specific nutrient.

As parents, the onus is on you to look into the nutritional needs of your child.

Avoid being overly reliant on others, e.g. babysitters, housemaids or grandparents.

Be more proactive in monitoring your child’s growth and development.

Encourage him to be more physically active by including physical activities as part of regular family activities.

Dr Tan Sue Yee is a nutritionist and member of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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