The early years of a child are one of the most important stages of life because it is vital for cognitive, physical and behavioural growth. As a parent, you would obviously want the best for your child, and giving them a nutritious, well-balanced diet is of utmost importance. Many parents might think that a nutritious meal is only important for their child’s physical development, but do you know that a well-balanced diet is also crucial to your child’s mental and emotional growth? Yes, that glass of milk does not only strengthen your child’s bones, but it also assists in nerve stimulations and regulates your child’s blood pressure!
Brain development can be highly affected by the quality and adequacy of your child’s diet. Even during pregnancy and early life, poor nutrition can lower IQ scores and even lead to learning disorders, according to Dr. Reynaldo Martorell, a renowned International Nutrition professor at Emory University.
Attentional issues, as well as behavioural and societal issues, could also occur. Providing adequate energy, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are necessary to provide enough nutrition for brain development, while also allowing for your child’s body to grow and mature healthily.
Studies have shown that iron deficiency, even in children, can lead to a decrease in the transmission of dopamine, a naturally produced chemical that sends signals to the brain to initiate movements.
Dopamine deficiency is closely related to Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder or more commonly known as ADHD. ADHD may cause your child to be inattentive, hyperactive, and/or impulsive. Some of the best sources of iron include tofu, red meat, and lentils (yes, that dhal curry that goes with your roti canai!). The best way to make sure your child has enough iron in his diet is to ensure he eats according to a balanced diet.
Other than how a well-balanced diet can affect your child’s learning behaviours, surprisingly a good diet can also affect your child’s societal behaviours. With participation in family meals, your child will start to mimic eating choices, behaviour and patterns of family members. For example, when a family member shares about his or her day it will show your child how important communication is within family members in order to form a strong family bond.
Added to that, in the first two years of your child’s life, if your child does not receive adequate nutrition, it is more likely that your child will show signs of becoming withdrawn, being less active and staying away or shying away from interaction.
Key Factors for Meal Planning
Now that we have learnt how a balanced diet can have positive effects on your child, it is super important to consider these 3 things when planning a meal for your child:
A balanced diet means incorporating all the food groups (carbohydrates, greens, protein, and fat) from the Malaysian Food Pyramid into each and every single meal. Parents should make an effort to prepare meals containing more foods from the lower part of the food pyramid and fewer foods from the higher parts of the food pyramid.
Too much or too little can be unhealthy for you and your child, especially when it comes to food and nutrients. As parents, you might think that forcing your child to scoff down bowls of kale salad and cutting down on the carbohydrates would be a good idea, but in fact, it is not.
Practising portion planning is essentially necessary to ensure that your child eats according to the recommended serving size for each food group in the food pyramid. Parents can practice the suku-suku-separuh (quarter-quarter-half) rule propagated by the Ministry of Health Malaysia.
For a properly balanced plate, one suku (quarter) should consist of protein and another quarter should consist of carbohydrates such as rice, noodles or grains while the rest of the plate should be filled with vegetables and fruits.
Eating a varied, well-balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from each food group daily, in recommended amounts. It is super important to choose a variety of foods within each food group because different foods provide different types and amounts of key nutrients important for your child’s growth and wellbeing, both mentally and physically.
Added to that, kids get bored really easily, so preparing different variations of a meal each time will make it more interesting, so that your child would not get bored and refuse to eat.
Finally, child nutrition is not just about keeping your child’s tummy full. It is about planning a balanced meal that is as nutritious and fun as possible for them, because in the long run, the meal you crafted determines how your child grows and develops.
This article has been republished with permission from Kiddy123.
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Read more: 5 Warning Signs of Mental Illness in Kids