Essential Nutrition in Early Childhood

Toddlers and preschoolers grow rapidly. Their appetites come and go unexpectedly, so they may eat a whole lot one day and then hardly anything the next. Toddlers start to say “no” more and preschoolers can have lots of opinions about what they eat. It’s normal, and as long as you offer them a healthy selection, they will get what they need. The problem with kids’ food habit these days is a lot of the stuff they’re eating every day are over processed and fast food. These foods have lots of calorie but are nutritionally lacking.

Healthy diet and focusing on nutrition are some of the simplest and most important ways to prevent the onset of disease. It can help prevent many chronic diseases. Healthy eating habits are more likely to stay with you if you learn them as a child. That’s why it’s important that children learn good habits now. It will help them stick with these eating patterns. This will also help them avoid developing chronic diseases. Here are some essential nutrients that kids need to stay healthy.

  1. Proteins: Protein helps a child’s body build cells, break down food into energy, fight infection, and carry oxygen. Foods that contain high levels of protein include: Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Nuts, Beans, lentil, Dairy products.

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2. Carbohydrates: While the latest diet trend is to “cut the carbs,” carbohydrates are actually the body’s most important source of energy. They help a child’s body to use fat and protein for building and repairing tissue. Carbohydrates come in several different forms (sugars, starches, and fiber), but kids should be eating more of the starches and fibers and less of the sugar. Foods that contain high levels of carbohydrates include: Rice,  Bread, Cereals, Grains, Pasta, Potatoes, beetroots (chukandar), banana, sweet potatoes.

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3. Fats: Kids are like small packets of energy. They use up a lot of fats running around. Their body uses fats particularly in building nerve tissues. So, fats are a great source of energy for kids and are easily stored in a child’s body. They are also important in helping the body to properly use some of the other nutrients it needs. Foods that contain high levels of fats include: Whole-milk dairy products, Cooking oils, Meat, Fish, Nuts.

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4. Calcium: Calcium is the most vital nutrient that accelerates growth in children. Calcium is essential in helping to build a child’s healthy bones and teeth. It’s also important for blood clotting and for nerve, muscle, and heart function. Foods that contain high levels of calcium include: Milk, Cheeses, Yogurt, Ice cream, Egg yolks, Broccoli, Spinach, Tofu.

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5. Iron: Iron is necessary for a child to build healthy blood that carries oxygen to cells all over the body. Foods that contain high levels of iron include: Red meats, Liver, Poultry, Shellfish, Whole grains, Beans, Nuts, Iron-fortified cereals like oatmeals, pomegranate (darima) , dates, Apricot, berries (jamuna).

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6. Folate: Folate, necessary for soon-to-be moms, is also very important for kids. One of the B vitamins, folate is necessary for healthy development and growth of a child’s cells. Lack of this vitamin can cause anemia. Foods that contain high levels of folate include: Whole-grain cereals, Lentils (daal), Chickpeas (chola), Asparagus (kurilo), Spinach, Black beans (kalo simi) or kidney beans (rajma).

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7. Potassium: Works with sodium to control the body’s water balance, which helps maintain blood pressure. Assists with muscle function and heart rhythm and, in later years, may reduce the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis. Foods that contain high levels of Potassium include: Watermelons, potatoes, oranges, pineapple, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, brown rice (whole grain rice), raisins (kisamisa), spinach, dates (chogada or khajur),  Leafy green vegetables.

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8. Zinc: Needed by more than 70 enzymes that aid digestion and metabolism, and essential for growth. Foods that contain high levels of Zinc include: tomato sauce, dry roasted almonds, yogurt, chicken, cheese (Swiss, mozzarella, cheddar), raw tofu, peas.

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9. Magnesium: The body uses this important mineral to keep bones strong and the heart rhythm steady. It also supports the immune system and helps maintain muscle and nerve function. Foods that contain high levels of Magnesium include legumes(peas and beans),Leafy green vegetables, Avocado, Banana, oatmeal, kidney beans (Rajma), Nuts like cashews, peanuts, almonds, Raisins (kisamisa).

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10. Vitamins: Vitamins are one of the most essential micronutrients. They are mostly present in fruits and vegetables. Vitamins are present in groups for example: when your child is eating spinach, he/she is not only getting vitamin A but all the vitamins. It is just that spinach has an abundant amount of vitamin A than other vitamins. So when kids are eating fruits and vegetables even though the amount may vary they are getting all kinds of vitamins.

    1. Vitamin A serves a variety of purposes in kids and adults. It helps growth, assists the eyes in adjusting to dim and bright lights, keeps skin healthy, and works to prevent infection. Foods that contain high levels of Vitamin A include: Carrots, Sweet potatoes, Pumpkin, Apricots (khurpaani), Watermelons, Spinach, Broccoli, Cabbage, Fish oils, Egg yolks.
    2. Vitamin C does more than just fighting off the common cold. It also holds the body’s cells together, strengthens the walls of blood vessels, helps the body heal wounds, and is important for building strong bones and teeth. Foods that contain high levels of Vitamin C include: Citrus fruits (such as oranges and lemons), Pears, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Watermelons, Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Spinach, Papayas, Mangoes.
    3. Vitamin E: Limits the production of toxic free radicals, which can damage cells. Important for immunity, DNA repair, and other metabolic processes. Foods that contain high levels of vitamin E include: Kiwi (thekifal), almonds, sunflower oil, spinach, roasted peanuts, raw mango, Broccoli.
    4. Vitamin D: Helps the body absorb minerals like calcium and builds strong teeth and bones. Essential for reaching growth potential and peak bone mass. Also functions as a hormone with roles in immune system health, insulin production, and regulation of cell growth. It keeps the immune system in good shape. The best source of vitamin D is the morning sunlight. It is produced naturally by the body when sunlight hits your skin. Foods that contain high levels of vitamin D include:  Tuna, Salmon, milk, yogurt, eggs.

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Children should avoid some foods (sometimes called ‘discretionary’ foods). These include fast food and junk food like hot chips, potato chips, chatpate, paani puri, fried stick foods, burgers and takeaway pizza. They also include cakes, chocolate, lollipops, biscuits, doughnuts, and pastries. These foods are high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, and low in fiber and nutrients. Many of these foods also contain bad fats that can increase the risk of childhood obesity and type two diabetes. It is also best to avoid artificially sweetened drinks like fruit juice, sports drinks, flavored waters, soft drinks and flavored milk. Sweet drinks are high in sugar and low in nutrients. They can cause weight gain, obesity, and tooth decay. So, encouraging children to choose snacks from the healthy food groups is a important for their growth and development.

NOTE: The information above is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor.

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