Most preschoolers do not usually eat too much at any one meal, which sometimes makes parents wonder if they are getiing enough food. More than likely, your child is eating enough if he or she is within the height and weight charts for both age and sex. This can be determined by a pediatrician. More importantly, your child is getting correct and enough nutrition if he or she is brightly active mentally amd physically, and enjoys his or her runs and plays. Parents should care to observe their children's appearance and behavior.
EATING THE RIGHT FOOD
Your child's physical appearance and behavior are often the best indicators of whether he or she is eating a balanced diet, or a variety of foods from all the food groups. Use the following as basic checklist for determining good health:
- Happy nature
- Active and sharp disposition
- Normal height and weight
- Do no tire easily
- Sleeps 8-10 hours fairly easily at night
- Shiny hair and complexion
- Healthy nails, teeth and bones
- No dark rings under the eyes
- Regular bowel function
- Normal breath odor.
AMOUNT OF FAT
It is safe and smart to feed all normal children over two years of age no more than 30 percent of their total calories from fat. This recommendation means that there is a place for fat in a child's diet, but fat should not be the main ingredient. All kids need some fat to make them feel full, to provide the essential fatty acids necessary for the correct body use of fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K. Children do need extra calories because they tend to be very active. You can always choose the best source for your children. For example, instead of using ordinary cooking oil, use corn or safflower oils which are high in linoleic acid essential to a balanced diet.
The term "malnutrition" is not only used to denote the lack of nutrition but also the consumption of an incorrect amount of certain nutrients. There is also such a term as over-nutrition.
Getting "too many nutrients" means that a child is most likely eating too much of one food or food component. Exceeding nutrient needs can sometimes be unhealthy. For example, more than 85 percent of kids exceed their protein needs primarily by eating too much meat and meat products. According to one studies, children that often eat hamburgers and deep-fried chickens are likely to consume too much protein and fat. Not only does extra protein make the kidneys work harder, but meat that is high in fat can raise blood cholesterol levels. Believe it or not, in countries where fastfoods are main source of daily ailments, the records of children suffering from heart problem and high blood pressure are increasing.
Too many salty snacks or too much salt added to food, which can influence high blood pressure among kids with a family history or hypertension also leads to malnutrition. The solution is simple: Eat all sorts of foods in moderation and follow the recommended daily allowance (RDA) to avoid risk associated with excesses of any kind.
FOR PICKY EATERS
It is perfectly normal for children to go through phases during which they either love a food or won't touch it. This behavior is usually short-term. If you have got a picky eater in the house, you might try the following:
- Review all the foods you think your child is avoiding. There are literally hundreds of foods in each food group, so if one doesn't work, substitute another.
- Be creative in your food preparation. If your child won't eat cooked vegetables, serve them raw with honey or low-fat dip. Or, if for example beans, carrots and radish aren't his favorite, disguise them in tacos, soups, meatballs, omelet wraps or burgers.
- Mix the "unwanted" food with one your child likes. Slice fruit onto cereal or mix cheese into mashed potatoes. You can chop bitter gourd into very small bits and add them to a grinded meat dish, or add mashed radish to empanada fillings. What's important is that food goes into the body, not that it gets there in an orderly fashion.
TRYING NEW FOODS
In the first place, different kinds of food should have been introduced to the child during the weaning period. That is exploring all the senses using different colors (green, yellow, white, brown, orange, etc.), different tastes (bland, spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet), different textures (soft, hard, chewy and crunchy), and a variety of temperatures (warm, cold and frozen).
It's a little harder to introduce new food tastes to children especially if you already accustom them to sweet and salty dishes. To introduce the new foods to little children's palate, you need to be very creative to gain their interest. Here are some suggestions:
- Involve children in some aspects of mealtime: shopping, arranging food in the cabinets and refrigerator, preparing and mixing ingredients and serving.
- Cut food items like carrots, gourds and squash bits into interesting shapes and sizes.
- Mix the new foods with something the child already like.
- Show them that you like the "new" food very much.
- Do not eliminate foods if they are not accepted on the first try. If you do, your child's whims will take priority over learning about and tasting new foods.
PROPER EATING HABITS
The rule of the thumb here is to practice what you preach. Kids learn by what they observe, and as a parent, you are a very visible role model. Here are suggested guidelines to form healthy habits that kids will imitate:
- Establish routine mealtimes that fit your lifestyle. heavier meals should be served at breakfast and lunch, and lighter at supper. Schedule, if possible, snack times between meals so that you don't overeat at meals. Choose the snacks well and alternate them. Avoid snacks that are too sweet or salty or laden with artificial additives.
- Do not use food as a reward or bribe. Instead, give verbal praise to build up a child's self-esteem and not his palate and belly. This will avoid behavior that can lead to abuse of food later in life.
- Make meals a time of social interaction. Select a cheerful environment for meals, away from the television and other distractions. Avoid also discussing office and school problems at mealtime. There are other occasions for these. Meals should be enjoyable and satisfying.
- Eat together. Avoid as much as possible eating separately. Make it a point to have happy meals with all members of your family present. Eating together as a family gives life to the table. This way, also, one child cannot complain against the food that everybody is eating.