Supporting Children's Health with Nutrition





*Listen to the podcast interview I did on this topic for Simply Kids Wellness here.





When I had my first baby, one of my roles was to look after my baby’s health; body and mind, and give him the nutrients his growing body needed to function at its best. To protect him from toxin exposure and anything harmful and provide clean, healthy wholefoods as found in nature. Alongside this was to follow his instincts, observe and respond, guided by intuition and the deep mother-baby connection.


As a naturopath I was already familiar with healthy food choices and meals, and I chose the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) approach when it was time to introduce solid foods gradually. I appreciate baby led concepts, I feel that combined with our parental wisdom and intuition, this can make for an in-tune experience and harmony with each other and nature. A oneness, so to speak, where we don’t get in the way of nature’s wisdom, but rather keenly observe and respond as needed. There are situations where BLW is not the most appropriate choice, for example early feeding (before 6 months) and developmental delays.


Let's take a look at how to support children's health with nutrition.


Healthy Food Choices

-Choose wholefoods as found in nature. Ask does this grow? Vegetables, fruits, wholegrains- oats, barley, millet, brown rice; legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds. These are the foods that are nutritionally dense.


- Avoid processed foods- foods that do not look like they do in nature- i.e. many of the commercially produced breakfast cereals, cake bars, white bread products, typical bakery products. These foods generally do not provide essential nutrients and also can strip nutrients from the body.


-Steer clear of sugary foods as much as possible- your dentist will thank you! But not only for the health of teeth, sugar causes sugar levels in the blood to rise high and can overstimulate little bodies, followed by an inevitable crash in sugar levels that you may notice in their moods, not to mention difficulty sleeping.


-Give fresh filtered water to drink, avoid commercial fruit juices and especially soft drinks- kids do not need them. Not only are fruit juices and soft drinks high in sugar, many soft-drinks contain caffeine and can become addictive.


Fussy eating

-Continue to present a variety of healthy wholefoods.


-Are they tired? Upset about something else? Too hungry? Not hungry because they had a late snack? Assess other possible needs.


-Model healthy eating behaviours, attitudes, thoughts and words- children pick up on this and absorb it at a deep level. Even if they may not eat the healthy food you put out now, if it keeps appearing and is the norm in your household, they will learn and know that this is what your family does and is good and healthy.


-Try not to create stress around meals. There’s no need to get stressed about it or try to control their behaviour. Your job is to love them and provide them with nutritious food.


Water Intake

Always have fresh filtered water available to children to drink whenever they want it. You may need to remind them, especially younger ones, as they can forget when they are playing! Especially on hot days, and they may be sweating and losing water, it is especially important they don’t dehydrate.


You can set up a drinking station for little ones (about 2 years and up) that are able to pour a jug of water into a cup. All you need is a child height table, a jug of filtered water, a cup, and a cloth to wipe up any spills. Show them the steps to pouring them self a drink and wiping up any spills and then watch their independence.


How much water to drink?

5-8 year olds: 5 glasses / 1 litre per day

9-12 year olds: 7 glasses / 1.5 litres per day

13 years and older: 8-10 glasses / 2 litres per day [1]


And more than this when they are exercising, active and in hot weather.

There’s no need to measure out the exact amount of millilitres, just have water available and remind them if needed. Start the habit of a drink of water first thing in the morning, as overnight the body becomes dehydrated.


Signs they are not getting enough water:

- Feeling thirsty (thirst is a sign of dehydration)

- Dizziness, light headed

- Nausea

- Headache

- Dark coloured urine- it should be pale yellow

- Dryness of mouth

- Not passing much urine [1]


If your child has any of these signs or symptoms, it is important for them to hydrate with water.


Organic Foods

Organic produce is grown with restricted use of pesticides. It has been found that the main source of pesticides to humans is pesticide residue in fruit and vegetables. Studies have reported negative effects of pesticides on children’s cognitive development. [2]


Organic foods have also been found to contain significantly higher levels of nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, than their non-organic equivalents. The organic foods were also found to be lower in nitrates and pesticides. [3]


Animal products tend to be produced with the use of antibiotics which seems to be a driver of antibiotic resistance. [2]


Ensure that you wash all of your fruit and vegetables before eating. This is especially important if they are not organic. However, washing is not certain to remove all pesticide residue.


Some produce are more heavily contaminated with pesticides and these are especially important to choose organic. These are referred to as ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ and in 2020 included:

- Strawberries

- Spinach

- Kale

- Nectarines

- Apples

- Grapes

- Peaches

- Cherries

- Pears

- Tomatoes

- Celery

- Potatoes

- Chilli peppers


Foster a Connection with Nature

You, your child, your family, the food you eat, are all a part of nature. We are not separate things that exist in isolation. We all have a life force that births us into being, keeps us alive and lives within all of us. Show this to your child. Grow a vegetable from seed. Start a little (or big!) vegetable patch with your children.


It truly is a wonder to watch a seed burst to life and grow, living nature at its best. This fosters a connection with nature, where our food comes from and the wonder of life. If you don’t have the space for a vegetable patch, start with a seed in a small pot. You can add more pots or a small garden trough if you want to grow more as you go on.


In Summary

- Fill your kitchen with whole foods as found in nature as much as possible.

- Experiment with different vegetable combinations and recipes, include your children in food selection and preparation. Create snacks with a vegetable base- for example, capsicum, carrot, celery sticks and a hummus dip.

- Foster a connection with nature and where your food comes from. Plant a seed together with your children and watch it grow.

- Skip the processed food and sugary food aisles at the supermarket. Keep focused on healthful foods and how they make you feel and find the meals you like, grow as you go. Provide plenty of fresh filtered water to drink.

- Choose organic food when possible and have a look at the dirty dozen list for organic priorities.

- Choose one thing to start with.


Our affinity for a healthy home environment is absorbed by our children. To set our children up with a healthy foundation gives them the opportunity to carry this with them into adulthood. Go gently and kindly with yourself and as you embrace a healthy lifestyle, you will be able to welcome your children into it with you.












 

References

1. Healthdirect. (2020, January). Hydration Tips for Children. Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/hydration-tips-for-children#:~:text=The%20recommended%20daily%20intake%20of,to%2010%20glasses%20(2%20litres), accessed on 31/10/20

2. Mie, A., Andersen, H. R., Gunnarsson, S., Kahl, J., Kesse-Guyot, E., Rembiałkowska, E., Quaglio, G., & Grandjean, P. (2017). Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environmental health : a global access science source, 16(1), 111. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4

3. Crinnion W. J. (2010). Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic, 15(1), 4–12.

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