We are born hungry! We are blessed to know how to satisfy hunger! Then, why is it that children are becoming fussy eaters with poor eating habits nowadays? Let's begin by trying to understand the correlation between your child’s age and some child nutrition guidelines.
Early years are crucial for developing healthy habits among children and hence, the significance of feeding is beyond debate. 25% of calorie intake in the first two years is purely devoted to growth and infants need extra calories to maintain the functions of rapidly developing organs. (Trahms and Pipes, 1997).
When it comes to nutrition for children, breastfeeding best suits infants because of multiple reasons. Human milk is high in fat and low in proteins, and this balance is ideal for a rapidly growing nervous system. Apart from this, breastfeeding helps in ensuring healthy physical growth, nutritional completeness and digestibility. Research has proven time and again that breastfed infants accept new solid foods more easily than bottle-fed infants, perhaps because of their greater experience with a variety of flavours which pass from the maternal diet into mother’s milk. So, the very first tip is to breastfeed as much as you can if you want to enhance the appetite of your child!
Keeping child nutrition guidelines in mind, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until 18 months, with solid food added at six months. Mothers who do not produce sufficient breast milk or cannot be with the child all the time can still combine breastfeeding with bottle-feeding, though exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is highly recommended.
Bottle-fed and breastfed children do not differ in emotional adjustment, so parents of bottle-fed children need not worry about healthy psychological development.
The best way to control fussy eating habits is to check before they appear!
At 0-6 months, breast or bottle feeding is mandatory for babies. For both breastfed and bottle-fed children, it is found through research that the body starts gaining control around four months on sucking and therefore, feeding becomes more natural. This maturity is well observed in children of six months, and therefore, please note:
# Do not delay in introducing solids at this time
# Let your children explore food items with their fingertips
# Make sure to leave your child with the bowl of the meal for at least ten minutes
During 6-9 months, babies can sit and pick food articles on their own, by using their fingers and thumb. They are also ready to consume food with the help of a spoon. If you notice these signs, you are doing right in terms of the appetite of your child.
The concept of food starts at this age, and the biological clock starts functioning at its best by this time. Any pureed food works wonderfully for this age of children, but make sure to give food on a demand basis only. Let your child’s biological clock demand food by this age instead of you giving food by the clock.
Nutrition for children is extremely important at this stage since they undergo rapid cognitive development. At this stage, children recognise food by sight, smell and taste. By this age, children might point out their food preferences, and therefore, it’s a great idea to introduce as many food items as possible by this age. Infant diet must include all the basic food groups at the age of one.
At this age, children can not only close their lips to clear the spoon but can also chew softer lumps of food. 77% of infants can clear the spoon by 8 to 10 months and attain perfection in using tongue movements to chew the food articles. Stop pureed food by 12 months and allow your children to chew if you do not want a fussy eater in future.
Chewing efficiency develops in 13-15 months old children. They improve their chewing skills and become comfortable with controlled feeding of non-pureed food items. During 6-10 months, the lower front teeth, commonly called as incisors, develop. These are followed by the development of upper front teeth during 8-12 months. The side teeth, which are the molars develop only after the age of one. Keeping this in mind, try to introduce all possible solids between 13 to 15 months as chewing efficiency will be purely dependent on the opportunities given to children for chewing during this age.
Higher the chewing efficiency of children, lesser will be your troubles related to food habits. Wean your children from breastfeeding by this age if you want to enhance the solid intake of your child.
During16-18 months, children should be given more challenging food items such as meats, chapattis and vegetables. The reason for the introduction of challenging food purely lies in the fact of enhanced mouth control of children, due to the eruption of teeth.
Eye-hand coordination is also at its best by this age, so children should be allowed to eat food on their own by this age. 90% of infants can feed themselves with a spoon by the end of 18 months. Few infants can also drink liquids from an open cup by eighteen months of age.
Strictly follow these milestones to develop healthy eating habits in your child.
This is the most challenging feeding phase in toddlers, as they are often very reluctant to accept new food items and refuse to eat food that they accepted before. In psychology, it’s called the neophobic reaction to food and can stay till the age of eight. The rejection of new food items is a normal response which peaks at about the age of 20 months. Therefore, it is highly recommended not to force feed children of this age. At this stage, it is also extremely important to develop a proper meal plan for your child. It might result in a repulsion towards food, which will stay for the next five years!
NO FORCE FEEDING is the new mantra now!
2- 3 years
By the age of 2, children can manage any type of healthy food as they have acquired all the skills necessary to consume them, although they will continue to fine-tune these skills over the next few years.
Drops and spillage are still common but reduce by this period of development, and this is the age to learn to eat by imitating. The concept of healthy eating habits should be introduced at this age and parents just need to “walk the talk”, when it comes to the feeding of children beyond this age.
3 - 6 years
Food habits are highly influenced by family practices and so following a routine by including all food groups in the diet is ideal. This is also the age group when children copy eating habits from the elders.
Control over junk eating and excessive eating also needs to be taken care of by this time. Additionally, repetition of the menu is found to be impacting the appetite of children in India. Check your menu and stop making anything special for your child by this age. They should eat what you eat. Hence, as responsible parents, we must incorporate nutrition and fitness in our daily schedules.
So, beyond this age of your child, just eat what you want your child to eat! Do what you want your child to follow! At KLAY, we encourage healthy family habits like eating at least one meal together as a family, to ensure children get the best of nutrition and learning.