On a mission to ensure your child is getting all the nutrients he needs? Here’s what you should know when it comes to feeding your growing child.
WORDS RACHEL KWEK
On top of genetics, good nutrition is important in achieving good health and normal growth in children. Dr Low Kah Tzay, paediatrician, Mount Elizabeth Hospital says good nutrition consists of a balanced diet that caters for the optimal growth of the child. Some children get too little of the nutrients they need but too much of what they don’t and this poses a problem for their health in the long term. By consistently practising the dos and don’ts of child nutrition, you can make sure your child grows up healthy and strong.
Well Nourished or Not?
Growth is a sure sign that your child is adequately nourished. Besides an increase in height and weight, Dr Mary Grace Tan, resident physician at the Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine at SGH, says the “acquisition of developmental milestones is also a sign the child is growing well”. Dr Low adds that for younger children, the head circumference is an important measure whereas, for older children, the skin fold thickness can be used as an indicator of body fat. Additionally, adequately nourished children tend to be active and healthy without frequent illness. They are also happy and cooperative during meal times.
Key Nutrients – The First Three Years
Dr Tan says nutrients that we need can be grouped into macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats while micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates and fats provide energy while proteins support growth, maintenance, and tissue repair. Fats are important for brain development and also help absorb, transport and store vitamins in the body. Vitamins are not only essential in various body functions, but they also help the body use micronutrients. Minerals support growth and development and are required for various body functions.
Parents should be mindful that too much saturated fat, found in foods such as butter, chocolate, and processed meat, can lead to excessive weight gain and heart problems like heart disease and stroke later in life. However, Dr Tan says fat restriction is not recommended for children under two years of age as they are still growing rapidly and require more energy for growth.
No one food can provide all the nutrients he needs, so make sure that your child consumes a variety of food from the different food groups.
Number of servings recommended by HPB:
The Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends planning meals with “My Healthy Plate”.
Visit http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB064355 for details.
Shortages in essential vitamins or nutrients can seriously hinder growth and development and significantly impact the overall health of infants and children. Dr Tan says, “Children might not get sufficient nutrients if they are picky eaters or if they have medical conditions which may affect the absorption or loss of certain nutrients.” One common nutrient deficiency is iron deficiency, which presents as pallor, lethargy, irritability, spoon-shaped nails and poor appetite. In severe cases, anaemia may result. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to low calcium (hypocalcemia) and low phosphate (hypophosphatemia), leading to rickets, a condition resulting in soft bones that fracture easily. Children with rickets are short and may have bone deformities. Folate and vitamin B12 deficiency delays the acquisition of developmental milestones and contributes to anaemia.