A long time ago Hippocrates said: “Let thy food be thy medicine.” This saying is especially true when it comes to pediatric nutrition and the dietary needs of children. Children’s bodies change so fast, and the right diet will make sure that all their nutritional needs are met for optimal growth and healthy organ development. A pediatrician will be able to provide you with dietary advice regarding subjects like breastfeeding, food introduction, food allergies and so much more.
The medical team at Pediatrics of Sugar Land will be more than happy to educate and accompany not only the parents but also the children in their healthy eating journey. Contact us today to book your appointment!
What’s the importance of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is known to have amazing benefits not only for the newborn’s health but also for the nursing mother. A mother’s breast milk, especially the early secretions known as colostrum, provides the baby with the necessary nutrients, strengthens his or her immune system, and provides the necessary protection against various pathogens and infections. Breastfeeding also builds a strong bond between the mother and her baby, thus creating emotional intimacy between the two.
If you’re feeding your baby with infant formula, a doctor will help you choose the right alternative for your baby, and will prescribe any necessary supplements to make sure that all the nutritional needs of your baby are met.
When should solid foods be introduced?
Both breast milk and infant formula fulfill a baby’s dietary needs, but as he or she grows older, more foods will need to be introduced to the child’s diet.
It is advised to wait until the child is 4 months or older to start introducing solid foods to their diet. You can tell a baby’s ready to experiment with new tastes and textures if they can support their head on their own, if they open their mouth to receive food and if they frequently bring objects to their mouth.
The process of food introduction should be slow and gradual. Different foods need to be introduced step by step and one at a time to identify any intolerances or allergies. Foods that contain common allergens are best introduced after the child is one year old.
In general, the supervision of a pediatrician is necessary to detect any signs of malnutrition, digestive discomfort, or any allergic reactions.
What are the most common food allergies and intolerances in children?
Food allergies are extremely common, and if undiagnosed they can cause malnutrition and stunted growth. The most common allergens include eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, soybeans, and dairy, and foods containing these allergens are best introduced after the age of 12 months old.
Another common digestive concern is celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition that causes the digestive system to react poorly to gluten, a protein commonly found in whole grains like wheat, barley, and rye. This condition is common among children but is sadly frequently undiagnosed, especially in mild cases presenting only as non-specific symptoms like bloating or digestive discomfort.
What are the components of a healthy diet?
A healthy diet will differ based on the needs, age, and health profile of each child. But in general, a healthy, balanced, and nutritious meal is comprised of the following:
Healthy complex carbohydrates like whole wheat and sweet potatoes. These complex carbohydrates will deliver energy steadily, as they are slowly digested. This will help keep blood sugar levels balanced long after these foods are consumed.
Proteins are the building blocks of our body. They are necessary for growth and repair. A meal high in protein also helps to curb hunger and makes the child feel full for longer.
Fats get a bad reputation, but not all fats are dangerous. Keeping a diet high in healthy fats like omega-3s is essential for brain growth and cellular health.
They include vitamins and minerals. A rule of thumb is to eat as many whole foods as possible. Eating a diverse diet with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables will prevent any nutritional deficiencies.
Almost 70% of the body is made of water. Hydration is important, especially in younger infants because dehydration in young children can cause serious health complications.
What’s the best dietary approach for older children and adolescents?
Nutritional supervision and dietary advice don’t have to stop after the stages of breastfeeding and food introduction. In fact, children’s nutrition needs to be supervised up until they become young adults.
Childhood and adolescence are associated with rapid growth and the development of major organs and systems such as the nervous system and the reproductive glands.
During this period, the child’s diet should not only meet their caloric needs but also provide them with the right micro and macronutrients.
Other key aspects of pediatric nutrition include education about a healthy diet and how processed foods affect a child’s development and mental health, raising awareness around eating disorders as well as giving the child or adolescent the tools they need to become an adult with a healthy relationship with food.