Proper Diet Critical to a Child’s Development


The food children eat during their early years can impact, not only on their physical well-being, but also on their intellectual capacity as they grow.
Given this truism, Audrey Morris, Nutritionist at the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI), says a sound nutritional diet is of critical importance in a child’s youth, given the fact that he or she requires certain nutrients for proper growth.
“If children are fed a diet devoid of essential foods, this can lead to mental and physical deficiencies affecting their young lives,” she points out.
“Children need certain nutrients for growth, they need energy, iron, zinc, calcium and so on for growth, so if they are not getting enough of these in the diet, they will suffer physically,” Miss Morris adds.
As for their mental well-being, “you have dietary factors such as iron, which if it is not enough in the diet, can lead to iron deficiency and anaemia”, she tells JIS News.
Detailing another problem a child may encounter as a result of his or her parents’ inability to enforce proper dietary habits, Miss Morris says a diet short on iodine can also have a negative impact.
“A lack of iodine can cause mental development problems and also if children are hungry, they can’t concentrate and learn what they should be learning at an early age,” she notes.
The Nutritionist recommends that for newborns, specifically those from birth to six months of age, “the best thing that the parent can do for the child, is provide exclusive breast feeding, giving the child nothing else except breast milk or medicine for the first six months”.
She says when it becomes necessary to replace the breast milk or to complement it with other foods, “this has to be done in a particular way, so now the nutrients that the child has stored up, those are beginning to run out, like iron for instance, so the child needs other types of foods”.
Miss Morris cautions that the switch from breast milk, or inclusion of other foods with the breast milk, should not be done abruptly. She suggests that the parent can also opt to continue breastfeeding, along with the provision of other foods, until the child is about two years old.
She says in addition, the child’s diet will require nutrients that provide energy, and would therefore come from staple food groups. “Things like a little crushed yam and crushed potato, and as the child gets older, the texture of the foods would change, so you would not have to crush it or cream it as much,” Miss Morris explains.
At this stage of their lives, the Nutritionist says children should begin an introduction to a diet that is varied and comprises the staple food groups, namely, meats and protein, grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, fats and oils.
“As the child grows older, you add more foods and the child will be taking less breast milk as he or she goes along. Protein rich foods, and foods from some animals, as well as peas and beans, those are the types of foods that would be added as complementary foods,” Miss Morris says. While noting that specific foods might not be necessary as children mature, she notes that it is important that the diet comprises foods from the staple food groups.
On the matter of introducing a particular food into a child’s diet that he or she may be hesitant to eat, Miss Morris says parents should utilise a creative approach to make the child interested in the food.
“If the child does not like a particular food for instance, say they don’t like carrots in one way, you can try and serve it in a different way, and see if he or she will like it,” she advises.
In the case of children being encouraged to eat vegetables, she suggests that a parent could mix them with other foods or cut them into shapes, such as squares or triangles, which they may be learning in school.
“So you can try to make the food attractive or try something else; they might accept something else. Don’t force them to eat foods that they dislike,” she urges.
She recommends that when introducing foods, a parent can choose to either introduce one at a time or a mixture of foods at the same time.
As for feeding children with three square meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – each day, the Nutritionist says “they need more than three square meals a day, because their tummies are small, so they cannot eat enough at a meal when they are very young, to keep them until the next meal. So healthy snacks are important in between the meals”.
Miss Morris emphasises that breakfast is a crucial meal for children, and studies have been done around the world and in Jamaica, which show that a child learns better when he or she has had breakfast.

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