Important Facts about Children & Nutrition

Article excerpt

Here's how to help your children eat healthy.

Americans are bombarded with food facts, eat-healthy advice and the results of the latest study, Puzzled parents wonder whether they're feeding their kids properly or setting them up for a lifetime of problems, Take heart, Amid the hype, there is common-sense nutrition news that can help you make healthy choices for your kids.

Before the baby

To give your baby the best start, eat with baby in mind before you become pregnant. Why? Because the first 4-6 weeks of pregnancy--before you may know you're expecting--are a critical time in a baby's development.

We now know that all women of childbearing age should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Folic acid is necessary for brain and spinal cord development. Fifty to 70 percent of common nervous system defects can be prevented if mothers have enough folic acid.

For this reason, physicians typically recommend a vitamin-mineral supplement with folic acid, in addition to balanced meals with servings from the main food groups. A weight gain of 20-30 pounds during pregnancy is usually considered healthy.

Breast or bottle?

Breast milk has so many nutrients and protective factors that your doctor will probably tell you about its benefits:

* It protects against allergies and respiratory, gastrointestinal and ear infections.

* It appears to aid brain development.

* It's easier to digest than formula.

* It helps babies and mothers bond.

* it's cheap--by comparison, a 6-month supply of formula costs $300 or more.

* It's warm and available on request.

Either formula or breast milk will give your baby adequate nutrition; don't feel guilty about your choice. Some formulas are fortified with a moderate or high amount of iron. Give the high-iron formula if your baby responds well to it and doesn't seem fussy after feedings.

Experts recommend keeping babies on breast milk or formula until at least age 1 before switching to cow's milk, which is lower in iron and vitamin C.

Introducing solids

Everyone has an opinion on when to introduce "solids" and what foods baby should start with. You can start solids (a euphemism, since baby's first foods are anything but solid) at 4-6 months if you wish, but many babies don't need solids until 9-12 months of age. Begin with iron-fortified baby cereals, then strained or mashed fruits and vegetables--one new food at a time, After your baby is 7-9 months old, try strained meats and egg yolk.

If Mom's breast-feeding, Dad might appreciate the chance to offer baby the first serving of cereal, the first drink from a cup and the first piece of graham cracker. For the best chance of success with new tastes, offer them at the beginning of a feeding or just after your baby has taken the edge off his or her hunger. When your child starts reaching for food, he or she may be ready for soft bits of finger food. Plan on having a messy table and floor for the next few years The dramatic growth of the first year wanes in the second year, along with appetite. Children often gain only 6-8 pounds during their second year and may seem to lose interest in food. Don't worry. Research has consistently shown that children eat What they need when they are offered a healthy variety of foods at each meal.

A word of caution: Many toddlers in this country have been fed low-fat diets--typically by well-meaning parents--and have become malnourished, says dietitian Julie Cull, RD, of Glen Haven, WI. "Dietitians, doctors, and researchers all agree on one thing: no 'fat control' for children under age 2," she says. …