Raising a healthy kid

Do it right: It is easier to build strong children today than to repair broken adults tomorrow. So keep this checklist in mind, says Dr Sripriya Venk

Raising a healthy kid

Research has proven that an individual’s health status during childhood is a strong determinant of how ill or well they would be as an adult. Diabetes, obesity and most of the modern day ailments have been attributed to foetal and child health issues.

Therefore, it is essential that we exercise caution as parents as it is easier to build strong children today than to repair broken adults tomorrow. Here are five essential strategies to raise a healthy child.

Good nutrition

Very often, parents fuss over how many calories a child consumes without paying much attention to the micronutrients contained in the foods. This results in hidden hunger. Such children may often look healthy and be of ideal body weight but may have underlying micronutrient deficiencies.

Hence, emphasis needs to be laid on omega-3 fatty acids, good quality protein, calcium, iron and folic acid. Foods like sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, soya beans, amaranth or rajgira, millets, yogurt and green leafy vegetables such as methi, palak and kale provide these nutrients.

Fermented foods like curd, idli, dosa, dhokla, kimchi and fibre-rich foods such as oats, millets, whole grain cereals and pulses, fibrous fruits and green leafy vegetables contribute to good digestive health.

Some additional tips for healthy eating:

n Always ensure that your child eats breakfast. An ideal breakfast should have complex carbohydrates and protein.

n Ensure that your child eats his or her meals at regular intervals. Long gaps  lead to impulse eating of junk food.

n Provide nutritious in-between-meals snacks such as a handful of peanuts and a banana or cheese and pineapple skewers.

n Meals must be eaten at the table peacefully, without distractions like TV, books or mobile phones.

n Condiments like sauces and ketchups should not be given to children. Research shows that children who are given more of these develop fussy eating habits.

Hydration

Packaged fruit juices often contain little fruit but a whole lot of sugar and are best avoided. A bigger danger to dental and bone health in children are the acidic colas. Ideal beverages for children are fresh fruit juices with no added sugar, buttermilk, lassi, milk, and plain water.

Children aged 4-13 years need at least six to eight glasses of fluid a day. Younger children need relatively less (about 150 ml per serving) and older children need larger volumes (about 250–300 ml per serving). When the child is physically active, he or she should drink half to one glass of water every 15-20 minutes, especially if it is hot outside.

Restrict screen time

Time spent in front of an electronic screen – watching TV, working on a computer, playing video games on a tablet or smartphone – must be restricted. This kind of activity results in a child becoming physically inactive and often results in obesity.

It is also becoming common to see toddlers who are left in front of the TV or given mobile phones by their caregivers miss their milestones for speech development.

Recommendations from paediatric societies mention that children below 18 months should not have any screen time, whereas those between two to five years be allowed just one hour of screen time.

For children above six years, they recommend that parents take the lead in setting limits and prioritise screen time for productive work such as research or homework over entertainment purposes.

Right amount of sleep

Children require significantly more sleep than adults in order to support their rapid mental and physical growth and development. Those who don’t get adequate sleep have been shown to be at a higher risk of developing certain mental and physical illnesses and even missing out on as little as 30 to 60 minutes of sleep time can be detrimental to health.

Below are recommendations for sleep time per day from paediatric and sleep experts for children aged:

  • 4 to 12 months -12 to 16 hours
  • 1 to 2 years -11 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years - 0 to 13 hours
  • 6 to 12 years -9 to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years -8 to 10 hours


Physical activity

Physical activity is of utmost importance during childhood as it helps strengthen the muscles and bones, improves emotional wellbeing, increases stamina and energy levels and helps stave off obesity. Indian guidelines recommend that children and teens need to involve themselves in aerobic sports activities for a minimum of 1 hour every day.

(The author is  child nutritionist and advisor, Monkeybox)

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