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Here's How You Can Help Your Kids Meet Their Nutritional Needs

Parents need good knowledge to ensure adequate and balanced nutrition for their kids, especially in infancy (birth to two years). During this dynamic phase which is marked by rapid development, a sufficient amount and appropriate composition of nutrients are crucial for growth and functional outcomes in terms of cognition, immune response, metabolic programming of long-term-health, and well-being.

Given this need, the Nestlé Nutrition Institute (NNI), an organization with the goal of fostering Science for Better Nutrition, recently held the 91st International NNI Workshop in the Philippines titled “Nurturing a Healthy Generation of Children: Research Gaps and Opportunities.” With the objectives of exploring early eating behavior and taste development, and understanding what children eat, the workshop provided professionals with scientific updates as well as clinical and practical exchanges with globally recognized experts and colleagues from different countries. 

Topics included emerging research on early feeding behavior, dietary intakes, and health outcomes. The most recent findings of national surveys on the nutritional intakes of children in various countries were presented at the workshop.

In the Philippines, a study by the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) on food consumed by infants and toddlers aged 6-35 months demonstrated that the intake of fat and many micronutrients in Filipino children are markedly inadequate. DOST-FNRI was represented by Dr. Imelda Agdeppa, assistant scientist and officer-in-charge of the Nutrition Assessment and Monitoring Division.

The study concluded that the shortfalls in nutrient intakes can be largely explained by the fact that refined rice was the major source of many key nutrients, while nutrient-dense foods such as milk, fruits, and vegetables only played a little role in the diet.

Meanwhile, Prof. Andrea Maier-Nöth, managing director of Eat-Health-Pleasure GmbH in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland spoke on findings on the early development of food preferences and healthy eating habits in infants.

She explained that children have many taste buds and are born with the ability to taste, smell and discriminate among a variety of foods; and to learn to like and enjoy a variety of foods that are pleasurable and healthy.

Furthermore, food pleasure can be learned early and through guidance.

Prof. Maier-Nöth shared Do’s and Don’ts for parents feeding infants:

Do’s

  • Breastfeed if possible, since breast milk carries flavors from the mother’s diet that encourage later acceptance of a variety of foods;
  • Give a mix of infant cereals, vegetables and fruits first after milk (start at six  months);
  • Train baby’s taste early to accept vegetables and fruit which can be bitter and sour;
  • Try to feed your baby a variety of vegetables and healthy baby snacks with different flavors and textures daily; at about seven months give healthy finger foods to chew on (different shapes, faces of veggies);
  • Make healthy foods pleasurable via food pairing, cooking together, experiencing ingredients, gaining knowledge about healthy foods, eating and enjoying together, growing veggies and eating them;
  • You are your child’s first and most important role model! Eat the food you want your child to eat and show that you like it!

Don’ts

  • Don’t give up after only two to three tries. If your baby does not accept new food, offer it on at least eight occasions between foods that he likes. Exposing infants early to the taste of commonly rejected foods, such as vegetables, is a powerful strategy to increase food preference, beyond food neophobia or the pickiness phase;
  • Don’t try to force your infant to eat, but do make sure he takes at least a tiny taste at each meal. Some infants hardly eat any of an initially disliked vegetable for 5-6 days and then suddenly they start to eat and enjoy it;
  • Don’t panic! Be patient and calm if your child rejects new food items. Fussy children do grow out of it!
  • Don’t put disliked food on the plate next to liked food and expect your child to eat them all.

With respect to allergy and early food variety, according to Prof. Maier-Nöth, high food diversity during complementary feeding might actually be beneficial in preventing food allergy.

The period between birth to two years offers a one-time opportunity to shape food preferences and habits that will have an important impact on a child’s growth and health. It is an opportunity that parents need to recognize and invest in.