We all want the best for our children and a large factor of a child’s health rests in what goes into their bodies. Children have a great need for quality nutrition as their bodies are growing rapidly. Lack of proper intake of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals equals lack of physical growth and neuronal development.
Laying the groundwork early is important to not only solidify their health but make it easy for them to make healthy choices as they grow into adults. Creating a healthy relationship with food early on can prevent a lifetime of illness. Holistic health includes having the right amount of nutrients as well as teaching your children where their food comes from, how it is grown, how to prepare it and why it is good for their bodies.
Focus on food quality
Most foods can be switched for a healthy, nutrient-dense alternative. Many parents are obsessed with making sure their child eats a lot of food. However, focusing on hitting nutrient targets rather than large quantities of food is a better goal to have in mind. If you are struggling to get your child to eat sufficient amounts, it is definitely a good idea to swap in some nutrient-dense, calorie-dense foods so they are getting quality in what they are eating.
It is ok if your child does not want to eat at mealtimes
Creating intuitive eating patterns early on is important as once emotional bonds and habits are tied to food it is very difficult to unwind them. Whilst intuitive eating is a recent theory, research has discovered it is associated with better weight control and psychological health. It may be hard to loosen the grip when you just want the best for your child but research has found that parental control over feeding activities inhibits a child’s ability to self-regulate their eating. It also increases the temptation and desirability of restricted foods. Creating an intuitive eating pattern means better health outcomes and psychological wellbeing rather than associating food with emotions or situational triggers.
How do we create intuitive eating patterns?
- Let your child decide when they are hungry
- Teach them about new foods
- Help them understand and experience foods that are good for them and how those foods make them feel
- Question, don’t tell. Ask them if they are hungry or how they feel after eating certain foods to get them in touch with their own body and intuition.
Meeting their needs
Below are some important nutrients to focus on and signs of associated deficiencies.
- Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) – poor immunity and wound healing, behavioural changes, anxiety and depression, fatigue.
- Magnesium – hyperactivity, sleep disturbance, poor attention, anxiety.
- Zinc – impaired taste, poor appetite, fussy eating habits, poor immune function, weight loss, skin disorders, depression and anxiety.
- Vitamin D – poor immunity, auto-immune conditions.
- Iron – failure to thrive, fatigue, shortness of breath, pale complexion. A child needs four times the amount of iron than does a 20-year-old male.
- Essential fatty acids (e.g. omega 3) – asthma, poor sleep patterns, increase in earwax, poor cognitive function (memory, focus, fatigue), skin disorders.
Speak to a health professional to discuss your child’s needs through the different age brackets.
Tips for fussy eaters
- Recruit your child’s help. Get them into the garden to help grow their food then teach them how to cook and create with it. This gives them a sense of accomplishment when they get to eat the food they grew.
- Meet hunger when it is there and respect your child’s appetite or lack of. Let them drive their intuition.
- Be patient when introducing new foods. It can take many tries to get their palette used to new foods.
- Encourage your child to stay at the table for mealtimes. Even if they aren’t eating, it forms a connection and bond with your family.
- Make food fun and creative. Some simple ways are getting cut-outs to cut fruit into stars or other shapes and utilising natural colourings like beetroot powder and turmeric to make things colourful and interesting.
- Praise and reward with non-food items or activities. Using food as a reward can set up an unhealthy relationship with food.
- Let them know the superpowers the food will give them.
Minimising toxin load
Another key health goal is to minimise the toxin load for your child and includes food sources. Focus on providing organic and wholefoods and avoid artificial colouring and additives as they can cause a range of symptoms including hyperactivity, asthma, rashes and gastric upset.
However, food is not the only contributor where toxins are concerned. Skin products can be full of chemicals which can be absorbed into the body by as much as 80 per cent. This increased load can lead to behavioural conditions such as autism and ADHD. Avoiding chemical-filled body products can also help minimise the presentation of many skin conditions and skin irritations.
Holistic care for kids
Can we give our children herbal medicine? The answer is a resounding YES! How do we get herbal medicine into kids? This is not always easy but many companies now produce children’s versions of our favourite supplements. These are in small dosages and taste good. Lucky kids! Another bonus is that as children are smaller, they require less of the supplement meaning the price is often lower.
We love seeing happy, healthy children in clinic and watching them thrive as they grow and develop. Just as the children themselves are all different, so are their needs. If you would like help with your child’s specific nutrition and development, please book an appointment and consult with one of our naturopaths.
Written by Ally Stuart BHSc