Transitions are hard, and DEFINITELY when one is transitioning into the role of a parent. Nothing can prepare you for the trials, tribulations and joys of it. And yet, every step of the way there will be self-doubt.
One of the places where parents constantly question themselves is food – “Is my child eating enough?” “Should I try this food combination? “Is the food that they are served in school nutritious enough? and the list goes on and on.
And the worries are justifiable – after all, research shows that the right nutrition at the infant stage is fundamental to a child’s continued health right into adulthood. Moreover, good nutrition is not just about strong bodies, but also strong minds – UNICEF cites that during the first two years of a child’s life, up to 75% of each meal goes to building a baby’s brain.
As new parents, these facts and figures can seem daunting but if parents equip themselves with the right information, we can ensure we are bringing up a generation that is healthy, and joyful!
Through Meghana’s experience as being part of setting up the public health practice for McKinsey India to our collective journey of building Wholsum Foods, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of healthcare practitioners, food scientists, and parents (particularly mothers), about how one can successfully implement the mantra of ‘Early Start to Eat Smart’ in the first 1000 days of a child’s life. Here’s what we’ve learnt along the way:
Breastfeeding has immense benefits: Amongst the most important benefits of breast milk is that it has antibodies that help protect babies from many infections, including diarrhea and ear and lung infections. Studies also show that breastfed babies are also less likely to develop medical problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, and allergies. It also meets a variety of emotional needs for both mothers and babies, since skin-to-skin contact is shown to enhance emotional connections.
Weaning foods are critical: These foods should be high in calories, rich with protein, vitamins, and minerals and yet low on fiber. Moreover, the texture should be such that it can be swallowed easily. The important thing to remember with weaning foods is that the prepared food should have low bulk as a baby’s stomach capacity is rather small. Pureed fruits and vegetables, as well as grains like millets and pulses are wholesome options for children during this time.
Don’t wait too long to start solid foods: As children grow, they need the extra energy and nutrients to aid the process so it’s recommended that parents don’t wait too long to start their children on solid foods.
Educate yourself AND your child!: From 6-months till about 2 years of age, it is easy for a parent to ensure that a child eats everything healthy. However, it’s when they become slightly older and begin going to school, that the real test begins. At that age, children are unaware of the ingredients in the food they eat or are even incapable of identifying specific ingredients and foods – they are simply attracted to foods that look nice and taste even nicer. It’s that stage when addressing the problem, explaining food labels and getting children involved in meal planning, preparation, and cooking is of utmost importance.
This also means that this is the stage when the involvement of governments and schools becomes all the more essential. Initiatives like the Akshaya Patra Research Lab and the studies they conduct play a vital role in advocacy programs for improving the nutritional status of children at this stage.
This World Nutrition Day, it’s important to remember that nutrition and healthy living is not something limited to a day but rather, a commitment we need to make daily for a healthy life. The early years are an opportunity to build strong foundations and the entire ecosystem – whether it is parents, schools, governments, healthcare practitioners, and food companies like ours – needs to come together to ensure we equip the next generation with healthy eating habits for a brighter future.