Proper Nutrition and Kids' Immune System
Preventing common sickness in children is possible with strong immune system. You can start boosting your child’s immunity to sickness even before he/she is born as discussed in the Top Six Natural Immunity Builders for Kids. One of the six is proper nutrition which is the focus of this hub.
Science behind the link between Nutrition & Immunity
The direct link between nutrition and immunity to diseases has recently been established by an Australian scientist and his PhD student. They identified how fiber in the diet plays a major role in ensuring a person's immune cells function properly. The research suggests that having a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds would reduce a person's risk of autoimmune diseases. Also, it is a common knowledge that Vitamin C, E and Carotenoids, the best immune system boosters, are found in most fruits and vegetables.
The challenge now is how we get our kids to eat these foods, especially vegetables. Lots of parents would admit having kids who are picky eaters….picky against healthy food choices. Below are few suggestions based on how our children developed their healthy choices in food. I didn’t know all these when I began my Parenting Journey. I learned with my husband and kids, and from printed and on-line references that I read… I’m still learning a lot. I thought of sharing the tips below for you might find them useful in your own journey to raising healthy kids.
Pregnancy & Food Preference
Tips on Improving Kids' Preference for Healthy Food
1. Start Early, Eat Healthy. Early means before a child is born. Studies have shown that when a mother deliberately eats healthier foods like fruits and vegetables while expecting, the chances of baby liking fruits and vegetables more are significantly higher. Mothers pass on to their children their gastronomic culture. Taste preference of babies is likely shaped through the amniotic fluid as explained in this article.
2. Breastfeed Your Child for at least Six Months and eat healthy for you and your baby. Early in a child’s life, there is an established preference for sweet and aversion for bitter tasting food. This is said to have a strong genetic foundation. Although responsiveness to tastes and flavors is evident very early in development, these taste and olfactory systems continue to develop during infancy and childhood and are influenced by experiences or the environment. Here is where breastfeeding comes in. It has been reported that breastfeeding for longer than 6 months may have the additional benefit of preventing kids from becoming picky eaters as cited by Dr. Vincent Iannelli in this article. This provides a wider window for the baby to get introduced to a variety of food flavors that the mother eats and passed on through breast milk. These flavors are not only detected by the infant but they serve to modulate feeding and acceptance of these foods at weaning as mentioned in this link.
3. Introduce Your Baby to a Variety of Nutritious Foods. At six months, when a baby starts to feed on solid food, this is the beginning of a lifelong eating habit. Instant baby cereals and bottled baby food are available in the market and very convenient indeed, but it is always advisable to personally prepare baby food whenever possible.
Introduce blended fresh fruits and mashed/blended cooked vegetables one at a time. As your baby grows older and learns to chew, you can introduce diced fruits and vegetables. If you find a certain food is not appealing to your baby, then offer it again and again, letting him/her taste a little each time, but never force a baby to eat and finish what you prepared. Feeding time should be fun and exciting to get the most benefit out of it. Your baby will eventually find the food acceptable.
Another tip is to let your baby be in control when he/she wants to during feeding time. Let your baby hold the spoon and experiment on feeding himself/herself. Serve the food in a non-breakable and colorful bowl to add excitement to your baby’s feeding adventure.
4. Focus on Your Toddler’s and Preschooler’s Feeding Habits. While a child’s lifelong eating habit is initiated when he/she starts taking in solid foods up to his 1st birthday, it is in the toddlers’ and preschoolers’ stage that feeding preference gets established. Use the following tips as guide.
Sesame Street Video for Kids
Tips on Improving Toddler's Preference for Healthy Food
5. Set Yourselves as Good Examples. As parents, you are the most powerful influence to your child’s behavior. Show your kids your love for fruits, vegetables and other healthier food choices by eating those. In short, practice what you preach. Leading by example helped my husband and I succeed in our endeavor to make our children develop healthy feeding preferences.
6. Introduce Your Child to a Variety of Flavor, Texture and Color. As you help your child develop a preference to healthy food, let him/her appreciate that apart from satisfying the body’s health needs, health foods like fruits and vegetables satisfy the palate as well and meals are more enjoyable when these are in the menu. Please note also that presentation counts. Stir fried vegetables looks appetizing because of variations in texture and especially with the combination of orange and green shades of the mixed veggies. Serve this hot in a nice platter and see if you can earn more ‘I Love my Mom’ points.
7. Don’t Force Your Child to Eat. Adult mealtime may not always coincide with that of a toddler’s. It could be that the child is not hungry yet, doesn’t like the food on the table or just asserting supremacy over the situation. So let the child be in control and trust that he/she will not let himself/herself hungry. As also discussed in item #3, if a food item seemed not appealing to your tot, don’t force the child to eat but offer the food repeatedly through time. With the many kinds of food your toddler may show dislike, most will be accepted eventually. Persistence is the key.
8. Make Health Food Available.
Consciously include fruits
and vegetables in every meal. The
child may not choose them all the time but you will get higher chances
that the child will meet the required serving per day. The
USDA recommends 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetable per day for children
2 to 3 years old. For ages 4 to 8
years old, 1 ½ cups of fruits and 1 ½ cups of vegetables are recommended,
as declared in this link.
Aside from inclusions in the regular meal, fruits and vegetables should always be available for snacks. Whenever the child wishes to nibble on something, offer a slice of fruit or vegetable sticks. Offer a variety of dips to choose from: cheese sauce, ranch dressing, vinaigrette, Thousand Island dressing, you name it. Remember that your main objective is for your child to develop love for healthy food so mealtime or snack time should be fun time as well.
9. Switch from soda and fruit drinks to 100% fruit juice. Eating whole fruit would be best because it also has fiber, but there might be instances that a compromise is necessary. Just be cautioned not to fall into the traps of juice abuse. Your toddler should drink no more than one glass of juice a day (about 4 to 6 ounces). More than that might cause stomach upset, ruin his appetite for other nutrient-rich foods and cause tooth decay. Please read on this link for explanation. Older children might have higher tolerance but always be on the safe side.
Your child needs two servings of fruit per day (about 1 to 1 ½ cups). If one of those servings is a glass of juice, make sure the other serving is a piece of fresh fruit, which will provide fiber and additional nutrients.
10. Try the Participatory Approach. Bringing your kids to the market or grocery to let them choose the fruits they crave and the vegetables they want to try might yield positive results. Getting them involved in the food preparation might also sound appealing to them. Giving them control of what they eat and how it is prepared will boost their confidence, though a few suggestions from you won’t hurt, and in the process you win their hearts. If you have a garden space, growing vegetables with your kids is so much fun. Let them sow and reap and enjoy!
With all the above information, we now know the importance of proper nutrition to our child’s immune system. Our child’s immunity to diseases depends so much on his/her eating habits. Our child’s eating habit depends a lot on us parents. As we face all the challenges to raising healthy kids, let me leave you with a guiding line. Something that will tell you if you’re on the right track of your parenting journey….picky eaters are not given, they are made. I used to tell this to myself when I was dealing with the eating habits of my first baby. She’s now 9 years old, though not as voracious a veggie-eater as my sons, she learned to love vegetables and eat a variety of healthy foods. Did I tell you that she has a strong immune system and even outgrew the asthma she had when she was a baby? God, I’m so grateful!
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