Marsha N. Woolery, Healthy Eating & Diet
Nutrition is universally recognised as a key component of the child's right to health as defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Appropriate feeding practices are important for the survival, growth, development, health and nutrition of infants and children. Great efforts have been made in the last 25 years to promote good nutrition, which should start with breastfeeding by all mothers - unless medically indicated not to do so.
Poor nutrition in children increases the severity of and the risk of dying from common childhood diseases. It also delays motor development, impairs cognitive functions and lowers school performance. Overweight is a problem in many countries worldwide and can contribute to ill-health such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers. Approximately seven per cent of the children in Jamaica are overweight and three per cent are underweight. In addition, iron-deficiency anaemia remains a national problem among our children.
During childhood is when appropriate eating habits should be established and encouraged to promote growth, development, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, enjoyment of meals and reduction of the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers.
Foods from the family pot should be introduced to an infant at the end of the sixth month of life, in addition to breast milk. These new foods will give the infant more energy, protein, vitamins and minerals for them to grow and develop; as this is the time that they begin to walk and talk. The new foods such as soup and porridge should be fed from a bowl with a spoon; should be thick enough to stay on the spoon and not fed from a bottle.
A growing child needs three meals and snacks every day and should be given a variety of foods from the six Caribbean food groups. Animal foods, peas, beans and nuts are good sources of protein and iron to help children grow strong and be lively. Children under the age of two should avoid nuts, popcorn, sausages cut in a round shape and nut butters (peanut butter) as these foods increase the risk of choking.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Dark green leafy and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables help children to have healthy eyes, skin and develop fewer infections. Vegetables, whole fruits and unrefined staples such as yam, bananas, dasheen, 'rough cornmeal' and old-fashioned, or rolled, oats have fibre and help to prevent constipation which is a common problem with children and teenagers.
As the child grows, the need for food increases, as in the case of teenagers. Fats and oils should be included in the diet of a child as it is needed for energy and cholesterol for the development of hormones. A young child should be encouraged, not forced, to eat and they should be fed with lots of love and patience. During an illness, a child should be encouraged to eat and drink. They should be provided with extra food after illness to help them recover quickly.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/ nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.