Any moms or caretakers of little ones in the audience? This one’s for you.
You plan for, prep for, play with, read to, bathe, coddle, encourage, worry about, love and devote endless time and energy to your kids. But when you head into those regular pediatrician checkups, how is all of your hard work measured? Two simple, objective measures: height and weight.
While your child’s size may seem a wholly insufficient measure of your devotion, it’s our best way of making sure your little ones are on their way to a healthy childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Physical development (tracked via height and weight) is closely tied to cognitive development, and keeping track keeps makes you ready and able to intervene if anything is awry.
So, as a parent or caretaker, it’s your duty to keep those kids growing appropriately and maintaining healthy heights and weights for their ages.
Growing Strong and Healthy Little Ones
One of the most important factors affecting your children’s growth and development is nutrition. Because the last thing you need as a parent or caretaker is any more complication in your life, let’s break it down into a few key roles you and your child each should play when it comes to eating. That’s right – it’s not all on you! Your child bears some responsibility in their own nutrition too.
- Purchase and prepare a wide range of nutritious foods for your child.
- Offer meals and snacks regularly (but no need to force them).
- Make the child’s eating environment positive and peaceful.
- Be a good eating role model by making nutritious choices in front of your child.
- Examine new foods, and become familiar with them.
- When food is offered, choose whether to eat at that moment or not.
- When you choose to eat, select what and how much to eat from the food that’s offered.
The way this works is that as long as parents and caretakers continually offer a variety of nutritious foods, whatever a child chooses to eat among those foods will be a good choice. And, when food is offered at regular intervals, children can feel free to say no when they’re not hungry because they’ve developed trust – whether they’re aware of it or not – that there will be more options later, when they are hungry.
Children have an amazing inherent ability to eat just about the amount they need (and not more) at each sitting, and nurturing this ability at a young age is critical to helping them maintain it throughout their lives.
Dedicated to following your parental duties, you continue to offer your child a range of healthy foods. But to your despair, they refuse to eat anything except insert-your-child’s-latest-food-fixation-here. Now you’re panicking because you know there’s no way your child is getting all the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong if they are only eating one food.
Guess what? You’re right – if a person only ate one food their entire life, they almost certainly would not get the range of nutrients the body needs. But in this case, you as a parent need not panic. It’s very common for children to be choosy.
After all, as they grow out of infancy, kids become more and more independent and eager to exercise that independence. One easy way for them to do that is through food selection. Moreover, children naturally become less interested in food as they enter toddlerhood for a few reasons.
First, human growth slows down after the first year of life, so food is needed less often. Second, as they see more of the world, develop new skills, and begin to walk and explore, they have much more to keep them busy than meals and snacks. Finally, kids are easily distracted. This goes for all activities including mealtimes.
Stick with it!
When it comes to growing strong and healthy kids, all you need to do as a parent or caretaker is stick with it. Do what you can by providing your children nutritious choices and trusting that your children can choose appropriately. More often than not, when children and parents play their respective eating roles, healthy growth is the result!
With specific questions about your child, always consult a registered dietitian and/or pediatrician.
Kristen Wilk, MS, RDN
Hi! My name is Kristen, and I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist. I’m a contributor to Womensforum, and I also work for Pre Brands. In this and former roles, I’ve worked with a variety of food and beverage companies. Thoughts and opinions presented here are my own.