To help them grow

Optimal nutrition starts with serving the foods your child needs.

LIKE most parents, we are prepared to do everything we can to help our children grow well and develop their potential. This includes meeting their needs, especially for optimal nutrition. More than just ensuring they are fed every day, it also includes understanding their nutritional requirements, guiding them towards choosing nutritious foods, teaching them good eating habits and helping them overcome mealtime problems.

It’s always amazing how a child changes from being a helpless baby into a toddler and then a preschooler. It’s a dramatic transformation that increases his nutritional needs, compared with infancy. The best way to meet those needs is by giving a wide variety of nutritious foods that, together, supply all the major nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as the many other healthful substances that are naturally present in many foods (eg phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables).

·Carbohydrates are your child’s best source of energy, especially for the brain. Carbohydrates are found in grains, cereals, tubers, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Brown rice, wholemeal breakfast cereals and bread, beans and, of course, fruits and vegetables also supply fibre which helps reduce constipation, a common problem in childhood.

Nutritious: Carbohydrates found in grains, cereals, tubers, fruits, vegetables and legumes are your child’s best source of energy.
·Protein is needed to develop, repair and replace body tissues, even bone and blood. Sources of protein include fish, meat, poultry, legumes, milk and dairy products.

·Fats are important as they help maintain body temperature and promote hormone and cell development. Some foods and beverages also supply essential fatty acids (EFA), like omega-3 and omega-6, which promote brain, nervous system and eye development.

Fats are two times richer than carbohydrates or proteins so do limit your child’s fat intake. Avoid using excessive cooking oil; discard the fatty bits from meat and chicken skin; limit fried foods and oily ready-to-eat snack foods (eg. potato chips and keropok).

The latest research suggests that you should minimise intake of foods (eg. commercially-prepared baked and processed foods) that contain high amounts of hydrogenated fats. Read the labels every time before buying a packaged food product.

Vitamins and minerals are vital to total body health and function. They work individually as well as with each other to enable the utilisation of energy and nutrients from food, strengthen the immune system, aid the development of cells and keep the organs performing well.

All the vitamins and minerals your child needs can be obtained from a varied diet. Fruits, vegetables, cereals and red meat are excellent sources of vitamins. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, fish with edible bones, bean products and leafy green vegetables are great choices when it comes to bone-building calcium. You would do well to remember that about 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones. Meat, fish, liver, green leafy vegetables, cereals, nuts and beans and certain fortified foods provide iron for the vitality that your child needs to keep playing and learning well through childhood.

A healthy diet

Optimum nutrition for your child begins with you serving up nutritious foods. The next step then is to know the reasonable amounts of food that your child should be eating each day. This is an important part of ensuring optimal nutritional intake. After all, like with most toddlers and preschoolers, getting him to stay still and eat properly might be a challenge. You may even find yourself discovering new levels of stress and anxiety if your child develops picky eating tendencies.

Our hearts reach out to you and all the other mothers who might have similar feeding troubles. So, join us next fortnight to find out, if your child is eating well.

# Article by Associate Professor Dr Poh Bee Koon from the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, a member of the Positive Parenting programme, managed by Malaysian Paediatric Association and supported by Abbott Nutrition International. For further information, please visit

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