According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, malnutrition is one of the major factors affecting children in Pakistan. A glance at the malnutrition rates for children under five years of age reveal that nearly 40% children in Pakistan are stunted, while more than 17% suffer from wasting. Currently 12 million children are suffering from stunting i-e. low height for age. The bleak outlook of trends is not only observed in rural but also urban areas, equally affecting both female and male children. Indicating that there is a dire need to create awareness at the household level to focus on early childhood care and cater for the nutritional needs of children.

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In this article, we will provide you with information associated with early childhood care and nutrition for the healthy growth of children.

What is Nutrition and How Does it Affect Human Health?     

Our food is made up of different components and elements that are called nutrients. These nutrients are what helps our body produce energy, build, and repair tissues, and carry out different functions. Nutrients are categorized into two sub-categories - micronutrients, and macronutrients.

Micronutrients are the nutrients that our bodies need in smaller quantities or traces like vitamins and minerals. These are important for our bodies to carry their functions especially immune functions to help us fight diseases. Except for vitamin D, micronutrients are not produced in the body and must be derived from the diet or through supplements.

Macronutrients are the nutrients that our bodies need in larger quantities and includes carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates provides us energy while proteins help build and repair our muscles. While fats store energy and help in other vital functions in the body. We need all these macronutrients in a balanced amount for our bodies’ growth and nourishment. Excess or lack of any of these can lead to diseases and underdevelopment.

Why is Good Nutrition Important for Children?

The first two years of an infant’s life are extremely critical and important for growth and development. This is the phase when the children not only physically grow but also develops their brain functions and emotions. If a child grows up in a good, safe, and secure environment, h/she will grow up to be healthy and productive. However, if the environment around child is not nurturing and safe, the child will grow weak, develop behavioral issues and even might be at increased risk of developing chronic diseases or disabilities. It is why it is extremely important for parents to take all the necessary measures to ensure their children grow up be healthy.

Food plays the most central role in all of it. And for food to play its role holistically, it should nutritious i.e., have all the components present in it in a balanced amount.

What Kind of Food Should be Given to Children in the First Few Months After Birth?

The nutritional requirement of an infant changes with time. In this section, we would be discussing the kind of food and amount that should be given to an infant at different stages during first two years of their life.

First Six Months

Doctors and experts strongly recommend that in the first six months, infants must be given only mother’s milk. During this time, no other form of food is allowed including water.

Six Months Onwards

For a child above the age of six months, mother’s milk is not sufficient to provide the nutrients essential for growth and development. Therefore, at this stage different kind of nutritious foods, comprised of variety of food groups, should be introduced into the diet of a child along with breast milk.

Examples of Baby's First Food after Six Months

After six months, the following can include the first food given to the baby:

  • Softened fruits like banana, boiled apple that is pureed.
  • Softened boiled vegetables like pumpkin, carrots, potatoes, sweet potato.
  • Porridge, oats, or rice pudding with honey in place of sugar
  • Mushy softened rice
  • Soup made with mung beans
  • Any homemade food that does not have spices and fats/oil.
  • Try to avoid foods that can cause inflammation or gastric trouble like cauliflower, lady finger or kidney beans etc.

Note: Food high in sodium, sugar or food that is packaged or processed like biscuits, packed juices, chips should not be given to a child. Food that is made with all-purpose flour (Maida) should also be avoided as it lacks basic nutritious value.

Amount and Frequency of Meals

Six to Eight Months

  • New food should be started from three teaspoons and the amount should be increased eventually. From six to eight month, the amount should be half cup.
  • An infant should be fed soft food two to three times a day along with breast milk.

Eight Months Onwards

  • Eight months onwards, the amount of the food should be according to the hunger of the infant.
  • An infant should be fed three or four times a day.

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