By Dr Hemapriya, mylittlemoppet_official
Feeding kids is one of the biggest challenges that parents face, especially when there are conflicting bits of advice coming in from various sources. Someone suggests avoiding bananas in winter, while another thinks your child should have 5 meals a day.
There are many such pieces of ‘nutrition myths’ that we hear all the time and the noise can get deafening. How does one know what the truth is? Well, today we’re going to sift the chaff from the wheat, and bust all the myths once and for all!
Top 10 Child Nutrition Myths
1. Children need frequent snacks
Most parents (and grandparents) are of the opinion that kids need to be eating something constantly, and frequent snacks are essential to ensure they don’t get hungry in between meals. While it is true that smaller, more frequent meals are better for younger children, constant snacking reduces a child’s appetite and by the time mealtime rolls around, he doesn’t feel like eating anything.
The kind of snack also plays an important role. Avoid deep-fried snacks or processed foods. Instead, go for fruit or veggie chunks, or some nuts. If feeding something like a sandwich, don’t make it so heavy that it ends up becoming a full meal in itself. Most of the time, what kids really need is a glass of water, so try offering that first before a snack.
2. Kids will starve if they skip a meal
Indian parents get all flustered when their child skips a meal, thinking it’s the end of the world! However, such fears are misplaced, and skipping one meal will not have any major long-term impact. There are many reasons kids skip meals – maybe they had a huge snack or they’re just too caught up in their play. Kids often eat less during certain seasons, like summer.
Most children will make up for their missed meal at other times, so don’t worry too much about it. Children also tend to balance out their nutrition throughout the course of the day, so don’t stress if they don’t have a perfectly balanced meal every single time.
3. Children should have milk every day
The reason most parents insist on children drinking milk every day is to strengthen their bones and teeth. While milk is a very good source of calcium, it is not the be-all and end-all of nutrition for bone health. Some children simply don’t enjoy drinking milk, and forcing them can backfire.
Instead, you can try other dairy products like cheese, buttermilk, or yogurt. If your child is lactose intolerant, you can try other foods that are rich in calcium, like fish, soy products, almonds, okra, amaranth, and dark green veggies. Please remember to avoid adding sugar or sugary ‘health drinks’ to mask the taste of milk – these do more harm than good.
4. Avoid all allergy-causing foods in children’s diet
The fear of food allergies has created a sense of panic in many parents, who are religiously avoiding all possible allergy-causing foods from their kids’ diets. However, food allergies differ from person to person, and completely eliminating entire food groups or certain foods without any evidence is not a good idea.
The most common foods that cause allergies are eggs, nuts, milk, soy, and shellfish. It is safe to introduce many of these right from infancy unless you have a family history of allergies. In that case, it’s better to consult your child’s pediatrician before introducing each food.
5. Avoid dairy products during cold and cough
This is a myth that’s quite common in India, especially in rural areas. Many people avoid fruits and all dairy products including ghee, milk, curd, and cheese during a cough and cold. Several studies have proven that the concept of ‘milk mucus’ is purely a myth and there is no evidence to prove that dairy products increase the production of mucus in the body.
On the other hand, dairy products like curd are loaded with Vitamins B12 and C as well as calcium and phosphorous that boost immunity, hasten to heal, and improve gut health. Warm milk can also be offered with turmeric or garlic for faster healing and symptomatic relief.
6. Sugar makes kids hyperactive
We’ve been hearing for ages that consuming too much sugar makes kids hyperactive, but the truth is that there is no research that proves a direct connection between sugar and hyperactivity. There are many other reasons that can make your child hyperactive, related to physical activity and sleep.
That said, it is certainly better to limit the amount of sugar your child consumes, especially since many food items come with hidden sugar. Too much sugar can reduce the child’s appetite for other, healthier foods and can also cause dental cavities. Excessive sugar consumption during childhood can also lead to chronic illnesses later.
7. Cereal is a good breakfast food
It’s hard to watch an hour of television without coming across at least one advertisement for ‘breakfast cereals’. These are marketed as healthy and nutritious and formulated to complete all a child’s nutritional requirements. The truth is that while these cereals may be convenient, they are certainly not healthy.
Most cereals are heavily processed, and even though the original ingredient may have been corn or wheat, the end result has little of it. They’re also loaded with sugar, artificial flavors, and colors. Regularly consuming processed foods like cereals has been linked to a higher risk of childhood obesity.
8. Fruit juice is an alternative for fruits
Most advertisements will have you believe that fruit juice is equivalent, or even superior to fruits in terms of nutrition, but this is far from the truth. Most fruit juices have added sugar and colors to make the juice appear more attractive to children. Even if the juice contains no added sugar, the amount of natural sugar in a glass of juice will be much higher than that in the actual fruit.
What’s more, fruit juices miss out on important pulp and fiber of the fruit, and it is certainly not as filling. The result is that children may consume large quantities of juice without realizing it, and still feel hungry soon after. Fruit juice should be an occasional indulgence and certainly not a replacement for whole fruit.
9. A vegetarian diet lacks protein
Protein is an important building block of the human body and is particularly important for young children who need it to grow and develop normally. However, most Indians are lacking in protein, especially when it comes to women and children. While a non-vegetarian diet certainly makes it easier to get protein, by no means does it indicate that a vegetarian diet is lacking protein by default?
There are many vegetarian sources of protein like dairy products, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, quinoa, amaranth, and soy products. Consuming a mix of these will ensure kids get all the protein they need, along with other essential nutrients like minerals and Vitamins.
10. Active kids need more carbohydrates
It is a common misconception that kids who are into active sports or training need a lot more carbohydrates. This is not exactly true, and what your child needs is a properly balanced diet, including sufficient quantities of all food groups. Be sure to include enough protein as that will keep them full for longer.
If children need to play long matches and need sustained energy for a long period of time, be sure to include plenty of protein as well as complex carbohydrates a few hours before their game. Having too many carbohydrates can lead to spikes in blood sugar as well as increases the risk of childhood obesity.