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Posts Tagged ‘children’s diet’

Sleep is an essential part of our health. Children’s development depends not only on nutrition but also on their sleep. General sleep recommendations for children are:

  • 15- 18 hours for newborns,
  • 14-15 hours for infants, up to two years of age,
  • 12-14 hours for toddlers,
  • 11-13 hours for preschoolers up to age five,
  • About 10-11 hours for early school-aged children.

With the kind of lifestyle and habits we are engaged in, you might notice a decrease in the duration of sleep or deterioration in the quality of it. These are not healthy signs and we should try to check these patterns right at the beginning.

In the modern lifestyle and habits, there are two major things that need careful attention, as they have deeply affect a normal child’s sleep. The first is diet and food habits and the second is physical activity.

Diet and Food Habits: The questions to consider about diet and food habits are ‘what’ and ‘when’. What are our children eating? If there is a lot of junk food at home all the time, then it is natural that children will grab it whenever they feel hungry. That type of food does not give their brains enough nutrition to develop properly, leads to long-term physical diseases and also causes obesity, starting from an early age. Greasy, obesity-causing diets lead to irregularities in breathing which in turn disrupts their regular sleep patterns and does not let them sleep well. Soft drinks and colas contain caffeine, which interferes with children’s sleep as well.

Our bodies differ from those of our children. What we eat and the way we eat it is not always appropriate for children. Though we all need to have a balanced diet, children need it the most. Internally, their rapidly developing body and metabolism is more prepared to work on the materials provided to it, to cause growth and strengthening of the existing structure. There is a universal principle that the output of anything is directly determined by input. This becomes especially noteworthy in the case of children’s health. A wholesome diet includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, sources of calcium, proteins and other minerals and vitamins. Children need particular attention to such a diet. Sugar and salt intake also needs to be adequate but controlled. 

The question of ‘When’ is equally important. Children should be given food at regular intervals. Compensating lunch for a heavy breakfast or skipping dinner because of a big snack, is not healthy. Children need regular breakfast, lunch and dinner, interspersed with healthy snacks in between. Each of the meals is equally important to control how a child will perform. A light, healthy dinner is especially important for a restful sleep.

Physical Diet:  Besides diet, physical activity is the other thing which is extremely important for a peaceful sleep. Children should be encouraged – and even forced – to go outdoors every day and expend their energy. They need to run around, play vigorous games and sweat. If possible, this should be followed by a shower or a bath and later, clean and comfortable clothing. This practice helps children relax and have a good, refreshing sleep.

In addition, too much engagement with TV, computers and video games has been known to cause disrupted sleep. Research has indicated that television viewing at bedtime could gradually lead to shortened sleep-duration. When children watch TV at night, they also do not want to go to bed and if they do, they are unable to sleep for a long time. Watching television causes over-stimulation of the brain and therefore, it can also lead to anxiety during sleep itself. Similarly, too many video games also disturb sleep because they contain very active and dynamic graphics and are usually of a violent or aggressive nature. This alters some of the normal brain functions in children and although there could be many negative effects, one of the most evident ones is the lack of sufficient and good-quality sleep.

Sufficient and restful sleep helps our brain learn and work better. It is especially important in case of children as their developing minds need more nourishment. In addition, good sleep helps them to grow physically, stay healthy and build immunity.  If they are deprived of sleep, it becomes a barrier to their general well-being. So, we need to ensure that our children’s days have the right food at the right time along with physical activity which will lead them to a refreshing night’s sleep.

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Sometimes, we keep looking in the wrong place for the reason to a problem. Usually the reason is staring at us right in the face. The following story about a little girl who is not doing well at school reveals how her mother discovers that there is still hope for her, with just a shift in the way of living.

Tiya’s parents were called to school once again. Her dad couldn’t go because he had just started his new job and it was impossible to ask for time off already. So, Tiya’s mom went by herself to meet the teachers. The last time they had been called, it was to discuss how Tiya’s work-habits were becoming worse and she was not focused in class anymore. Her mom wondered what it was going to be about this time.

Tiya’s mom was greeted by Mrs. Sarnia, the Grade 3 teacher who taught Tiya, her physical education teacher, Mr. Kiplan and the principal, Mrs. Bain. Mrs. Sarnia started by explaining how Tiya had not shown any signs of progress since the last time they had met. In fact, she said that Tiya had been found sleeping in class for three days consecutively! She said that she suspected disinterest as the factor, but wanted to find out if there was anything more than that going on in the family, which might be causing this ehavior.

The principal, Mrs. Bain assured Tiya’s mother that if there was anything confidential that she did not want to disclose, that would be perfectly alright. Tiya’s mom knew what they were talking about. Their neighbours had a similar case where their little son was performing very dismally in class due to lack of sleep and peace in the family. Even though the little child was a brilliant thinker, his mind was always pre-occupied with the family fights he saw and the long hours of late-night television in his house, which affected his sleep and mental ability.

Tiya’s mom thanked Mrs. Bain for the reassurance but said that there was nothing wrong in the family circumstances that should affect Tiya. She told them that they all usually went to bed on time and there were no household arguments in their family that Tiya was exposed to. In her mind, she was thinking – my child is not bright, and that is the only reason for all of this.

Mr. Kiplan, the physical education teacher then took over and described how Tiya was way behind her classmates in athletic activities. He said that even though he encouraged her at every possible opportunity, she was still not being able to cope up. She had very less stamina and wanted to just sit and watch instead of actively participating in physical activities. He also said that Tiya did not seem to be a naturally weak child. It was something in her lifestyle that seemed to be affecting her.

Tiya’s mom was quiet. She understood that the teachers were trying really hard to help Tiya improve and she was trying at home too, but nothing could really be done. But Mr. Kiplan’s last comment about something in Tiya’s lifestyle had already made Mrs. Sarnia think! She remembered how Tiya always got burgers, cookies, chocolate, chips and other types of fried or junk food for snacks and lunch. She mentioned this to Tiya’s mother. She added that whereas some other children brought nuts, fruit, juices, cheese and other nutritious home-made food, Tiya usually brought something ready-made or packaged.

Tiya’s mother explained that this was because they had a very busy lifestyle and often, she picked up pizza or something pre-cooked on the way home from work. She ran her own small business which was not doing too well, so she spent lots of extra hours in it. There were a lot of other household things to take care of, so she did not really spend a lot of time cooking. They ate whatever they could conveniently get at the food joints or heated up frozen food. Tiya generally ate the same stuff and brought it for her school lunch as well. In fact, her mother said that she enjoyed eating it and in general, ate more than other children of her age.

Mrs. Bain objected to it and told her how it had been proven that junk food diets affect children’s behavior. Children eating such a diet were often not high achievers in any field of life, ended up with learning difficulties, were poorly behaved and were at a great risk of having many medical disorders. Such kids are often lethargic and take no interest in physical activity. Mrs. Bain said that she understands the family’s needs for something quick and easy, but that they should not compromise their own and especially a little child’s health for the sake of convenience. Even though it might seem like a small matter, the consequences could be really far-fetched. It could cost Tiya her career, her attitude and her success in life. A child who could be smart, active and intelligent was being ‘dulled’ due to fast food! The principal also reminded her that these habits needed to be developed right at childhood and she hoped to see a change in Tiya’s food habits.

As Tiya’s mom drove back, she pondered over what she had just heard. All this time she had been thinking that she took good care of her daughter! Even though both she and her husband were always busy, they tried to keep Tiya happy by giving her the food of her choice. She now realized that they were not using the right option for Tiya’s health and happiness. She understood why Tiya never seemed satisfied and always wanted more to eat. That was because fast foods are not nutritious enough. They lead to an increase in weight too by causing overeating. With a sad heart she thought of how many nutritional deficiencies her child could be under.

The diet their family followed was convenient and easy for them but it could cost their daughter a good-quality life! She decided to change that by bringing healthy food items on to the dinner table and in their lunch-boxes bit by bit, starting that very day!

~ Nivedita Shori

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