Archita, a mother to a two-year-old boy, was often worried about her baby's low weight. She tried increasing the quantity of food but to no avail. It was only after an appointment with the doctor and the nutritionist that she realised there are specific foods that help gain weight in different age groups. After following this routine, the results started to show and today, Archita is a happy mother with a healthy child.
Archita's case is not a solitary one. Low body weight in your toddler can lead to health problems for her. When your baby becomes a toddler, there is a transition from dependent to independent feeding and she starts to acquire self-feeding skills and develops individual food choices. She might reject certain foods during this period leading to irregular weight gain.
WHO recommends that babies start receiving complementary foods at 6 months of age in addition to breast milk, initially 2-3 times a day between 6-8 months, increasing to 3-4 times daily between 9-11 months and 12-24 months with additional nutritious snacks offered 1-2 times per day, as desired.
Introducing your baby to solid foods is referred to as weaning or complementary feeding, which should ideally start after six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Children cannot eat large quantities of food in one sitting at a given time. So, they should be fed small quantities at frequent intervals (around 4 times a day). The baby may find full solid foods difficult to chew and hence try to swallow it, which may lead to choking and indigestion.
Therefore, the food should be of semi-solid consistency for easy swallowing. When such semi-solid foods are offered initially, your baby tends to spit it out.
According to the National Institute of Nutrition, under the Indian Council of Medical Research, the recommended calorie allowance for 2–4-year-old children ranges from 1060-1350 Kcal per day.
Why don't some children gain weight?
The period of transitional feeding is a very vulnerable period. It is the time when malnutrition starts in many infants, contributing to the high prevalence of malnutrition in children under two years of age. The link between malnutrition and infant feeding has been clearly established. Improper feeding practices in infancy and early childhood results in malnutrition, which leads to impaired cognitive and social development and future health complications.
According to Rapid Survey of Children (2013-2014) data, the high prevalence of stunting (26.7%) and wasting (13%) exists among under-five children belonging to highest wealth index (HWI) communities in India. Running in similar lines, Gupta et al., 2017, found out that inadequate infant and young child feeding (IYCF) being an important determinant of stunting and underweight amongst under-five children, may have resulted in high undernutrition amongst HWI families.
List of solid foods:
Weaning foods are based on cereal-pulse-nut and sugar/jaggery combinations, constituting good quality protein, adequate calories and other protective nutrients. Since babies cannot consume bulky complementary food, in sufficient quantities, energy-rich foods like fats and sugars should be included in such preparations. You can also feed them with green leafy vegetables, which are rich, yet inexpensive sources of vitamins and minerals. However, greens should be well cleaned before cooking, to prevent foodborne infections. Toddlers should be introduced to different vegetables and fruits gradually.
The Food and Nutrition Board under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, India, released a document on Nutritious Recipes for Complementary Feeding of Infants and Young Children. This is a very useful book which offers many nutritious recipe suggestions for your toddler.
Instant Food Mixes utilising different cereals, millets, pulses, nuts and oilseeds are important as the child needs to be fed 5-6 times a day. These can be easily prepared at home and stored in airtight containers for at least a month. These mixes could be reconstituted with boiled water, milk or dal and fed to the child whenever required.
Fresh preparations include dishes such as:
- Laddus using Ragi / Millet / Suji along with a pulse (green gram/Bengal gram) or groundnuts with jaggery. Laddus are ideal snack options for toddlers and are rich sources of energy, protein and fats.
- Cutlets using starchy vegetables/meat/fish which should be shallow-fried. These are interesting snack options rich in energy, vitamins and minerals.
- Traditional dishes like suzhiyam, kozhukattai, etc. can also be included in your toddler’s diet, as these are nutritious snack options.
Porridges made using Suji / Dalia; Pongal / Upma / Khichdi made using rice / Dalia / Suji; rice or millet-based dishes. All of these are good meal options for your toddler. These are mostly cereal-based or cereal and pulse based foods, which are good sources of energy, protein and B vitamins.
Steps to increase energy density in your toddler’s feed:
- By adding a teaspoon of oil or ghee in every feed. As fats and oils are concentrated sources of energy, adding these sources to the feed substantially increases the energy content of foods.
- By adding sugar or jaggery to the feed.
- By malting foods. Malting reduces the viscosity of foods and hence increases the quantity the child may consume. Scientifically, flours of germinated cereals, which are rich in the enzyme alpha-amylase, constitute Amylase- Rich Foods (ARFs). Even small amounts of this type of foods liquefy and reduce the bulk of the cereal-based diet. Thus, ARFs help in increasing the energy density of weaning gruels and in reducing its bulk as well. Mothers can add ARF to increase the digestibility of the low-cost weaning foods prepared at home.
How to prepare ARF?
Take 250 g of Wheat. Add 2-3 volumes of water and soak it for 8 hours. Drain the excess water. Germinate wheat in dark for 24-48 hours and then dry in sunlight for about 5-8 hours. Roast gently in a flat pan to remove water. Grind and powder the grains to make ARF. Store in airtight jars. Add 5 grams (1 teaspoon) of ARF after cooking, to every feed. Source: National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for toddlers. What you feed them will provide the required energy and nutrients to your little one. Read through this article to know some tips that will help you choose a healthy breakfast for your toddler.
Although many initiatives have been carried out in India to promote Infant and Young Child Feeding, the number of undernourished children in India still exists. Equally, with the growing evidence and interest in the role of infant nutrition in the development of overnutrition and non-communicable disease, it is important to plan appropriate complementary feeding interventions that result in optimal growth in your child.
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