IN SPORTS, THE GOLDEN RULE IS TO keep your eye on the ball. The same maxim applies to parenting: Paying diligent attention to your child is key, says childhood development professor David Elkind, Ph.D. Doing so, he says, you’ll learn your child’s wants and needs. But even the most attentive mothers and fathers need a little guidance. That’s why we asked more than a half-dozen leading child-care experts for advice. Here are what they agree are the fundamental rules for bringing up healthy kids.
Golden Rule 1: Ensure Good Nutrition
A healthy diet may help prevent food allergies, seasonal allergies, obesity, and other ailments that can stretch into adulthood. Good nutrition starts with infancy.
Breast-Feed. Mother’s milk safeguards your infant’s health better than formula, which doesn’t offer the hundreds of healthy substances like fatty acids and growth factors found in breast milk. Benefits of breast milk include protecting your baby from childhood obesity, reducing the chances of allergies and asthma, and lowering the incidence of ear infections and diarrhea. Physician Russell Greenfield, M.D., recommends breast-feeding your child for one year. If you can’t, choose a formula with added DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) or other omega-3 fatty acids, which may aid brain development.
Know When to Introduce Foods. Don’t feed solid food to children before their digestive systems are ready. If they have solid food too soon, their bodies will not completely digest the food, and undigested food particles may enter their bloodstream and contribute to allergies, food intolerance, and other disorders, says naturopath Mary Bove, N.D. In general, babies are ready to try solid food at around 4 months if they are bottle-fed and 6 months if they are breast-fed, says Greenfield. Wait 18 to 24 months before introducing allergenic foods like citrus fruits, eggs, milk, pineapple, strawberries, and wheat, especially if allergies run in your family.
Broaden Your Child’s Palate. As children begin to eat more solid foods, introduce them to a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and other protein sources. The more foods children enjoy, the broader the range of nutrients they’ll receive. Don’t give up if your child likes only a handful of foods. You may need to expose her to a food eight to 10 times before she decides whether she’ll eat it, says Greenfield. To make dinnertime easier on everyone, Greenfield asks his kids to taste, rather than finish, a new item.
Provide Healthy Beverages. “I push water to help kids develop a taste for it before juice or [cow’s] milk,” says Bove. Juice is high in sugar, posing a risk of cavities and blood sugar swings, and many children have trouble digesting cow’s milk. Kids should drink a cup of water for every 10 pounds they weigh (up to eight glasses), recommends Greenfield. If you serve juice, dilute it with water, he says. Nutritious cow’s milk alternatives include almond milk, rice milk, and soymilk.
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