From 1 to 3 years of age, children experience rapid physical and mental development.
Preschoolers grow an average of 6 cm annually, and gain about 1.8 kg each year.
In addition to gains in height and weight, toddlers continue to experience brain growth.
The rapid spurt in brain weight—sometimes referred to as the “brain growth spurt”—that begins in infancy continues for at least the first 18 months of life. Rapid cell multiplication also continues into the second year of life, and rapid myelination—the laying down of lipid in the forebrain—continues on into the fourth year of life.
During the second year of life, important motor, language, cognitive, and emotional skills develop.
Children master walking and gross motor skills, and develop the eye-hand coordination necessary to explore the world with control and precision. Toddlers begin to master the spoken word, using simple sentences by 2 years of age.1 In addition to understanding simple commands, they begin to develop their problem solving abilities. By 3 years of age, children start to understand relationships between objects, and their play grows more complex.
Some researchers have speculated that growth spurts in the brain and skull are correlated with functional growth of the mind during the third and fourth years of life.
Evidence suggests that one of the periods of mental development or “mind spurts” occurs during the second to fourth years of life.
Certainly, during the third and fourth years of life, intellectual abilities continue to develop.
Between the ages of 3 and 5 years, children mature in many ways. They have the ability to control and direct their movements. They have mastered language rules and built a vocabulary, using language to understand and participate in what is going on around them. As cognitive and social skills develop, children are able to use them together with self-discipline to learn to control their behavior.
During the childhood years, parents have a unique opportunity to influence food choices and help establish healthy eating habits.
Proper nutrition is one of the most important influences on wellbeing. Healthy habits can promote growth and possibly help prevent some diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis, later in life.
From baby's first day, important developments take place that influence the kind of eating habits he or she will have. Challenges with weight and even disordered eating can often be traced back to power struggles or mixed messages around food that may have started very early on.
As early as the first week, you will be setting your baby off on the path to good habits by allowing him/her to feed on demand. Whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, listen to the cues your baby provides around hunger and fullness. Feeling hungry is an inborn trait. Humans, like other mammals, generally eat when hungry and stop when full - at least in the first few years of life. The same holds true when you introduce solids. Let your child guide the process and listen for the cues he or she is giving you around feeding, food likes and dislikes. As difficult as it will be, do your best to let true nourishment guide the process of feeding without the influence of so-called child-friendly foods that may be full of additives, colourings or presented in glossy packaging.
You are responsible for providing healthy food for your children in a form they can easily handle. What your child chooses to eat and whether or not he or she eats at all is your child's responsibility. Beginning in infancy, we are all the boss of our own bodies and our internal hunger and fullness cues. No one can make us eat if we aren't hungry or don't want to eat. Remember what you were like as a kid? Many parents struggle with all kinds of child-feeding problems. Most originate from crossing the line of the feeding relationship.
As a parent, you are responsible for:
- Providing a variety of healthy options representing all of the food groups.
- Introducing as much variety in tastes, textures and food combinations as you can in your child's first two years of life.
- Serving food in age-appropriate ways your child can handle. Eating with fingers and hands should be allowed!
- Setting a reasonably structured pattern of meals and snacks. Most children respond well to structured mealtimes.
- Making family mealtimes as comfortable, calm and relaxed as possible.
- Maintaining standards of behavior at the table.
To enhance your child's interest in eating, consider these strategies:
Involve children in meal preparation.
The sooner kids take an active role in helping make meals, the more readily they accept new foods and the less picky they are. Kids as young as two or three can be involved by scrubbing potatoes, tearing lettuce for a salad, arranging vegetables on a platter, shaping cookies or stirring the pancake batter. Older children can cut up vegetables, shape burger patties or set the table. Involvement helps build a child's self-esteem.
Allow kids to serve themselves at the table.
Starting at about age two, avoid dictating what foods the kids must have. As long as you have provided healthy options, if all they choose to put on their plate is bread, don't worry. The less of an ordeal made, the better. How do you like it when someone dishes out what you should eat?
School-age children should pack their own lunch.
If not the whole thing, at least get kids involved in packing part of their lunch. This way they are more likely to eat it. Suggest they include foods from at least three if not all four of the food groups and perhaps a treat if desired. Letting them pack their own lunch may take more patience, but it's worth it if they actually eat the lunch.
Eat meals at the table with the television turned off.
The fewer distractions at mealtime, the better. When your children are finished eating, they can either excuse themselves or help with the clean-up.
Save uneaten meals for a snack later.
Everyone will eat just about anything if they are hungry enough. If your child refuses to eat at mealtimes but comes back an hour afterward saying she's hungry, offer the dinner leftovers as the only choice.
Limit after-school snacking.
Usually kids are famished after school. Allow them to snack. Just set a limit on the amount they eat so they don't displace their appetite for dinner. After school, when kids are ravenous, may be the best time for them to eat vegetables or other foods they're less likely to get the rest of the day. Try offering a fruit or vegetable platter with dip.
Limit the junk food stocked in the house.
It's often simply a case of out of sight, out of mind. If the kids know there is no junk food to snack on, that usually leaves healthier options like fruit or vegetables.
Don't run a restaurant.
If you have prepared a healthy meal but your child refuses to eat it, don't feel obligated to provide other options. Don't expect kids to eat what you won't. If Dad hates vegetables it will be hard to get your child to eat them. If Mom hates milk, chances are your child won't like it either. Be a good role model.
Dr .Tarek El Walili, MD.
Professor of Pediatrics
University of Alexandria
Head of the Egyptian Pediatric Association - Alexandria. (EPA-A)