WHAT a joy it is to behold a well-nourished child! Yet, a child is not healthy by accident. “Simple but nourishing food was always a high priority in our family not only in terms of our financial budget but also in the time invested in preparing and enjoying it together,” I recall, coming back from school to be greeted with the delicious aromas of dinner being prepared and perhaps of a pie or cake that she had baked. Because my mother did not work outside the home, we looked forward to coming back home from school, because we know there will be nice meal waiting for us.
Rather than being sustained by wholesome food, however, “roughly 780 [million] people in poor countries, one in five of their population, do not get enough to eat,” according to The Economist. “As many as 2 billion people who get enough to fill their bellies nevertheless lack the vitamins and minerals they need.” It is not simply that the undernourished one is weakened but also that he is less able to benefit others. Hence, regarding undernourished children, economist Eduardo Giannetti da Fonseca of São Paulo University, Brazil, is quoted as saying: “This [waste of human resources] is worse than anything else. . . . I believe that among these children there are talents and abilities that end up hidden away because of poverty. Among them, under different circumstances, there could arise an Albert Einstein.” The magazine Veja states: “The country is losing muscles that are wasting away because of poor nutrition and is throwing away a potential reserve of intelligence, creativity, and energy.” Hence, despite the high cost of living, wise parents give their children a solid foundation by investing in nutritious food.
A Wise Investment
“Invest” means “to make use of for future benefits or advantages.” How can you invest in nutrition? If needed, would you forgo luxuries or status items and use your limited budget to purchase wholesome food?
“The senses do not lie dormant until they are suddenly switched on at birth; evidence suggests that the sensory systems function well before birth,” says The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Thus, the ideal way to start nourishing a child is to have a well-nourished mother. The next step—after birth—is for the infant to breast-feed, since human milk provides complete nutrition and even immunizes against common diseases. States Facts for Life, a United Nations publication: “For the first few months of a baby’s life, breast milk alone is the best possible food and drink. Infants need other foods, in addition to breast milk, when they are four-to-six months old.”
While remarkably resilient, the human body should not be taken for granted. It is vital to build it up with wholesome food early in life. The World Book Encyclopedia says: “By the time a person is 6 years old, the brain has reached its full weight of about 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms). Most of the brain cells are present at birth, and so the increase in weight comes mainly from growth of the cells. During this six-year period, a person learns and acquires new behavior patterns at the fastest rate in life.” Therefore, even if the child enjoys a good diet after its sixth year, relatively few additional brain cells will be developed. Wholesome, nutritious food is one of the greatest gifts that parents can give their children. Even if many of the so-called necessities of life, which are often only luxuries, cannot be provided, parents who invest in the mental and physical health of their children give them a start in life from infancy that can never be replaced.
Why Have a Varied Diet?
A child needs protein-rich food to grow physically and mentally. Poor nutrition slows a child’s mental development in school, and the child may become apathetic and weary, unable to pay much attention or remember what is taught. At least 25 different deficiency diseases result from lack of one of the basic nutrients—protein, vitamins, essential fats, or nutrient elements.
Consider the case of Joaquim who said. “Our family was poor,” he says. “But we had land and cultivated almost everything we ate. At every meal we had corn and rye bread made from whole grains, and that contributed to good nutrition. Almost every day my mother made soup that included a variety of vegetables, including beans, and this supplied many of our nutritional needs. We did not have much meat, but we did have fish, mostly sardines, cod, and herring.” He adds: “My mother had five children, and I do not remember any of us getting sick other than with colds and flu. I think that our well-balanced meals contributed to that.” A mother of seven children explains: “We needed to provide nourishing food at a low cost. So we planted a vegetable garden, which, although it was small, produced enough for our needs.” She adds: “Our children never had a serious illness and were always very successful in their schoolwork.”
Your body requires as nutrients 22 of the 103 officially recognized chemical elements. Although it is impossible to fix the exact amount of vitamins, minerals, and proteins you need individually, a well-balanced diet will provide your needs. One authority stated: “The key to good nutrition is a varied diet that includes every kind of nutrient.”
What if your children dislike certain foods, such as vegetables with a bitter taste?
According to an experienced cook, parents should serve “the whole range of vegetables available in their region. Many grown-ups do not eat vegetables because they were not exposed to them when they were kids. Since vegetables provide fiber and many of our vitamin needs and are inexpensive, parents should always have them available for their children.” So why not learn new recipes that make good use of fresh vegetables and fruits, perhaps served in a delicious soufflé or stew? Regarding so-called empty calories, he suggests: “Parents should not have sweets in the house other than on special occasions. If [the children] do not have them, they won’t eat them.”
Although eating adequate amounts of proper food minimizes the danger of malnutrition, some people create problems for themselves by overeating. Excessive consumption of calories that exceeds the body’s needs may lead to obesity, which is associated with diabetes and heart trouble.* Since neither medicine nor physical activity can take the place of proper eating habits, a good suggestion is to reduce the intake of fat, sweets, salt, and alcohol. Also, says an encyclopedia, “steps should be taken to minimize hunger, loneliness, depression, boredom, anger, and fatigue, each of which can set off a bout of overeating.”
No one today enjoys perfect health. So why not be reasonable, neither heedless nor overly anxious? An inordinate or fanatical interest in nutrition or health matters can cause us to lose our balance.
Health benefits of eating well. A well-balanced diet provides all of the: energy you need to keep active throughout the day. Nutrients you need for growth and repair, helping you to stay strong and healthy and help to prevent diet-related illness, such as some cancer.
Having a well-balanced meal for your family is worth more than gold, because you are setting them up to succeed in life. Make better choices when it comes to food. Eat healthy meals, keep sweet things away from children and make the meal balanced.
Thank you for reading.