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What's Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
- By Lise Eliot, Ph.D

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It's Never Too Early for Proper Nutrition

Dr. Sally Goldberg


Imagine your child five years from now. Do you see a handsome boy or beautiful girl standing tall, playing with the other children? Or instead, do you see your child, overweight, hunched over with bad posture, too tired to do anything but watch TV?

Nutrition plays as important a role in the home environment as physical surroundings and play activities. The key concept is the pyramid. Just as a child needs a diversified program of activities - active and quiet, creative and structured - so a child needs to eat a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid. The meals do not have to be perfectly aligned each day, but they do need to reflect a balance on a weekly basis.

Although it is the U.S. Department of Agriculture that set up this food pyramid to provide nutritional guidelines, it is Mother Nature who is truly responsible for its design. For hundreds of thousands of years She has been telling us what to eat and also how much. She didn't do it by grams, ounces and pounds. That is our modern day creation. She did it by giving us an appetite system. Because of her we know not only exactly what to eat but also exactly how much. If we limit ourselves to her natural foods - fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, we will automatically be able to eat the proper foods, in exactly the right proportions, and in exactly the right amounts. For instance, have you ever heard someone say, "I over-ate today on apples."?

Two indexes or gauges occur physiologically within our bodies. The first index is our desire for a certain volume. The other is the body's natural predilection for nutrients. Actually these indexes were designed to work together. When we limit ourselves to foods in their most natural states, these two mechanisms do in fact work together. The results are healthy bodies that are formed as nature meant them to be, not too heavy and not too light.

Weight problems (ranging from obesity to anorexia) occur when these two elements are not working together. Foods full of chemicals, preservatives and artificial colors and flavors fool the body into thinking that it is getting the proper nutrition. Once the body realizes what has happened, something like being tricked, it then wants more and more food. The whole situation confuses Mother Nature. She loses her capacity to help us monitor our own food intake in the most effective and efficient manner.

The remedy to help return our bodies to a state of balance? The five food groups. The five food groups are what nature intended for the health of individuals. They are set up with a predominance of plant-based foods -whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Pay special attention to the specific nutritional needs of your child. They change drastically within the first critical years of your baby's life.

  • Birth to One Year: This is the year for nursing. Despite commercials that suggest otherwise, breast milk is the only milk that Mother Nature ever intended for our young. She had hoped we would serve this milk as much as possible during the first three years of life, tapering it off gradually and naturally, ending it some time around the three-years-old age limit. However, society, has steadily grown away from nature and has come to block this process. We have been taking children away from their mothers at a younger and younger age and substituting the bottle or formula for mother's milk whenever nursing could not be done. Society made this transition totally, not Mother Nature. It is important to note here that formula and eventually cow's milk are substitutes for nursing milk that was intended to be a comprehensive milk program to be tapered off and then finished some time during the early childhood years. Also, beginning at around six months of age, it is okay but not necessary, to introduce soft mashed fruits and vegetables, one at a time.

  • One Year to Two: This is the year for introducing all kinds of solid food in a soft state. The idea in this year is to try new foods one at a time to test for allergies. If any food gives the child a reaction - hives, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps or some other discomfort, you have the opportunity to discontinue the food for a certain amount of time. Be wary of the following eight: eggs, fish, wheat, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts such as walnuts and almonds, milk and other dairy products.

  • Two Years to Three: This is the transition year to regular table food. During this time it is a good idea to gradually increase the solid consistency of foods. While you always have to be careful about the size of the food pieces you serve, you need to be continually increasing the solid state of the foods to prepare your child for being able to chew well and with strength. This is a process. Since the threat of choking must always be considered, certain foods should not be given to a child under the age of four. These include:
    * Hot dogs, which are high in chemicals and considered to have a negative effect on child health
    * Hard candy (always recommended to be used sparingly)
    * Excessive amounts of creamy or chunky peanut butter1 (Creamy peanut butter spread thinly is fine.)
    * Raw carrots and celery
    * Whole grapes popcorn, raisins, nuts and seeds.

Some handy nutrition hints follow:

Your child should drink no more than eight ounces of juice a day. It should never be from a bottle, always from a cup.

  • Your child should drink water frequently throughout the day, also from a cup.

  • Soda should not be served to your child from birth to age three, especially those that contain aspartame. Over four use it sparingly (a few sodas a week at the most).

  • Sweets should follow the "no more than once-a-day rule," and you should not begin giving sweets until your child asks for them.

  • Honey should not be offered to a baby under the age of one. It may cause infant botulism.

  • Stick to the recommended four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit a day.

  • Also give your child two-and-a-half servings of meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs or nuts a day.

  • Natural table food should always be the preference. Use baby food jars as a substitute only when whole unprocessed food is not available.

Food Toddler Pre-Schooler Child 5 & Up
Bread ¼ to ½ slice ½ slice 1 slice
Rice, pasta, cereal ¼ cup 1/3 cup ½ cup
Cooked or raw vegetables or fruit 2 Tbs. ¼ cup ½ cup vegetables, one piece fruit
Milk and yogurt ½ cup 3/4 cup 1 cup
Cheese 1oz. 1½ oz. 1½ to 2oz.
Meat, poultry, fish 1oz. 1½ oz. 2½ to 3oz.
Eggs ½ 1 1
Beans 2 Tbs. ¼ cup ½ cup

Eating right brings with it great rewards. A child who receives adequate nutrients from a proper diet will be able to think clearly and function psychologically in an optimal fashion. This lucky child will be able to accomplish goals and objectives to the highest possible degree. Your child needs to feel his or her best everyday. By instilling proper nutrition habits in your child today, you are actually laying the foundation for the greatest gift a parent can give - a happy and healthy tomorrow.



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Dr. Sally Goldberg is an author and expert in early childhood education and nutrition. She is the creator of the Parent-Child Starter Kit, a complete resource designed for children ages birth through five. For more information contact Sally at 1-305-663-4746



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