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The Importance of Nutrition in Early Childhood: Development of Mind, Body, Spirit

Everyone wants their child to be healthy and feel good about themselves, both mentally and physically. Considering the importance of nutrition in your child’s development, especially in the first five years of growth, will have an effect on their health, both now and in the future. The kind of foods that you give to your child when growth and development are rapidly occurring will set them up for a healthy and well-balanced life. 

However, it can be a challenge to maintain a healthy diet even as an adult, let alone support our little ones to eat the right foods. One of the best ways to help stay on track with instilling healthy habits is to continuously remind yourself of the benefits. Read on to discover the benefits of nutrition education for the early development of the mind, body and spirit.

MIND: Nourish the brain

The brain uses more energy than any other organ in our body – over 20% of our daily energy intake! Due to brain development, the calorie/KJ intake for children especially fats is higher to meet their developmental needs. Everything from learning, to memory and attentiveness, is affected by the foods we consume. Healthy eating in early childhood may even yield benefits that are only measurable later in life.

Young children, whose brains are rapidly developing, need a nutrient-dense diet to help them as they process the world around them. Without the right nutrients, toddlers and preschoolers might struggle to develop the skills to maintain concentration, which becomes increasingly important as they get older. Nutrient-dense foods, such as fish, broccoli and berries are just a few foods shown to improve cognitive functions and memory. Conversely, processed foods, including refined sugar, colourings, and other artificial additives can negatively affect a child’s mind, even making them feel hazy and less focused.

Did you know that you can also help your children be happier through healthy eating? Nutrition has a direct effect on how children feel. Research shows that the brain networks associated with controlling feeding are linked closely to emotion. Serotonin (which helps regulate sleep, appetite and moods) is mostly produced in the gut, meaning the digestive system also guides emotions. With 70-80% of the body’s immune cells being located in the digestive system, a healthy gut biome plays a significant role in a strong immune system.

Kids Club Commercial Kitchens

BODY: Grow strong and live long

A nutrient-rich diet supports children’s overall strength and wellbeing, allowing them to have the energy to run around, climb trees and explore. Proper nutrition is crucial to consider when you care for kids, as it protects against malnourishment, maintains a healthy immune system, prevents obesity and reduces the risk of chronic disease.

Sports and Nutrition

Some important nutrients for children include:

  • Calcium strengthens bones. Found in milk, yoghurt and seeds.
  • Protein builds muscles. Found in eggs, lean meats and cheese.
  • Carbohydrates provide energy. Found in whole grain bread, potatoes and apples.
  • Iron supports growth and development. Found in legumes, lamb, spinach and quinoa.

Essential fats help the body absorb other vitamins. Found in fish, avocados and nuts.

SPIRIT: Cook up healthy habits

Growing up, it can be difficult to maintain healthy eating habits, especially with fast food and convenience advertised so widely. It is important to help children develop healthy habits early on which will make it easier for them to maintain throughout life.

A simple meal can become a fun and exciting learning experience! From health education to culture and celebration, the opportunities are endless.

Here are 7 healthy and child-friendly habits you can begin to form:

  • Keep snacks simple: a piece of fruit or handful of nuts
  • Eat the rainbow! Create colourful plates with a variety of vegetables
  • Involve little ones in cooking, even if they are just watching while you explain the process they are still learning
  • Limit sugary drinks, including juices
  • Take it slow: don’t rush mealtimes. It can be frustrating when children eat slowly, but this helps them assess their appetite and stop when full
  • Do not punish a child for not eating, as it can develop a negative association. In some cases, they may feel the need to eat everything on their plate, thereby overeating and not listening to their bodies
  • Avoid using food as a reward, as it can teach them to rely on it for comfort. Praise and encouragement, sometimes with a hug, can be enough reward for a child 

Great food, happy children

At a basic level, most parents understand nutrition is important, however, trying to implement this lifestyle can be challenging. Don’t lose heart if it’s a struggle, it’s never too late to make changes.

If your child is participating in an early childhood education program, ask about their menu. At Kids Club, healthy nutrition is one of our four key pillars. With hundreds of children in our care in centres across Australia, Kids Club knows how crucial it is for babies and children to maintain healthy eating practices in childcare. We also recognise the importance of introducing a diverse range of delicious flavours to encourage healthy eating habits for the future.

At Kids Club we try to involve children in activities around food and get them interested in food by gardening, growing our own fruits and vegetables and doing cooking activities with the produce from the gardens. 

In our centres we use meal times as a way for children to hit development milestones, like holding the spoon by themselves, serving themselves, drinking through a straw, holding a cup etc. These developmental milestones are met through meal times together at daycare and with their family at home.  

Kids Club has partnered with global children’s food expert and bestselling international author (with 45 cookbooks to her name) Annabel Karmel to bring a wealth of expertise and cooking know-how to our centres.

Annabel Karmel has worked closely with the chefs at Kids Club to ensure mealtimes become a memorable, much-loved part of the day for children 0-5-year olds. Read more here about our exclusive partnership with Annabel Karmel.

If you want to learn more, call Kids Club Early Childhood Learning Centres or book a tour now of your closest Kids Club Early Learning Centre, click here to view your closest Centre.

As the leading provider of early childhood care in Australia we always put your child first. We are committed to 7 National Quality Standards. 

References:

  1. Gomez-Pinilla, F., 2022. How does the brain use food as energy?. [online] Brainfacts.org. Available at: <https://www.brainfacts.org/Ask-an-Expert/How-does-the-brain-use-food-as-energy> [Accessed 8 August 2022].
  2. Spencer, S., Korosi, A., Layé, S., Shukitt-Hale, B. and Barrientos, R., 2017. Food for thought: how nutrition impacts cognition and emotion. npj Science of Food, 1(1).
  3. Gómez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Jul;9(7):568-78. doi: 10.1038/nrn2421. PMID: 18568016; PMCID: PMC2805706.
  4. Harvard Health. 2022. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food – Harvard Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626> [Accessed 8 August 2022].
  5. Wiertsema, S., van Bergenhenegouwen, J., Garssen, J. and Knippels, L., 2021. The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients, 13(3), p.886.