One might expect children in a third-world country to be malnourished, but certainly not in a country where food and resources are more plentiful. That is precisely why food programs such as WIC, SNAP and the U.S.D.A School Lunch Program exist. Studies have shown that children who get the proper nutrition grow to be strong and healthy and perform better in school. Before these programs were instituted, doctors were treating a host of ailments that were all related to poor nutrition.

Children in economically stable countries often do not get the proper nutrition. The reason for this is because parents are often not aware of programs that are available to help when family resources are low. The Women, Infants and Children program as well as SNAP (food stamps) benefits help bridge the gap between a small paycheck and buying enough food. These benefits are available to families based on economic need.

Why is Nutrition So Important?

Nutrition is vital to the health of growing children. Without it their brains, central nervous system, heart and lungs would be underdeveloped, and many of them would die. In the old days doctors treated children for anemia, the name for low iron, this is easily corrected by eating more red meat and green vegetables. A lack of adequate nutrition is apparent in the appearance of circles under the eyes, a sallow complexion, dull lifeless hair and brittle fingernails. Calcium is what makes bones and teeth strong, it also does not stay in the body long so it must be replenished frequently.

Children who do not eat breakfast before school are not able to concentrate as well or pay attention in class. The body needs to be fed at least every 3 hours to maintain a steady supply of energy and keep blood sugar levels balanced. When blood sugar is low the symptoms are sleepiness, irritability and lack of concentration. This may be why a lot of children fall asleep in class and not due to a lack of sleep the night before.

Undernourishment may be the cause of poor school performance, lack of energy, inability to focus, low endurance during sports, frequent illness and obesity or weight loss. Children who are overweight are often malnourished, since they are not eating the right foods to be healthy. Sugar, fats and processed foods often have little nutritional value and cannot sustain a growing body that demands nutrients.

Reasons for undernourishment:

  • Uneducated about the need for nutrition.
  • Skipping breakfast or not eating enough.
  • Picky eaters.
  • Lack of nutritional food, too much junk food.

How Does Nutrition Affect Development?

In the first few weeks after conception, the brain is developing and the need for good nutrition is very high. If the developing child does not get an adequate supply of nutrients the brain will not develop the way it should. Developmental delays, birth defects or serious neurological problems may show up later in life. The brain and spinal cord are the first things to develop and are the most important to the life of the child. Certain vitamins such as Folate and Choline are vital to brain development and must be started early to ensure an adequate supply for the growing baby.

The Need for Good Nutrition begins at Conception

Good nutrition should begin the moment a woman discovers she is pregnant. The baby receives nutrients from the mother from the food she eats so it is very important to start eating right at the very beginning. The baby will draw the necessary nutrients from the mother’s body and both could be deficient if the supply is not being replenished through regular meals and healthy snacks. It is normal for pregnant women to crave sweet or salty foods but they should be eaten in moderation.

Nutrition after Birth

Once the baby is born, the mother must continue her good eating habits if she intends to breast feed her child. Breast milk is the perfect food for growing infants and is the most readily available at any time of the day. To maintain a good milk supply for the baby, the mother should nurse her child every 2 to 3 hours and whenever the baby seems to be hungry. Some babies do not settle into any feeding patterns but just feed on demand which is often the easiest for both mother and baby.

Whether you choose to breast feed or formula feed, there is no right or wrong way to feed your child. When the baby is old enough to begin eating solid foods make sure to offer the same healthy food and model good eating habits to avoid picky eaters as the child gets older. The early years are the best times to teach your child good eating habits.

How Can Parents Be Sure their Child is Getting Proper Nutrition?

· Prepare and serve healthy, balanced meals

· Offer healthy snack choices like fruit and yogurt

· Serve 3 meals per day and 2 snacks

· Incorporate more vegetables, grains, beans and legumes into meals

· Limit sweets and fast food

WIC and SNAP

The WIC and SNAP programs are federally-funded programs that are administered by the state. To qualify you must apply for the program in your state and meet certain income guidelines to be eligible. These programs are meant to supplement the family’s food supply to make sure that every child gets the nutrition that he or she needs to grow up healthy and happy. Surveys have shown that many families on limited incomes often struggle to keep healthy food in the house due to the rising cost of commodities. These programs help those families to afford the right foods to stay healthy and produce healthy babies.

Many neurological problems and disorders can be avoided with the proper nutrition. The brain and central nervous system depend on nutrients from the food we eat to grow and develop. A baby’s brain begins developing right after conception and continues developing as the child grows into an adult. The need for good nutrition does not stop once the baby is born. The need for good nutritious food continues on into toddlerhood, school-age and the teenage years