Nutritionist Nina Lenton answers your questions
A local Chinese saying – “A man is iron, but the food he eats is steel” (人是铁. 饭是钢) – reflects the importance of food in a person’s life. For kids, food is crucial for development and can fundamentally influence health even after childhood. Below, beijingkids nutrition expert Nina Lenton answers parents’ questions about feeding their children the right kinds of foods.
From Lorina Barbalas, mother of Jonathan (15) and David (12):
I’m concerned about the safety of local vegetables. How should I clean them, especially when eating them raw? Is organic really better?
From a research point of view, the jury is still out on the benefits of organic versus non-organic vegetables to our health, with no actual evidence that organic vegetables are more nutritious or that non-organic are more harmful. There’s no good reason to avoid buying produce from your local green grocer. Nevertheless, I would still recommend purchasing organic vegetables if you can afford it because organic farming is more beneficial for the environment. Also, in my experience, organic produce tastes infinitely better, which is likely to encourage the family to eat more vegetables.
With regards to cleaning vegetables, wash all vegetables under cold water before eating and discard any outer layers. Use a nailbrush and cold water to scrub veggies and peel as much as possible. (This is not as important if the vegetables are organic.) It is best to avoid buying anything that has been sitting out on a roadside.
From Lucille Chan, mother of Christopher (7 months):
My baby is sick all the time. He has solid food one to two times a day and formula as usual, but what kind of food I can give him to boost his immunity and make him stronger?
Breastfeeding babies is the most vital step in building up a baby’s immune system, as it literally transfers antibodies that help to fight infections. If you are still able to breastfeed, then I would suggest you continue to do so, and if you are not, then you should still a make sure you give at least 500 ml of formula milk per day in addition to any solid food.
If you feel your baby is frequently ill, you should discuss this with your pediatrician. It may be a good idea to investigate for allergies to such foods as cow’s milk, egg and wheat, as these can compromise your baby’s ability to digest foods, thus weakening their ability to fight infections. Also, make sure that you are not introducing solid food too quickly and that his stomach is able to cope.
In terms of foods to support his immune system, try to ensure he is receiving foods containing iron (small amounts of pureed/ soft meat, pureed green vegetables, pureed pulses), vitamin C (fruits, vegetables, potatoes), and vitamin D (formula or breast milk). At this stage however, the majority of his nutrition and calories will still derive from milk.
From Wolfgang Cespedes, father of Stephanie (6 months):
What food should never be given to a baby in the first year?
Cow’s milk as the main form of milk should not be given to a baby until he or she reaches 12 months because the sodium content is not appropriate. Food made with cow’s milk, such as cheese and custard, however, is fine.
If you are introducing solids before the baby reaches 6 months of age, then you should avoid giving food that contains gluten (including all wheat products), eggs, nuts, fish and shellfish, citrus, soft unpasteurized cheese and liver. This practice reduces the risks of food poisoning and allergic reactions in young babies. After 6 months, such foods can be introduced gradually.
Don’t add salt to baby food at all. It’s also a good idea to avoid adding sugar, as this can encourage the development of a sweet tooth and dental cavities. Children under 1 year of age should avoid honey because of the risk of contracting botulism, a food-borne disease.
Whole nuts aren’t advised for children under 5 due to the risk of choking, but if there is no history of nut allergy in the family, nut butters are a good food to introduce during weaning.