From weaning onwards, it is important to accustom children to a healthy, balanced and varied diet because the preferences and taste experiences that develop as children can affect the food choices of adult life.

Children’s energy needs

The energy (or calorie) requirement represents the amount of energy derived from food that our body needs in order to compensate for its energy expenditure. Children’s energy needs are very different from that of an adult, as it is affected by different factors:

  • The speed of body growth: we have seen previously talking about the iron deficiency in children that in the first year of life alone the need for minerals and nutrients in the body of a child doubles, due to the rapid increase in weight and body volume. The fastest growth phase lasts until the end of the second year of life.
  • The basal metabolic rate is particularly high: in the first 12 months of life about 85-90% of the caloric intake is used by the body of children to maintain the basal functions and for growth, while only 10-15% is reserved for physical activity.
  • The low efficiency of absorption in the intestine.

Because of these factors, it is clear that, in absolute terms, infants need a higher energy supply than adults.

Healthy eating starts with weaning

Once the weaning phase has started, it is very important to start setting the first rules for good and healthy nutrition. Although the child’s taste experiences start from birth, through the mother’s milk (which transmits the first flavours of food ingested by the mother), it is precisely from weaning onwards that the child’s food preferencesdevelop, the same preferences that will then tend to condition his or her food choices in adult life.
It is therefore essential to get children used to varied and healthy foods as soon as possible, also to avoid the onset of food deficiencies related to basic nutritional elements, such as vitamins, minerals and iron (remember that the sideropenia is the most frequent among the food deficiency disorders in children and should not be underestimated).

The basic nutritional elements for children

So what can not be missing in the meals of our children and young people?

  • Fruit and Vegetables: at least one portion of fruit and/or vegetables should be present at each meal. In addition, fruit is an excellent snack both in the middle of the morning and during the afternoon.
  • Complex carbohydrates: about 50% of the daily calories should come from this type of carbohydrate. A perfect example are the cereals, to be varied often, so not only pasta, but also rice, barley, spelt, oats, buckwheat, couscous.
  • Sugars (or simple carbohydrates): it would be preferable to keep them to a minimum as they are already present naturally in many foods. Cakes and biscuits are good if eaten at breakfast, but home-made ones would be preferable. Instead, avoid packaged snacks, soft drinks, sweets, etc..
  • Proteins: as in the case of carbohydrates, it is important to vary as much as possible, alternating meat, fish, eggs and legumes.
  • Fats: in a balanced diet they cannot be missing, though it is better to choose those of vegetable origin, such as olive oil and dried fruit.

healthy, balanced and varied diet should be composed of about 55-60% carbohydrates30% fats and 10-15% proteins. Although children tend to be repetitive in their choice of food, try to offer them different foods and do not give up at first refusal because tastes change very quickly, a “do not like” today could be the discovery of a new taste tomorrow.

Iron is a fundamental substance for the body: in addition to being the mineral present in greater quantities in the blood, it also plays an important role in physical and cognitive development, especially in the case of children during the growth phase. Not only does iron determine blood quality, it also helps to improve resistance to stress and disease, as it helps the immune response and energy production. In addition, it is involved in the production of haemoglobin and, consequently, in the transport of oxygen in the cells.
Iron deficiency (scientifically referred to as “sideropenia”) is the most common food deficiency disorder , especially among children, and should not be underestimated because it could compromise haemoglobin synthesis.

How does iron deficiency manifest in children and what might it depend on?

What are the signs of iron deficiency? Usually when a child suffers from it it appears less lively, it tends to get tired easily and have problems concentrating.
Age plays a key role in determining a state of deficiency: in the first year of life, a child’s body’s need for iron doubles, due to the rapid increase in weight and body volume. The most critical period is until the age of two, because the youngest children need a large amount of minerals and vitamins for growth.

The right food to avoid iron deficiency during weaning

Breastfed babies do not necessarily need iron supplementation because the baby can take the right amount of iron from breast milk and completely absorb it. For this reason, artificial milks are generally enriched with iron and vitamins.
The problem therefore occurs after the sixth month, when weaning begins and it becomes necessary to ensure the correct nutritional intake through solid foods. Not only is it essential to include iron-rich foods in the child’s diet, but also to know how to make the right combinations, as some foods can reduce or, on the contrary, promote the absorption of the mineral in the body.
The most iron-rich foods are meat, fish, eggs, legumes, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and dried fruit. Vitamin C, when associated with these foods, improves the absorption of iron, while cows’ milk is low in iron.

In the event that diet alone is not able to provide the right amount of iron, it is possible to resort to the use of specific supplements for children, of course after consultation with your paediatrician. Supplements such as the products in the SiderAL® line are specifically formulated for children(SiderAL® Children, SiderAL® Drops or SiderAL® Gold), and thanks to Sucrosomial Technology® guarantee maximum tolerance and greater absorption than traditional oral irons.

In recent years, we have heard more and more about self-weaning: how many mothers are really informed about the subject, or rather, how many are really able to follow this practice correctly in everyday life?

 

What does “self-weaning” mean and what does it entail?

First of all, let’s have some clarity: instead of self-weaning, it would be more correct to use the term “complementary feeding on demand” (CFD). If though it might sound complicated, the concept is simpler than you think. Basically, the child, starting from about the sixth month, starts to share the meal with his or her parents, choosing to taste the foods that are most appetizing or that he or she prefers, in complete freedom.

No more rigid pediatrician tables to follow, therefore, or foods introduced gradually over the months. The basic idea, very simple, is that the child should start to sit at the table and eat what the family members eat. According to experts, in fact, children are able to regulate themselves and eat what they need and parents, at this stage, only have to respect their pace.

 

When to start self-weaning

The next question is, okay, but who is going to tell me when to start self-weaning? The answer is simple: your child. And there is no precise age, as it depends on the development of the individual child: some may feel ready at 4 months, others at 6, others even later, around the seventh month. However, there are 4 main signs that it may be time to start setting milk aside:

  • When the child is able to sit without help;
  • When he or she loses the extrusion reflex that causes children to push out the spoon with their tongue;
  • If he or she shows an interest in adult food;
  • If he or she is able to communicate the sense of hunger and satiety with his gestures.

Be careful, however, self-weaning does not mean giving the child any food or that the child will eat everything right away. First of all, unlike classic weaning, feeds are not eliminated one at a time following a pattern. It is rather a gradual process: the child chooses (hence the term “complementary feeding on demand”) what to eat from the adults’ table starting with very small tastings, supplemented by the usual dose of milk, and then move gradually to increasingly varied and larger tastings, which will become small portions and finally full meals.

 

Self-weaning yes, but not for everyone

Goodbye baby food, rice cream and broths, if your child eats the same things as adults, mothers will no longer have to worry about preparing different meals at different times. That makes it all seem very simple. But properly following self-weaning is actually a commitment that involves the whole family. First of all, it is essential to follow a healthy diet based on the principles of balance, variety and moderation. In addition, one must be very careful to ensure the right supply of all nutritional components, because additional breastmilk or bottle is not enough to balance the diet. For this reason, it is advisable in any case to rely on the advice of a good paediatrician, to have precise indications in the preparation of a complete meal.

It is therefore clear that weaning is not for everyone and certainly requires more time, something that not all new mothers have – think for example of all women working outside the home. Therefore, if for various personal reasons it is not possible to follow this type of diet, it is better to rely on a balanced diet, following the meals recommended by pediatricians tables.