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Kids need a re-fuel every 2-3 hours!!

Imagine this, and I am sure this has happened to you too, maybe on several occasions. Your little three year old had his breakfast at 8am – a toast with butter and apricot jam and a glass of milk. He was so full, he refused his favourite oatmeal biscuit! He immediately biked away on his red tricycle and was off to play with his friend in the park outside. Seemed to you at that time that he was so full, you won’t have to think about another meal for him until at least after noon…

Just two hours later, it’s just after 10am – and here he is, tugging at your shirt because lo and behold, he is hungry??!! How is this possible? And if he gets so hungry so quickly, why didn’t he just eat that biscuit and make a bigger meal out of breakfast in the first place?? You just don’t get it…

Stop for a moment, step back and think. The adult stomach is about the size of a football; while that of a toddler is about the size of his fist. This is why new-borns “refuel” every 1-3 hours around the clock and as their stomachs grow, they can go longer and eventually stop the night feeds. As stomachs grow, so does the time between meals. Simple, right? Yet often overlooked.

By one year, most children are eating about 6 times per day, with the last meal typically consisting of milk or a breastfeeding session. Toddlers tend to eat every 2-3 hours (5-6 meals) while preschoolers may be able to go 3 hours between meals. The important thing to keep in mind here is that the typical “factory meal plan” mentality of 3 full meals a day that most working adults are used to, does not apply to young children and should not be expected of them.

There is also another related fact here; young children burn calories faster than adults. This is because of a higher metabolic rate along with a higher level of activity.

The term Metabolic Rate refers to the amount of chemical energy a person frees from their body per unit time; or in simpler words, Metabolism is the rate in which ones body burns off and utilizes calories. Children have a much higher rate than adults and so they burn more calories than adults do. Children are also hugely more active than adults and so whatever calories they consume, get burned off faster.

Now you know that your child will be asking for “fuel” every 2 to 3 hours. So, what do you offer to her? The important thing is that the foods in between meals should be nutrient-dense so as to help fill nutritional gaps. It is our responsibility then, as adults, to offer only such snacks that are “nutrient-dense” rather than “calorie-dense”. We know it is convenient to grab a bag of chips, cookies or a chocolate bar. It is already packed, easily available, high in salt or sugar (so the child will not refuse), and there is no hassle of preparation. But halt! There are other quick choices (Preparation time: 1 to 5 minute) - how about cucumber or carrot sticks, dry fruits, a glass of milk, a slice of melon, an orange or an apple or even a banana, homemade soup, oatmeal or vermicillini in milk, a slice of cheese, a bowl of Indian yoghurt, peanut butter on whole wheat toast, whole grain low sugar cereal, a boiled egg, popcorn, paneer cubes or a fruit smoothie!? Yumm!!

Happy Parenting!

Priti Srivastava, Founder CEO, Vidyarambh

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