Posted on November 10 2020
Improve your child's health and nutrition by following TCM foods and guidelines for your child, and build a healthy relationship with food. Let your little one start on soft, cooked vegetables to strengthen his/her spleen. Start your child off with a diet guided by TCM principles, helping them build good eating habits and a healthy relationship with food.
TCM Perspective: Children’s Systems
Physician Zhou Jing from Thomson Chinese Medicine says, “in TCM, it is believed that a child tends to have weaker lungs and digestion, while their liver energy tends to be in excess.” Hence, this may be the reason that children are likely to suffer from digestion issues such as bloating or constipation. Other problems children may face include respiratory problems like sinus and flu.
Zhou Jing adds, “the excess liver energy manifests as the tendency for children’s temperature to spike really high and even have febrile seizures during a fever.” Additionally, children have a warmer constitution than adults, thus they sweat easily and have heaty symptoms like sore throats or nose bleeds.
Diet for Babies and Children
As refreshing as some cold foods may be, it's best to avoid giving these to your little ones as it taxes their digestive systems.
Physician Ng Pu Jue from Eu Yan Sang says, “benefits of a TCM diet would include improved immunity and a way to naturally maintain a child’s health.” This can be done, he says, “through a focus on building up the ‘qi’ in the lungs and spleen”. You can use herbs and start your child on the appropriate diet for him/her.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to your little one’s diet is that everything should be easily digested. Some examples of foods that children should avoid include too much oily, fatty, raw or cold foods. Zhou Jing says that these cold items “will impede and weaken their vulnerable digestive system.” Eating too much of these may cause indigestion, abdominal pain or loss of appetite. Eating a spleen-friendly diet can help stave off childhood obesity and other symptoms like constipation.
If a child has weak digestion and is underweight, he/she can eat 山药 (shān yào) or Chinese yam and 麦芽 (mài yá) or malt. These can help strengthen children’s Spleen-Stomach digestive system, and also boost their bodily constitution. For children who fall sick easily or have recurring sinus and cough, Zhou Jing recommends they take “more walnuts and cordyceps in their daily diet to improve their lung functions.”
Focus on giving your child more plant-based whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits and grains as compared to meats, eggs and dairy products. Such a ratio is due to children’s digestive systems, which may find animal-based products harder to digest. Of course, they’re still a valuable resource. Where possible, eat what is in season and locally sourced as these are fresher with more nutrients. Additionally, try to give your child colourful and lightly cooked vegetables, which contain loads of antioxidants to improve their health. Leafy vegetables are important as they are nutrient dense.
Zhou Jing adds, “they can neutralise toxins in our bodies and boost our immune system to fight off viruses like influenza and HFMD.” Aside from giving them a balanced diet, Zhou Jing also says, “they should drink more fluids to stay well hydrated and sleep early to build up their immunity to be able to fight against external pathogens.”
Sleep and Lifestyle Factors
Aside from a healthy, balanced diet, Pu Jue advises children to get at least 12 hours of sleep per day, in general, with plenty of outdoor play, especially in the morning. This helps to boost Yang Qi, essential for a child’s healthy development. He adds, “one other tip would be to provide moderate exposure to cold, especially during the ages of three and seven”. It’s believed that this can help train a child’s resistance to external pathogens.
Age Appropriate Foods
For your little ones, start them on vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, and then later on broccoli - just ensure that they are well cooked, pureed and baby-friendly.
Zhou Jing shares, “weaning is an important milestone for a child as it builds their digestive system to start accepting solid food.” It also helps set the stage for their bodily development, including fine motor skills and speech. Zhou Jing also recommends introducing “a variety of food items and flavours”, which will help them accept different tastes and prevent them from being picky about their food. However, she cautions, “avoid feeding them too much solid at the initial phases of weaning as it may lead to indigestion and bloating.”
Pu Jue recommends giving solid foods “incrementally after four months, and the process should not be rushed.” One product that little ones can start with is the Brown Rice Si Shen Powder. This is a natural, preservative, artificial flavouring and colouring-free herbal blend that is easy for babies to digest. However, do note that the World Health Organisation and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and introduce solids to complement breastfeeding thereafter.
Six Months to One Year
Start your little one on spleen nourishing foods when he/she is six to eight months old. These include sweet potatoes and yams, yellow beets, peas, cabbage, cooked apples and cherries. Such foods should be baked or steamed and then pureed. If you’re doing baby led weaning, the foods should be soft enough to be mashed between your fingers.
Other foods you can begin introducing to your child at seven to nine months include vegetables like broccoli and bok choy. Aside from this, try wild salmon and organic chicken, homemade chicken stock. Cook this in organic virgin coconut oil, avocado oil or butter. These fats help keep them fuller for longer and also helps their brain function efficiently. Additionally, they help to protect your little one’s digestive tract.
Between nine and 12 months, you can introduce other foods like gluten free oats, organic rice, and quinoa, potatoes, and cooked berries. Seeds like pumpkin, chia, flax and sunflower are also great, just make sure they’re ground into a powder then mixed into foods. After giving them these foods, do look out for any food allergies. Common ingredients are gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, yeast and eggs. For these foods, introduce them one at a time for three days. If your baby has no reactions, you can introduce the next food. Once these potential allergens have been introduced, continue to include them in your baby’s diet at least twice a week.
What to Avoid
As far as possible, avoid giving your child processed and junk foods such as potato chips as these are highly processed and difficult for your little ones to digest.
Where possible, avoid processed and junk foods, refined sugar, fruit juice and soda. Zhou Jing adds, “this leads to poor eating habits and harms their overall digestion and nutrient uptake.” It’s preferable to avoid normal wheat and dairy as they are highly processed and can be difficult for your little ones to digest. If you can afford it, opt for hormone-free and organic animal products.
Moreover, you’ll want your child to develop their sense of smell and taste at their own paces. Hence, avoid adding flavourings or condiments to their food. These could include salt, soy sauce, sugar, pepper, garlic, ginger, oil or vinegar.
Eating too much sugar results in what TCM considers to be “dampness and heat.” These manifest in your child as excess mucus and phlegm in the lungs, stomachs and intestines, or fever, irritability, vomiting and nightmares. Counter your child’s proclivity towards sweets with healthy, savoury and delicious main meals, or with spices to balance out the sweet.
How Much and When to Eat
Make sure your child gets the right amount of food at regular times every day, with two-hour intervals to ensure your child’s food is digested properly.
Equally important is to ensure that they’re eating the right amount of food at the same time every day. Space meals and snacks two hours apart to allow the digestive system enough time to rest between meals. Provide appropriate amounts of food at these times and let them choose how much to eat. This prevents overloading their digestive system and helps your child create a healthy relationship with food.
As the spleen can be damaged when overeating anything, even breast milk, try not to overfeed your little one. Additionally, mealtimes should be as enjoyable and stress-free as possible, so do not discipline your child for not eating right. When they get sick, avoid meat, and offer them easily digestible food such as congee upon recovering. When eating, try not to do so with screen-time as this has been linked to long-term obesity as well as Attention Deficit Disorder.
Giving Your Child Supplements
As far as possible, children should obtain their nutrition from their daily food intake. Zhou Jing adds, “They should aim to build up their digestive system from young to eat a great variety of food to assimilate essential nutrients from different nutrient groups.” These should comprise carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. She recommends children take supplements only if they are malnourished or have a restricted diet, e.g., vegetarian or if they are gluten or dairy intolerant. For children who tend to fall sick easily, they can also take some Vitamin C.
Pu Jue recommends choosing supplements that maintain the function of gut flora and improve the spleen function, as these can increase their immunity to ward off any illnesses.