Fortified food and supplements cannot replace natural foods when it comes to nutrition.

A healthy and balanced diet is imperative for optimal growth and development of children. But what does one do when their kid is a fussy or picky eater, or only gorges on junk food, chips and oily snacks? As a parent, sure you are concerned about your kid's health.

Today there's a multitude of products such as health drinks and fortified food that claim to be the ‘best' for kids. Earlier the focus was on natural and home-cooked food. Or today's Gen Y pizzas, burgers and colas are the staple diet. Parents should know how to make children aware of nutritional requirements and also which products to use.

Intake of proteins, minerals and vitamins must be highlighted in a child's diet as these are essential for the body. These must be tried to be included as far as possible with natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, milk and fish. But if the child is a fussy eater, there is no harm in resorting to alternatives like nutritional drinks, fortified cereals, juices and milk, and health supplements.

Primary source

A primary source of nutrition for growing kids is milk, which has vitamins A, D, and B12, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium, among other nutrients. Many kids refuse to drink milk as they do not like either the taste or smell. In such cases, adding something tasty as well as nutritious can help. Such additives have mainly either cocoa or malt to enhance the flavour of milk. The choice of a health drink can be tricky but a comparison of various products and their nutritional content can help you make an informed decision.

Alternatively ask your family doctor for advice. Fortified milk, which contains added minerals, vitamins and iron, is another option. These essential nutrients not only help in overall development but also safeguard the child against infections such as cold and flu.

Poor lifestyle choices such as eating processed and junk food over natural foods, skipping meals and over or under-eating, stress and contact with an ill person are the main causes of infection as they compromise immunity.

Immune system

Good nutrition is key to a strong immune system. Eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of water, regular exercise and adequate amount of sleep are some ways by which the possibility of infections can be reduced. A child's immune system is still developing and they are the most likely victims of infections. Some vitamins, minerals and other nutrients protect and repair cells and fight free radicals, which interfere with the immune system. Building a strong immune system is paramount in keeping colds, flu and other infections away. Colourful fruits and vegetables — especially purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow colours — are the best natural sources for antioxidants. But if these are not supplied by the diet, experts suggest supplements especially if there is deficiency.

While taking supplements under a doctor's observation is not a bad idea, do not depend completely on them. Supplements may help build immunity but cannot replace a balanced diet. The best way is to take the natural route to health as foods as close to nature, in their unprocessed and unaltered forms, are the most nutritious and harmless.

Nutrients in foods

Milk: Calcium, Vitamin A, D, E, K, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium

Green Vegetables: Fibre, Folic Acid, Iron, Vitamin C, K, Potassium, Magnesium

Fruits: Vitamin A, C, Folic Acid, Potassium

Pulses: Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals

Nuts: Protein, Fibre, Vitamin B, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Magnesium

Eggs: Vitamin A, D, Protein, Folate, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sodium