Childhood illness is on the rise. many kids are diagnosed with obesity, diabetes, asthma, chronic otitis media (ear damage), ADD, ADHD and more. Research has shown that the standard American diet causes or contributes to many of these diseases. It is imperative that parents know how to feed their children correctly at each stage of their lives and teach them the nutritional knowledge and habits they need for a lifetime of good health.

In Ayurveda, a child’s nutrition is divided into three stages: kshirup, the period of nursing; kshiranaad, the feeding of solid food mixed with milk; and anaad, solid food. In the kshirup stage, lasting six months to a year, the infant’s nutrition is his mother’s milk. Infant formula was designed to be a medical nutritional tool for babies who are unable to breast feed. Formula does not fully meet the nutritional and immunity needs of infants, leaving their immune systems failing. Babies who are breast fed are less likely to get sick with diarrhea, gastrointestinal illness, urinary-tract infections, respiratory disease or pneumonia and rarely suffer sudden infant death syndrome. They are less likely to have allergies, less likely to have later weight problems, less likely to have ear infections and–according to a study published in JAMA issue of May 8, 2002–more likely to be more intelligent.

In the kshiranaad stage from one to two years old, milk is slowly tapered off while side-by-side fruit juices, pulp, syrups, soups of pulses and vegetables are started. Rice, beans such as mung and lentils, different fruits (especially ripened bananas), nut milk, vegetables and milk products are excellent. Ayurvedic medicine does not recommend introduction of solids before six months of age.

The stage of solid food, annaad, begins at two. I highly recommend eating together as a family. It is a comforting ritual for both parents and kids. Children like the predictability of family meals, and parents get a chance to catch up with their kids. Studies have shown that kids who take part in regular family meals are also more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and grains, less likely to snack on unhealthy foods, less likely to smoke, use marijuana or drink alcohol. Involve your children in meal planning and preparation, especially your teens, as it will keep them interested in participating. Keep mealtime calm and congenial. The dinner table is not the place for parental lectures or sibling arguments.