Thursday, September 19, 2013

Interview: Tips to introduce yoghurt to toddlers from dietician Ms Jenny Ng

Do you like yoghurt? Do your children like yoghurt? Do you know that contrary to popular belief, it is actually safe to feed yoghurt to babies below one year old? When I say yoghurt, I'm not referring to yoghurt drinks that come in the distinctive small bottles. I'm referring to those that come in a tub.

Yoghurt is actually a staple food for babies in the West. I just have to look at my nephew who lives in Australia. Since he was eight  months old, he has been eating as much yoghurt as he has been drinking milk.

So what is yoghurt, and how should parents here introduce this healthy food to their kids?

I am very happy to introduce Ms Jenny Ng, Principal Dietician and CEO & Founder of MindYourDiet. A mother of three adorable children, Ms Ng shares with us what we should look out for when introducing yoghurt to our children.


What is yogurt? 
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product which can come from numerous mammal milk, usually cow's or goat's milk.

Why is yoghurt great for children?
There are several reasons why yogurt is a great snack for children. It is a rich source of calcium and it contains probiotics. These are living organisms that help promote intestinal health and may prevent diarrhea. Yogurt is also high in protein and is great for helping active kids maintain their energy intake throughout the day. Yogurt also contains lesser lactose than milk, hence it is generally better tolerated.

In which countries, is yogurt a common food for young children? Why?
Yogurt is a common food in the Middle Eastern countries, Eastern Europe, India and Greece. This is because yogurt is a big part of the diet, e.g. Mediterranean diet, as a cooking ingredient, or snack, appetizers or dessert. Hence, babies in these regions and countries get exposed to yogurt at a young age.

Why is yogurt not common food for young children in Singapore? What are the common myths regarding yogurt?
Yogurt isn't a common food for young children in Singapore because it is not a big part of our culture and cuisine (other than Indian). Chinese and Malay cuisine do not include yogurt in their diet routinely and traditionally. Also, there is common misconception of yogurt by many elderly (who are usually the caregiver for most young children) that yogurt is "cold" food and causes cough and phlegm. Thus they don't give it to the young children. Some elderly even believe that yogurt is "spoilt" because of the tardiness of it!

What should parents look for when choosing yogurt for children below one year old & above one year old? What are your buying tips?
Parents have to ensure that they are choosing full-fat yogurts, and not low-fat or non-fat for baby or young children below 2 years old. Children above 2 years old can be given low fat dairy products and yogurt too. Look out for and avoid artificial flavourings, colourings or sweeteners while buying yogurt. Also, check for the expiry date to make sure that you're buying fresh batch of yogurt. Try to go for small individual tubs of yogurt so as to minimize wastages or contamination to the remaining yogurt in the half finished big tub.

How do parents introduce yogurt to their children, below one year old & above one year old?
As a first introduction, choose natural yogurt, preferably those with no sugar/ less sugar added. Perhaps breakfast or mid-morning feed is a good time to try. Allow your baby to grow familiar with the taste of yogurt and watch out for his reaction. Same as introducing any new food to your baby, do not force feed. After your baby adapts to the taste and there is no sign of any food allergy, you may try to give him more variety. By the time the baby is approaching 1 year old, he should be in a routine of giving three or four meals a day. You may want to offer a healthy snack between meals depending on your baby’s sleeping pattern and how this fits in with mealtimes. Giving him a small tub of yogurt with full of chunky pieces of fresh fruits is not a bad idea during snack time!

For toddlers aged 3-4yrs, what is the best way to introduce yogurt to them? What other ingredients can parents add to the yogurt to make it more interesting? Can you share recipes?
We want toddlers to cultivate good eating habits, hence, it is a good idea to pair natural, low-fat yogurt with healthier options such as fresh fruits, granola, plain, crushed nuts or cereals. Yogurt can also be used as a bread spread or salad dressing.

Some simple recipes can be:
(A) Yogurt and granola parfait
1/4 cup granola
1/2 cup natural yogurt
Fresh strawberry or dried berries.
1. Place the granola in the bottom of a parfait glass or dish. Spoon the yogurt on top.
2. Decorate with sliced strawberry or dried berries.

(B) Salad dressing (For potato salad, garden salad or any salad of the toddler's choice.)
1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1/3 cup low-fat natural yogurt
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper, to taste (optional)
1. Mix all ingredients together and pour it over salad.

Can alternatives such as flavoured yogurt, frozen yoghurt, yogurt drinks like Yakult be given to young children? Why?
Children above the age of 2 can be given flavoured yogurt, frozen yogurt, yogurt drinks like yakult as an alternatives. This is because they are able to accept a wider variety of flavours as well as texture. However, it would be advisable to opt for less sugar options, avoid artificial flavourings and colourings for these yogurt alternatives.

It is said that parents should always model if they want their children to inculcate a good & healthy eating habit. However, if the parents really do not like yogurt, are there tips they can use to introduce yogurt to their children?
Even if parents do not fancy eating yogurt on its own, they can still model good eating habits with yogurt by using it as a vegetable stick dip, a bread spread or salad dressing.
Always let your child try out the original taste of the yogurt, before using it as an ingredient of dressing or food.
Involve your child in the preparation of the food that involves yogurt, and explains to them that yogurt can be eaten on its own (which you would encourage your child to), but yogurt can also be part of another food (which is your preferred way of eating yogurt and it is still acceptable.

Note: This interview was made possible by NestlĂ©, which has just launched the new Nestle Cerelac Infant Cereals with Yogurt in two flavours: wheat & cherry apple and wheat & mango orange.

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