Down Syndrome in Children and Diet-Related Issues
Children with Down Syndrome have a set of specific diet-related barriers, including a smaller oral cavity and reduced muscle tone, teeth forming and developing in later stages, and difficulties coordinating sucking, swallowing and breathing while feeding. Aside from feeding issues, they have an increased risk of heart defects, thyroid disorders, diabetes, constipation, and structural problems of the gut. However, dietary guidelines are individualized to meet appropriate needs, as some conditions increase the risk of weight gain while others pose the concern of weight loss. Meeting with your primary care team can further determine nutritional needs by tracking growth patterns and addressing any additional issues, along with providing paralleled recommendations to meet the needs of your child.
Cultivating Healthy Eating Habits
Aside from accommodating individualized needs of your child, use the following strategies to enjoy and experience food together:
Color the Plate
The importance of eating fruits and veggies umbrellas all populations and the sooner they are introduced, tends to flourish more lasting, long-term habits. Enhance the appeal of produce by coloring and decorating the plate with various assortments, including crafting creative pictures.
Explore Foods Together
Whether it be at your local farmer’s market or in the store you frequent on a regular basis, explore foods together! Have fun looking at unfamiliar foods and give them a try in various forms, including raw, sautéed, and roasted.
Cook and Bake in the Kitchen
Allow kids to cook and bake in the kitchen! Hands-on activities are not only fun, but introduces them to cooking techniques. This allows them to understand how simple ingredients can transform into flavorful meals. Equally important, try to keep calm and patient in the kitchen, as messes are bound to happen!
Involve Your Child in Menu Planning
In addition to cooking and baking together, expose them to the entire process of menu planning. Developing a daily or weekly menu encourages creativity and strategic thinking of what well-balanced meals and snacks should entail.
Experiment with Water Flavors
Along with eating nutritious foods, it is also important to hydrate the right way. Especially considering children with Down Syndrome have an increased risk of constipation, drinking enough fluids can help keep bowels regular. So ditch the sugary sodas and juices and increase water intake, including experimenting with various flavors. A dietitian can further discuss milk options to meet appropriate calcium requirements.
Eat Meals Together at A Table
Sitting down and eating meals together at a table is valuable in promoting social interactions and forming good relationships with food. Along with eating together, teach proper table etiquette, including how to set the table and saying “please” and “thank you.”
In addition to cultivation healthy eating practices, increase physical activity with your child. The following examples are simple and fun ways to get active together:
• Head to the park for a friendly game of kickball
• Take the family dog on a walk
• Join a family recreational center
• Enroll in swim lessons and enjoy a day at the pool
• Prepare an active scavenger hunt to deepen the enjoyment of walks, including things to find and try
• Walk or bike whenever possible
• Travel to a nearby trail and hike, along with packing a healthy picnic basket
• Teach them games you enjoyed as a child, including hopscotch, jump rope, and hide n’ seek
• As a family, volunteer to walk dogs, pick up trash, or any other opportunities in your local area
• Set up obstacle courses in the basement, garage, or any other open space
• Create a new dance routine to a favorite song