The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Feeding of Growing Children.

by J. Roberson Day, M.D. (Lond.)
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 332-341

The appetite for food is one which demands satisfaction--whatever our circumstances in life, wherever we may be placed, this must always be a first consideration. This appetite we share in common with the lower animals, and, however much we may deplore the fact, we cannot deny that, in order to live, we must eat. Alas, that we should have to confess that there are many who live to eat.

There is probably no question upon which greater ignorance prevails, notwithstanding the importance of the subject. The good old rule to live on sixpence a day and earn it is now never observed, or is certainly "more honoured in the breach than the observance." Dining and feasting have always been a fine art with a certain class of the community. We have records of the Roman feasts sufficiently appalling, and at the present day our City Dinners and Lord Mayor's Banquets very closely resemble them. But, someone may say, they have their advantages. How would the charity get on without its annual dinner, when, the guests being well fed, that sweet spirit of beneficence steals over the assembled company, generosity is at its height, the purse-strings unloose, and the secretary rakes in the shekels!

If this is true in the case of the adult, it is pre-eminently so in the case of children. We know how children are influenced by their environment, and it behoves us as parents to set an example before them in the matter of eating as well as other things. We had an instance of a house-surgeon, not long ago, who felt himself hardly used because at the hospital he had to eat an early dinner. This important function he considered should be reserved for the evening. Evidently he came from a home where these gastronomic events played an important part. I need hardly say this was the only way in which he distinguished himself during his term of office.

We too often begin at the wrong end--we tickle the palate with dainties and sundry "relishes" in order to produce an appetite, or stimulate a desire for food--whereas we should seek to surround our children with such healthy occupations that the simple repast is eagerly taken, and with relish, even the Spartan black broth is appreciated because there is the seasoning of fatigue. There is too little "plain living and high thinking" with us; the tendency of the age seems all the other way. Children's parties are now becoming quite important festivals, where late hours are observed, and generally in the inclement winter months. There are ball programmes also and supper menus, and after all this excitement and improper food, the little ones are fetched home cross, weary, and often very sick. It is on the following day that the penitent parents send for the doctor.

It has been pointed out to me that it is tautology to speak of growing children. I grant you all children grow, but not always in stature and comeliness, they necessarily grow older as we all do, and, let us hope, also better and wiser with increasing years; but it is to emphasise the direct relation there is in children between feeding and growing that I have selected this title.

To a very large extent, we have in our own hands the means of rearing healthy and graceful children--and this fact is not generally recognised. In the case of large families, and where circumstances are somewhat straightened, there may be some excuse for not giving the individual attention and care which is necessary to make the delicate child strong.

It is difficult to consider the subject of feeding apart from exercise--which is so necessary to child life--indeed, all who have had anything to do with children are aware that a healthy child is an illustration of perpetual motion!

I do not hesitate to say that a child with the soundest constitution may be ruined for life (physically and to some extent mentally) by improper feeding. There are some diseases which are the direct result of unsuitable food, such as rickets and scurvy, besides a host of unnamed troubles depending on weakened digestion, enfeebling and debilitating the frame.

Life may be divided into five epochs:--Infancy, Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. As parents, we are concerned only with the first three divisions, but these embrace the most important periods of life, for, although it may not be possible by taking thought to add a cubit to the stature, yet it is certainly possible, by want of care, to take a cubit off the stature.

There are certain fundamental principles which guide us in our selection of foods, and all classes of foods may be grouped into four divisions, viz:--
(1) Proteids or Nitrogenous.
(2) Fats.
(3) Amyloids.
(4) Salts.

The Proteids include all meats, the flesh of animals, birds, and fish, cheese and eggs. They are all rich in the element Nitrogen, which is essential for our life.

The Fats embrace oils, butter, and cream.

The Amyloids are a large group consisting of sugars, starchy foods--the carbohydrates--e.g., rice, sago, tapioca, and all cereals and many vegetables,--notably the potato.

The Salts include common table salt and the many other earthy salts which enter into the formation of our bones and tissues, such as Lime, Phosphates, Carbonates, etc. These we take in combined with other foods, vegetables and cereals being rich in them.

It is necessary for life that we should partake of a diet composed of all these four bodies. No one class would supply us with a complete food for any length of time, and thus it is that a mixed diet is an essential, and strange to say, long before this was scientifically known, man had so combined his various foods. Besides our instincts which guide us to this, we have evidence in the formation of our teeth that we were intended for a mixed diet. This, to my mind, is a conclusive answer to the vegetarian. Had we been intended to feed exclusively on a vegetable diet, our dentition would have corresponded with that of the sheep or cow. The vegetable-feeding animals are enabled to get sufficient nitrogen because they take in such enormous quantities of food. The vegetarian's difficulty is the nitrogen--the proteid element--and unless he takes cheese and eggs in abundance, he has to depend on lentils and cereals to supply this, which he must eat in enormous quantities.

It is also obvious that we could not subsist on a purely fat diet. Moreover, our diet must vary with our age and the amount of work and kind of work we are doing.

It would appear absurd to offer beefsteak to a child of a year old, but it is equally absurd to expect an octogenarian to digest it. The diet of the extremes of life should be very similar.

Again, we all know that when taking much exercise, we require more food than when leading a sedentary life, and, further, we find we can digest things on our holidays which at home we dare not touch. These are the occasions when the dyspeptic, after his exhilarating ten miles' walk, can sit down and enjoy his bread and cheese and Bass' ale.

The quantity also should vary with the age of the individual. During the periods of active growth we require food for two purposes. First, to repair the waste tissues, which daily require replenishing, and, secondly, an excess of food to build up the increasing frame. This explains the enormous quantities of food which schoolboys manage to put away and to which I shall again refer.

When the full stature is attained, which occurs earlier in women than in men, less food is required; and here, perhaps, the greatest mistakes in living are committed. The adult forgets he has ceased to grow, and only requires now sufficient food to maintain the equilibrium between waste and repair; yet he still goes on eating, and the result is soon seen in a well-marked rotundity of his frame, until he becomes "a huge hill of flesh." I am not prepared to say there is as much harm done by over-eating as by over-drinking, but it is, undoubtedly, a predisposing cause of many diseases.

We cannot properly consider the feeding of the growing child unless we commence at the beginning of life, and although I am reluctant to introduce "the infant mewling and puking in the nurse's arms," to an assembly composed of fathers as well as mothers--for this is a matter which concerns the latter almost entirely--still, so great is the importance of this period of life, that I will ask the fathers to take a back seat while I address the mothers only. These are the little patients who come in crowds to our hospitals, and mostly suffering from the same cause--improper feeding.

If a child is unfortunately obliged to be reared by artificial means, milk only should be used, suitably modified, according to the age of the infant, until eight or nine months old--a good pattern of the old feeding-bottle should be used, without a tube, and no "comforter" or other abomination should be permitted. These things favour the growth of germs in the milk which lead to fermentation, especially in hot weather. The most scrupulous cleanliness is essential with all the vessels containing the milk for the same reasons. It cannot be too strongly impressed on the minds of mothers that milk, and milk only, should be the food for the first nine months of life. The great mistake that is generally made is to substitute some other food, frequently a patent food, more or less starchy in character, and lacking the freshness of milk. I am frequently told the child "did not seem satisfied," and so a friend or neighbour suggested such and such a food upon which her child did so well, quite forgetting the circumstances of the two children may be totally different. This ignorance is by no means confined to the poorer classes, where it seems to vary inversely as the size of the family, but also is to be met with in the higher walks of life. This is an age of patent foods, and the mischievous advertisements which herald these foods to the public are to a large extent responsible for this.

We pass insensibly from infancy to childhood, and as nature never moves abruptly in these matters, so we here gradually introduce a farinaceous diet--but always remember that milk is the staple diet through growing life. It is a great misfortune when children will not take milk, as occasionally happens, and often it is due to a want of variety in their food. To be always fed on rice-pudding, especially if not very well made, is enough to turn any child from milk puddings--thus we should endeavour to vary the food as much as possible. Eggs and gravy of meat may now be added, but a taste for meat should not be encouraged. Vegetables, well-cooked and varied, are good, as also are stewed fruits. Bread and butter is generally much liked by children and is very wholesome, and it is well to vary the kind of bread from time to time--brown bread, Hovis, Germ, Plasmon, etc., all make pleasant changes. Sugar is a very useful and wholesome article of diet and may be given freely. It is not sugar that destroys the teeth. We have only to look at the pearly teeth of the negroes, who eat so much sugar-cane, to disprove that--it is much more likely the biscuit, given at bed time, which, forming a paste in the mouth, fills up the interstices of the teeth, where is ferments and destroys the enamel.

(* Biscuit, as in, cookie.)

As I have mentioned teeth, which are so essential in feeding, a few remarks upon them will be germane to our subject.

We all have two sets of teeth--I am not now alluding to those supplied by the dentist, many of us having a double set of these, one in actual use and one at home in case of accidents--but I am speaking of the teeth supplied by nature. The first set are deciduous--their appearance is often associated with considerable constitutional disturbance, and they may be considered the test of the constitution, and are a very important guide to the progress a child is making.

There are twenty teeth in all of this set, and in a normally developed child, they should all be cut by about the end of the second year.

The first teeth appear at about six or seven months old, and at twelve months there should be twelve teeth, and, as I have said, at two years old the set of twenty should be complete. If these teeth are late in coming through there is something wrong, and the commonest cause is rickets, which has been induced by improper feeding. Or, in others, the gums may be spongy and bleed readily and the teeth appear loose--a condition met with in scurvy, also due to improper food. Again, they may decay early, and this is a point of great importance, because these teeth have to do duty till the permanent ones appear, and besides the suffering they produce, if they are extracted, they cause the permanent ones to come irregularly.

Parents should insist on these teeth being kept clean, and if they begin to decay, a temporary stopping can be used. Bad teeth are a source of much danger. The pain they cause is very wearing, and, moreover, it interferes with proper mastication. The food is then swallowed whole and indigestion results, leading to a gradual breakdown in health. Again, carious teeth lead to abscesses in the gums, the pus from which, by absorption into the system, acts as a septic poison inducing anaemia and lowered vitality. These twenty temporary teeth then have to do duty till they are replaced by the permanent ones, so it is well worth while taking care of them. I wish to emphasise this point because I find parents so commonly express surprise that it should be thought worth while to take any care of these teeth. I find very few nurses who will conscientiously clean children's teeth.

The first of the permanent set to appear are what are called the six-year molars. They appear with remarkable punctuality behind the last temporary molars, and from now onwards every year new teeth are added until twelve years old.

An interval now elapses of variable duration until the last four teeth appear, commonly called wisdom teeth, which complete the set of thirty-two.

Regularity in the time of meals is important, and eating between meals should never be permitted.

During the period of Youth a much greater latitude may be permitted in the variety of the food, and, naturally, with the increasing size of the child, the amount consumed is much greater. Now is the time when paterfamilias wonders wherever all the food goes to.

This, too, is the time of life when schools have to be thought of, and other considerations often enter in, which may remove the child from the parent's watchful eye.

The quantity of food now required is considerable, and the quality should be of the best, while all luxuries are to be avoided or reserved for special occasions. Unwholesome sweets are to be avoided and all rich living.

At the present day we are fortunate in being able to send our children to schools where the authorities take an intelligent interest in the feeding of the children. The days of men like "Squeers" are almost over, and the lot of the present generation of children is very greatly improved.

Nothwithstanding, we do occasionally meet with a bad cook who tries our tempers and our digestions with her vile concoctions--and these cooks frequently gravitate to schools--here the scholars are regaled with stick-jaw puddings and "resurrection" pies. I grant that the youthful mind is ever ready to take a pessimistic view of its surroundings, but still there are often solid facts which give rise to these fictions. Caterpillars appear in the vegetables and the food is served badly, on cold plates.

The master or mistress may neglect this department of the school, considering it infra dig. "to serve tables."

Children also vary considerably in their tastes and mode of eating. Some dislike fats, some bolt their food, some eat slowly, others quickly and frequently; the big and greedy boy secures the best portions, and the weakest goes to the wall. The sense of shame for such conduct does not seem to develop at this age. A mischievous practice exists in some schools of making an extra charge for supplying a better meal. Thus some boys, more happily circumstanced than others, get eggs and bacon for breakfast, while the poorer ones have to be content with bread and butter.

Now I contend that no one should be intrusted with the care of growing children who neglects this important part of his duty. It is impossible to train the mind apart from the body, and if the best mental work is to be got out of a boy, he must be properly fed. The same remarks apply with even greater force to girls. We doctors frequently meet with girls who have been educated abroad at some cheap school, where the living was of the coarsest, and, consequently, during the most critical time of life for building up a sound constitution, this poor living has left a weakly frame, shattered for life. These schools, like many other things made abroad, are cheap and nasty. Parents should not select a school for its cheapness. The question of how the children are fed should always be of the first importance, and conversely, if parents pay a good price for their children's education, they have a right to expect them to be properly fed.

There should be no difficulty in catering for a large school--the difficulty is always with the small family. The meats should be tender, fresh, and well-cooked. Vegetables abundant, well washed and well served. Milk, of all things, should be from an unimpeachable source, and the puddings prepared with care. How seldom is porridge well-made at school, and yet it is one of the best of foods, and, if properly prepared, can be taken constantly for breakfast with an untiring relish.

The children should always have sufficient time to eat their meals, and no tasks or punishments should ever make them late for meals. The master should dine with the boys, if not constantly, at any rate frequently, and he should not have any regular place at table, but take his seat amongst the boys anywhere and without previous notice.

The hours of the meals at school are important. The ideal plan should be:--Breakfast at Eight, Dinner at One, Tea at Six. The breakfast and dinner should be the best meals, the tea should be abundant but lighter. This is a matter of very great import, and the plan which I believe exists in some schools of giving a heavy supper at eight or nine o'clock is highly to be condemned; such a meal induces dreams and a disturbed sleep.

If there is any work done early in the morning, before the regular breakfast, a cup of cocoa and bread and butter should be first taken. No good work can be done on an empty stomach. Plenty of time should be allowed for meals, which should be served punctually.

Breakfast should consist of such things as porridge--varied from time to time, e.g., oatmeal, Quaker oats, hominy, or bread and milk. Then eggs or bacon or fish, which may be cooked in various ways, our object being always to secure variety without having recourse to luxuries. Bread and butter should be good and abundant, tea or coffee, with plenty of milk, will form the beverage.

Delicate children may require milk and biscuits at 11 o'clock.

The Dinner at One should be the chief meal--and here the greatest variety is possible. Soups, roasts, plenty of vegetables as they are in season, and in summer with cold meats, salads.

Puddings should always form a conspicuous part, and are capable of infinite variation. Children are always fond of sweets, and their taste should be gratified in a lawful way--there would then be less danger of these dainties being sought in the "tuck" shops. Stewed fruits are always obtainable, fresh in summer, dried in winter. Cheese is a valuable article of diet, and by strong children can be eaten with benefit.

(Wikipedia says, "A tuck shop is a small, food-selling retailer . . . typically sells confectionery finger-food, such as sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and so on.")

Tea at Six should be abundant, but lighter in character. No butcher's meat, but such things as eggs, dried fish, potted meat, bread and butter, lettuces, jams, marmalade.

At 8.30 or Nine p.m. a glass of milk and bread and butter or biscuit may be given.

The question of alcohol is a very important one. There is no doubt that all children are best without any intoxicating drink. It has now been abundantly demonstrated that such things are unnecessary for the healthy adult, and can only be harmful to the growing child. There still prevails the practice, at some of our older schools, of giving beer to the older boys. it is quite time this was stopped, and more attention paid to the supply of good water, and in summer ginger-beer or lemonade and oatmeal water might very well be provided on the cricket field.

But it is not only at schools where this danger exists--it is in our own homes! Alas, that I should have to record it, at a children's party, given in this enlightened Hampstead not long ago, champagne was set before the children, and little ones, who had never tasted wine before, drank of it and became intoxicated! Yes, you may well be horrified--we have an insidious enemy to fight here, and the mischief that may result from some hereditary predisposition, no one can tell. I could give other instances of an equally painful kind, but enough--"Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also."

You may perhaps have seen those curious little Japanese trees--only a few inches high--stunted and distorted, but some of them quite ancient, or those trained and distorted lime trees at Oxford. They are all interesting from their very abnormality, but just contrast them with the majestic oak, the stately cedar, or the lofty pines as found in nature!

Which do you wish your children to become? for it is a matter which to a considerable extent rests with you to determine. It is true that all children are not equally favoured--

For good ye are and bad, and like to coins,
Some true, some light, but everyone of you
Stamped with the image of the King.

Yes, every little child has this image, faintly marked in some, but stronger in others, and it is our delightful task to strengthen this image.

Sound, healthy children of the God of heaven
Are cheerful as the rising sun in May.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July, 2010