It seems fairly certain that the diet of primitive man, woman, and child largely consisted of fruits and nuts, and the natural relish of human beings of to-day for fresh fruit is the expression of the old instinct that such food is " good " for them.
When spring and summer come, fruits are more abundant. That is Nature's method of assuring us that they are particularly suitable as food during the hot weather. But at all seasons fruits and nuts have great nutritive properties, due largely to the sugars and peptones which they contain. There is a great deal of prejudice against fruit as an article of diet, particularly for children, but if fruit is ripe, sound, and of good quality, it is an extremely valuable food for children as well as for adults.
The fact that fruit is supposed to cause indigestion is probably due to the fact that it is generally partaken of as dessert after a meal which in itself would overtax the digestive organs. If fresh or stewed fruit is eaten alone even at night, the unpleasant symptoms produced by the combination of a much-mixed meal will certainly be absent. The fact that most children like fruit, and crave for it, especially in hot weather, is an evidence that it should frequently figure on the nursery menu.
Juicy fruits contain a large amount of water, which is needed by the body in hot weather, and an amount of digested food substance in the form of sugar, which is rapidly absorbed into the blood, and can be utilised at once in the form of energy. Fruit also encourages the flow of digestive juices.
In the third place the acids in the fruit act as germicides. For that reason it is a good thing to give a child a raw apple to eat after a meal. The juice in the apple cleanses the teeth, and destroys the germs which cause fermentation and decay. Lemon - juice has strong antiseptic properties, and has a destructive action upon the germs of many diseases, A great many " fruit cures " have been practised in Switzerland and America in recent years. No doubt the efficacv of the apple, peach, and grape cures is partly due to this action of fruit upon microbes.
Cooked fruit should be given almost, daily in the nursery. Baked apples, steamed figs, and prunes are excellent for this purpose. It is important for mothers to remember that fruit is a food, which should be taken at meal-times, and not given to children between meals. Fruits must be ripe and of the best quality. Strawberries, peaches, the scraped pulp of apples, pears, mashed bananas are all suitable, even for young children. Baked bananas are exceedingly nourishing. Bananas may also be stewed in milk, mashed, and served with cream to young children of twelve to eighteen months. Banana flour, too, is exceedingly wholesome and nourishing for children. Ripe, sweet apples digest very easily, but unripe apples should not be given to children because they cause irritation of the digestive organs. Pears may be cooked or eaten raw when perfectly ripe. Peaches and apricots, when in season, are excellent fruits in the nursery. The plum also is a valuable fruit, while the strawberry, when fresh, ripe, and clean, makes a delicious dish with sugar and cream.
Nuts are perhaps the most highly concentrated nutritious food-stuff we have. They contain a large amount of albumen and fat in an easily digested form, the fats being emulsified, and the starch being already converted into sugar whilst the albumen can readily be acted upon by the gastric juice. So long as nuts are thoroughly masticated they make an excellent food-stuff for children, whilst many nut preparations in the form of creams and butters can be obtained which are very suitable for nursery consumption. Crushed nuts, such as walnuts, make a delicious sandwich for children. The prejudice against nuts is due to two facts:
1. They are liable not to be properly masticated and are swallowed in little bits, when they are certainly indigestible. They must be masticated until they are converted into a creamy pulp, and for this reason they are best eaten with some hard biscuit or cracker, to secure thorough chewing. The various nut butters and nut creams are very much relished by children, and are essentially suitable for the nursery meals.
2. Nuts will prove indigestible, as would anything else, if they are eaten after sufficient food has already been taken. They are in no sense an etcetera of a meal. They are so highly concentrated in their nourishing value that they can take the place of meat. Nuts and fruits may appear at any meal in the nursery.
The ideal breakfast for a child consists of well-cooked cereal, such as porridge and fruit. Lightly poached or boiled egg with bread-and-butter and a mug of milk can be utilised to add variety on certain days of the week. Fruit may be given also at dinner, whilst the tea-supper in the nursery should always have some sort of preserved fruit, such as jelly, jam, or golden syrup. When jam is given, care must be taken that it is well masticated. There is no doubt that many pale, puffy children would very much improve in health if they were given less milk pudding and more fresh and cooked fruit at dinner-time. Too much starch, which rice puddings, etc., largely consist of, tends to make children dyspeptic, anaemic, and irritable in temper. In such cases well-chosen fruit should be substituted, and the result will be found extremely satisfactory'.