In my child nutrition clinic I see children from toddlerhood, early years and into primary school with diet related conditions.
The importance of child nutrition
We all know that food and nutrition is of central importance to the growth and development of young children. Childhood is such a busy learning time, and learning about food and eating is no exception. The essentials include the process of learning physical feeding skills; communicating needs, wants, likes and dislikes; how to respond to parent communication; how preferences and appetite are regulated. Then later on learning about what good food and healthy eating means. It’s good to remember that eating is a behaviour rather than a set of expectations or rules. Healthy eating is about learning to enjoy a wide range of nutritious foods, (as well as treat or celebration foods) and the social experience of eating together in a family or with others. Healthy eating also needs to meet a child’s needs for growth and development.
Much of this learning is experienced within the family, then later on with other carers, peers and teachers at nursery and school. Nutritionally, there is a trend towards over-consumption of sugars and low-consultation of fibres, with foods of low nutritional quality coming to the market earlier in the food learning journey. Diets which habitually contain foods low in nutritional quality impact a childs’ growth. Typically I use themes of structure, nurture and boundaries to support learning about food and eating. Children need a positive approach to learn about food and eating, and generally learn well when given encouragement, effective praise in a relaxed and playful environment. Positive experiences stay with children into adult life and shape their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours around food and eating. Using positive reinforcement helps foster that all-important good relationship with food throughout the journey of childhood.
Dietary Assessment Methods
Whatever the problem, the starting point, using various dietary assessment methods, is understanding the unique nutritional story for each child and family. This includes individual needs for age and sex; dietary intake and nutrient profile, together with growth and feeding history. Some history of the child’s development and behaviour as it relates to food and feeding is integrated to the assessment. I offer dietary treatment plans which reinforce healthy eating practices, meet nutritional needs for growth and incorporate play-based learning. I will also create/select/provide resources to help parents/careres manage food-related behaviour. For children with complex feeding needs eg. extreme food refusal and/or severe growth faltering, with or with a chronic condition I can signpost to or work alongside other professionals such as Psychologists, Speech and language therapists and/or Paediatricians.