During the early and school years
A varied diet including foods from all the main food groups helps protect children against nutritional deficiencies and supplements (with the exception of Vitamin D) are rarely needed. However, inactive lifestyles do appear to be related to and encourage over-consumption of sugars, and under-consumption of fibre, fruits and vegetables. This has a number of adverse effects on children’s health, including tooth decay and obesity which if not addressed in childhood will contribute to poor adult health. It is growing problem in young children and learning how to eat well continues to take shape throughout childhood. Making dietary change at this age, is a good investment, for it will help secure a good template for eating well right throughout adult life.
Growth faltering and nutrient deficiencies
For children with gastrointestinal, food allergy or chronic poor appetite, growth faltering and/or nutrient deficiencies maybe a problem. Determining the reason(s) for insufficient nutritional intake is the first step considering which dietary treatment options are likely to be successful. Those may include meal and snack planning, strategies to improve intake, education about foods and nutrients, food fortification or supplementation. Taking account of individual and family circumstances are needed to select the right nutritional approach, which in itself will help optimise working with the plan, and therefore the child’s growth and wellbeing. Paediatric Dietitians are the recognised experts in this field.
Food refusal is common
Food refusal is a common problem, and many parents worry their child is not eating enough and is at risk of nutrient deficiency. Children may display particular quirks with regard to their food choice, which may need unpicking, alongside challenging some beliefs or fears a child has about particular foods. Children’s first needs for growth are energy, then protein to build muscle and repair cells, with key minerals calcium for strong bones and and iron for vitality, appetite and concentration. A wide range of other nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium for energy, vitamins A, C, D and E to boost immunity and zinc, which is associated with height growth. Families may benefit from a few few good strategies for simple food refusal in the early years, which work well right throughout the school years. Most children go through a fussy phase, but so by showing them, by your own actions, what good food and positive eating behaviour is, provides the best example for them.
Seeking further help
Children with chronic or extreme food refusal and whose wellbeing and growth is seriously affected may benefit from a team approach, or need access/referral to other professionals. Onward referral for psychological help at 8akp Therapeutics Consultants or Paediatric Gastroenterology or speech therapy at Cambridge Paediatric Practice may be indicated. Carine works with both these teams.