In my paediatric nutrition clinic I see children from infancy to 11 years with a variety of diet related conditions including food refusal, food allergy and intolerances and gastro-intestinal problems.
Food and nutrition is of central importance to young children, as they learn feeding skills, develop preferences and appetite and about what balanced healthy eating means. Much of this is learned through their family and social environment and later on at school. Most children in the UK consume adequate amounts of foods to meet their needs for energy and nutrients. However our increasingly inactive lifestyles encourage over-consumption of energy from fat and sugar-rich foods, but also under-consumption of fibre, fruits and vegetables, posing challenges to healthy eating in childhood and impact on later adult health.
Although my primary focus is in assessing nutritional intake, individual needs and identifying nutritional gaps, because feeding is experiential, a solid understanding of child feeding behaviour & development is very much part of my skill-set. Children do however develop a variety of feeding difficulties in childhood, some of which are focused around behaviour, eg. with food refusal, and some of which are medical eg. coeliac disease whilst other are functional eg. constipation. In my paediatric nutrition clinic I help individuals and families understand and manage their particular problem using a dietary assessment in the first instance. Children with more complex feeding needs eg. extreme food refusal and severe growth faltering are best approached from a multi-disciplinary team of paediatric professionals.
I believe that children need a positive approach to food and nutrition to learn about healthy eating and I understand they learn best when given encouragement, praise and have fun. Positive experience in early childhood stays with them into adult life and shapes their attitudes, beliefs and behaviour around food. I use and encourage families to use positive reinforcement strategies with children in all my consultations to foster a good relationship with food.