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BLOG: Balanced Diets

Balanced Diets 

When children don’t get the right nutrients in their food, it can damage them in many ways. Here’s how we can support children and parents with their diet. 

Malnutrition is a serious problem. According to UNICEF-WHO-WB child malnutrition estimates, in 2020, 149 million children under 5 around the world had stunted growth, 45 million aff ected by wasting, and 39 million were overweight. It’s important that children’s diets contain the right nutrients and micronutrients for their growth and development.  

Faltering growth  

Bahee Van de Bor, a specialist paediatric dietitian in Harley Street, says: “When children do not consistently meet their daily requirements for energy, protein and micronutrients over a period of time, they may experience faltering growth. This could be a downward decline in weight centile on the growth chart as well as stunting, they may live with being overweight or obesity.” Bahee says that children need adequate intake from all the major food groups to meet their recommended nutrient intakes for normal growth. This includes iron to support normal cognitive function, fibre to keep bowels regular and vitamin D for its role in supporting immunity and healthy bones and teeth.  

Working with parents  

It’s important that you work with parents to ensure their child is enjoying a healthy balanced diet to stop any food-related issues starting. Tell-tale signs that children aren’t eating all the right foods they need could be frequent coughs and colds, constipation or a change in their bowel pattern, and nonphysical signs such as irritability or a change in mood (see Signs and symptoms, right). “Tiredness, lack of energy and sore gums can also be signs of a poor diet,” says Vikkie Murray, a childminder at Little Acorns Childminding in Banbury. “If a child appears to have lost weight, has reduced appetite that is prolonged after illness, or there’s a noticeable change in their stools, you should refer parents to a health visitor, GP or paediatric dietitian,” advises Bahee. If parents say they are feeding their children correctly, then conditions that could be related to symptoms or signs of malnutrition include food intolerances or an allergy to items such as dairy, or conditions such as diabetes. Again, parents should be advised to seek the help of a medical practitioner. 

New food experiences  

Practitioners have a crucial role to play in helping ensure a child’s diet is a healthy one. It’s also an EYFS (England) requirement and National Minimum Standards (Wales) requirement that children should have healthy, nutritionally balanced meals and snacks. HENRY, a charity that supports families to live a healthier lifestyle, has put together resources offering “lots of ideas on eating more widely, providing opportunities for tasting, feeling and experiencing new foods”, says Katy Crowe, HENRY’s Communications and Marketing Officer. Tips include “off ering a new food a number of times to help children become familiar with its smell, appearance, texture and taste”. Ensuring children are well hydrated is also vital, but squash, cordial or fi zzy drinks should be avoided. “Plain milk and water are the only drinks that are safe for children’s teeth,” says Vicky Sibson, Director of independent public health charity First Steps Nutrition. Healthy snacks, such as plain rice cakes or oat cakes with fruit or cheese, are an opportunity to off er young children additional energy and nutrients between meals, says Vicky. 

Make healthy fun  

Vikkie Murray cooks with children in her care every week, tries different foods “to broaden our palates”, and involves them in planting vegetables in her garden, and visits to the farm shop to encourage an interest in fresh products. She says that by looking at new ways to make healthy meals fun – and sharing this information with families to help promote a healthy eating message – “You can reignite a love of food within parents, and enhance the learning experience for their children, while making sure they are getting the best nutrition they can.” 

  1. Signs and symptoms of malnutrition  

  2. Unintentional weight loss or poor growth  

  3. Being overweight/obese  

  4. Lack of interest in eating or persistent food refusal  

  5. Chewing and swallowing problems  

  6. Sore gums  

  7. Exhaustion/lack of energy  

  8. Poor concentration Irritability 


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