Children come in all shapes and sizes. But if you’re noticing that your child is shorter than her friends at school, it’s natural to wonder, “is my child growing normally?”
Most children take well to eating solids for the very first time. Being naturally inquisitive, children will try a variety of gloopy and colourful tastes and textures. Unfortunately, as babies become toddlers, their tastes in foods begin to change dramatically.
As parents, this period may be particularly stressful leaving you worried about whether or not your child’s diet adequately meets their growing needs. This is a greater concern if your child is growing more slowly than their peers. Therefore, it is important to know what the ‘norm’ is when it comes to your child’s growth and development.
Registered dietitian Abigail Courtenay has answered a few questions commonly asked by moms.
What are the consequences of undernutrition/ underweight¹ ²:
Being underweight interferes with optimal growth and development as it is often related to nutrient deficiencies. Specific nutrients are required to support your child’s cognitive health, immunity and physical development.
What are the causes for slow growth?
There are many factors that could lead to slow growth namely:
- Poor appetite (this may also occur in healthy children)
- Acute or chronic illness
- Restrictive eating due to illness (like allergies) or misinformation
- Poor absorption (e.g. coeliac disease)
- Chewing or swallowing difficulties (e.g. children with cerebral palsy)
What is considered normal eating behaviour?
You can safely assume that children gaining weight appropriately according to their growth chart are getting enough to eat (even if you believe they should be eating more). Children from the ages of 3-5 years have demonstrated the ability to self-regulate their energy intake. Your child’s appetite will depend on a variety of factors such as level of tiredness, activity levels and growth spurts. Some children experience what is known as a food ‘jag’. This is when a child gets fixated on a certain type of food or food group and refuses all other foods. It is not clear how long these food jags last but often a child’s overall nutritional status is not affected by them. ¹
What can I do to help my child enjoy food more¹?
- Offer a variety of nutritious foods
- Repeat exposure to foods (sometimes it can take up to 15 repeated exposures before a food is liked/ tolerated)
- Scheduled meal and snack times (this makes eating a routine and assists in managing your child’s nutritional needs)
- Provide more frequent but smaller meals
- Be your child’s role model for healthy eating (i.e. eat healthy foods yourself!)
- Remove distractions at mealtimes (i.e. TV, tablets and phones)
What should I avoid doing¹?
- Don’t force or pressurise your child to eat
- Don’t prepare separate or special meals for your child
- Don’t give rewards for trying new foods
Why shouldn’t I force or pressurise my child to eat?
Pressuring young children to eat may cause overeating, which may lead to excessive weight gain, or may cause them to actually eat even less as a result of the stress. Either way, pressuring children to eat may upset your child’s natural appetite control system, resulting in them ignoring their internal hunger and satiety cues. ¹
When should I consider supplementation (in the form of a nutritional drink)?
If you are concerned about your child’s diet, observe slow growth patterns, or if your child is falling behind in height and weight, this could be a good opportunity to introduce a drink-type nutritional supplementation*. Drinks are often well tolerated by most children and can be made into fun and tasty snacks using a variety of flavours like hot chocolate or fruit puree. Drinks are preferential because they are easier to consume in-between meals, more than food, and may be more acceptable and manageable to a child.
* PediaSure® is a tasty and convenient nutritional drink that can be used to supplement a child’s diet during these times.
By giving two glasses of PediaSure® to your little one (as an early intervention) per day, you can support their nutritional status, promote healthy growth and normal development. ³
References and notes:
- Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition: Toddler and Preschool Nutrition – Influences on Appetite and Eating Behaviour. Key Practice Points. Last Updated: 2016-04-01.
- Mahan KL, Escott-Stump S. Krause’s Food and Nutrition Therapy. 12th edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier/Saunders Publishing.
- Huynh DTT, Estorninos E, Capeding RZ, et al. Longitudinal growth and health outcomes in nutritionally as-risk children who received long-term nutritional intervention. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015; doi: 10.1111/jhn.12306: 1-13.