When something is not right with your child’s growth, perhaps a GP, paediatrician or other medical professional has noted that this is a problem, many parents are stressed and worried and often experience feelings of guilt. “Am I not feeding my child enough? Or the right type of foods?” and finally, “What CAN I do to help them grow and thrive?!”
What your child eats plays an important role in your child’s growth, providing the foundation of the nutrients that help build new cells and support the ones they already have.
If you’re thinking, this is another “eat your veggies kids” and you’re a parent to a fussy eater – never fear, these nutrition tips for childhood growth are (almost) 100% vegetable-free. Although, if you can add some in there, that would be amazing!
Before you go out and spend money on formulated children’s supplements or just feed them whatever they want, there is a way to feed your child nutritious foods that support growth and any catch-up that needs to be done with weight or height, and these tips are approved by a paediatric dietitian – win!
Here are my top 5 nutrition tips that will help your child grow:
1. Replace low-fat dairy products with full-cream dairy products
Swap low-fat dairy products to full cream dairy products to help increase total energy across the day. Children below 2 years should only consume full-cream milk and dairy. Incorporate these protein and calcium-rich foods into other foods your child eats for an extra boost, more energy means more growth!
- If your child eats cheese, milk and yoghurt, ensure you are buying the full-cream products.
- Add cheese into pasta dishes and sandwiches.
- Try making a cheese sauce and add it to cooked vegetables, like broccoli or cauliflower and bake.
- Adding full fat cream to soups and mashed potato dishes.
- Custard or yoghurt can be given with fruit as a snack.
- Try adding cream cheese as a dip or spread onto crackers or a sandwich, or if they’re a veggie lover use cream cheese as a dip.
- Cubes of cheese or cheese sticks with crackers can be a great high energy snack.
Bonus, there is specific research showing that dairy is especially good at helping children grow, including height! Be sure you check your child is getting enough dairy each day based on their age and sex.
2. Include high protein foods at each meal
Children who have some catching up to do in the growth department generally have higher protein needs (there are certain medical circumstances when this is not the case, speak to your healthcare professional).
Protein helps to build new tissues and support healthy growth. Foods high in protein also come along with a range of important nutrients like iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 which are important to support healthy cognitive and physical development.
Animal Product Based Options
- Include a variety of beef, chicken, pork, lamb and fish throughout the week to get a variety of nutrients and also to stop your little ones from getting bored of the same proteins, there is such a thing as taste fatigue!
- Choose a recipe that is easy for them to eat, for many children protein foods can be a problem because of the chewier texture. For example, try meatballs or mince dishes is easier to manage than a steak.
- Double up! Add full cream dairy products such as cheese to sandwiches or mince-based dishes e.g. Bolognese or cheese on a hamburger patty
- Include eggs as binders for meatballs or burger patties for some sneaky extra protein, make some high protein pancakes on a Sunday morning by combining eggs, banana and flour.
- Omelettes or scrambled egg with some added cheese or ham always goes down a treat. Try converting them into mini egg muffins for school lunchboxes.
- Include mashed egg and mayonnaise as a sandwich filler.
Vegetarian Based Options
- If your child loves tofu, slice into fingers and bake or fry in extra virgin olive oil.
- Beans, lentils and legumes are also good sources of protein, include these when making mince-based dishes e.g. Bolognese, add some lentils or kidney beans or roast some up as a crunchy snack between meals, think roasted chickpeas.
- Nuts and seeds are high protein and high energy foods. Add peanut butter or other nut spreads to sandwiches, as a dip with vegetables, crackers or to porridge in the morning. Another cheat is substituting flour for almond meal in sweet treats likes muffins, pancakes and cakes for extra protein and healthy fats.
Do not use whole nuts for children under 5 years (as they are a choking hazard).
3. Add high energy foods to their meals
The most efficient way to add more calories to your child’s diet is to increase the fat content of their meals. What’s important here is that you only add the extra oils and fats to your child’s food and not to the family meal to avoid any unwanted extra growth for your other family members.
- Use extra virgin olive oil for frying or roasting meats.
- Drizzle extra olive oil onto pasta, rice, noodles and vegetables (just their dish not in the family meal).
- Spread avocado thickly onto sandwiches and crackers, add ¼ to a smoothie, turn it into a chocolate mousse or turn it into a dip for veggie sticks.
- Try baking homemade pastry cheese and spinach swirls.
- Thickly spread table spreads onto sandwiches, toast, wholegrain crackers and biscuits.
It is important to focus on healthy fats from plant-based sources instead of excessive amounts of animal fats such as bacon, fat from meat, butter and chicken skin, as too much can be unhealthy even for little bodies!
4. Make use of the “extras”
Before you get spend-happy in those fun aisles in the supermarket, I am talking about some different kind of extras, whilst some of these options may not fit into the ideal of “healthy eating”, these foods are part of a balanced diet and in this case, are helping with growth in your child.
- Pick liquids that pack a punch: think a glass of flavoured or plain milk, a homemade smoothie with banana, peanut butter, the works! Be sure to offer these as a snack away from mealtimes to avoid it interfering with their appetite for main meals
- Offer dessert to get a little extra in a few nights a week: try a Greek yoghurt and fruit popsicle, a warm hot chocolate or bliss ball with a small cup of milk.
5. Be prepared
It can be hard to find nutritious but energy-rich foods to feed your children when you’re on the go. By preparing ready-to-eat high energy snacks there is always something quick to provide your child.
- Freeze some high energy snacks e.g. peanut butter bliss balls
- Freeze fruit in snap lock bags for quick and easy smoothies e.g. banana, strawberry and mango
- Prepare cut vegetables and dips and have them ready to go in the fridge.
The last nutrition tip to help your child grow is: aim to offer your child 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day to maximise the opportunity to get sufficient energy into their day.
However concerned you are about their growth it is really important you don’t force feed as this can create a negative experience with food and reduce their eating overall (not the aim of the game!)
Finally, remember, that all children are different and will grow at different paces and we are not all meant to look the same way. Try to avoid comparing your child to their siblings or other children their age. Speak to your GP or paediatrician about seeking the advice of a dietitian for nutrition advice after relevant medical causes have been ruled out.
If you need one-on-one advice on further nutrition tips for child growth you can book a consultation and let’s get started on developing a plan to help your child grow and thrive!
This blog was co-written by first year Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics student, Taryn Geller, from the University of Sydney.