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Ask A Naturopath – My son is quite a fussy eater and his doctor has said that he is not growing as expected. Should I be concerned and what can I do to help him?

July 29, 2019
Ask A Naturopath – My son is quite a fussy eater and his doctor has said that he is not growing as expected. Should I be concerned and what can I do to help him?

My son is quite a fussy eater and his doctor has said that he is not growing as expected. Should I be concerned and what can I do to help him?

It is very common for parents to worry about the growth and development of their children, especially in the case of fussy eating kids. The need for concern depends entirely on the degree of growth delay that has been noted by your doctor. One of the benefits of charting our children’s growth on their growth charts is that we can track the pattern over time; one missed milestone or slightly low measurement may not be cause for concern and should be monitored over a longer period of months. To add, they should always be considered in light of parental statue, as genetics play a large role in growth and development.

If growth is an ongoing concern, there are some possible factors to consider. The restricted eating patterns of fussy eating children can mean that their nutritional requirements are not met from day to day. This includes both their macronutrient (protein, fat, and carbohydrate), and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) needs, both of which are integral for the growth and formation of bones, muscles, and tissues throughout the body.

However, before immediately assuming your child is lacking in certain nutrients, it is important to know that there are other possible factors that can also impact growth. These include impaired absorption of nutrients in the digestive system, food allergies and intolerances (for example, Coeliac disease or allergy to cow’s milk protein), troubles with the liver or the thyroid, or chronic infections. If these factors have confidently been ruled out, then the next best step is to have a nutrition professional review your child’s diet to analyse the nutritional value of the foods they are eating – not all fussy eaters are deficient in nutrition, however it does increase their risk.

The following strategies may be useful to help you ensure your child meets their nutritional needs each day:

  • Set regular meal times and try to stick to the schedule – this can support greater awareness of hunger signals, helping to facilitate increased volume of food eaten in the day
  • Offer frequent snacks – most children need between 2-3 snacks each day between meals
  • At each meal and snack, always offer a source of protein, fat, and complex carbohydrate, and always offer at least one vegetable to ensure that a wide variety of nutrients are being offered in the one meal
  • Serve nutrient rich foods whenever possible to meet micronutrient needs – fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are especially rich in vitamins and minerals
  • Cook with plenty of healthy fats and oil – fat offers nearly twice the energy value of carbohydrates or proteins. Include plenty of nutritious options such as olive oil, homemade salad dressings, whole egg mayonnaise, avocado, nuts and seeds (including nut butters), cream, full fat cheese, and butter
  • Be sure to serve full fat food options to your child – e.g. full fat dairy
  • Choose fattier cuts of meat and fish, and offer whole eggs (yolks included)
  • Add nutritious sources of energy-dense foods to the meals and snacks your child will already consume – for example, cook with extra olive oil and butter, add avocado into smoothies, and bake with almond meal and nut butters
  • Offer smoothies – these are a great way to blend lots of nutrient and energy rich ingredients together in a yummy way for kids. Try a choc-banana thickshake by blending banana, cacao powder, milk, yoghurt, avocado and honey (if extra sweetness is desired)
  • Include some nutritious snacks like dried fruit, nuts and seeds, nut butters, dark chocolate, homemade bliss balls, or roasted chickpeas; these are all nutrient and energy dense snacks to help children grow
  • Avoid offering large drinks close to meals – this will fill kids up and decrease their hunger for nutritious foods; try to separate large volumes of fluid by 30 minutes either side of the meal (small glasses of water or milk alongside a meal are fine, just keep the volume low)

For some children, additional supplementation may be needed, particularly if fussy eating is preventing them from being able to try any new foods or any of the meal variations you offer. The need for this should always be discussed with a health care professional for best outcomes for your child.

If you are interested in more information about fussy eating strategies, growth and development, or diet review for your child, you can speak to our nutritionist and naturopath Georgie Stephen.