Richmond Practice - Feeding children and failure to thrive

Feeding children and failure to thrive
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My child is not eating well. What can I do? What must I do?

Healthy, active children know instinctively how much food they need. In these children it is much more important to look after the diversity of their food intake. After the age of six years their food habits become difficult to change so introduce them to a wide variety of foods as early as you can. However, a child who just eats different vegetables but not fruit, and vice versa, should still get all the vitamins and minerals they need. Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (including fresh, frozen, canned and dried vegetables, fruit and fruit juice) is important for children too.

Children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most, so the challenge is to make healthy choices appealing. Ensure that your child's diet is as nutritious and wholesome as possible, even while allowing for some of their favourite treats. The Food Standards Agency suggests that about a third of a child's diet should be fruit and vegetables, a third starchy foods like rice and potatoes, and a third split between proteins (meat, fish, eggs and pulses) and dairy products, with just small amounts of foods high in fat or sugar. According to the Food Standards Agency's most recent research, it may not necessarily be worth buying organic food for its health benefits alone. However, organic food can taste better, and organic production methods are generally better for the environment.

Babies and children learn by watching others and this applies to their eating habits as well so lead by example! It can help to read them, or encourage them to read, books on the topic of healthy eating written for children. Give them ample time to finish eating, but never force them to eat or finish everything on their plates. Keep in mind that toddlers have very small stomachs. It may be better to feed them 5-6 small meals a day, rather than three large ones. It is perfectly normal for your child to be ravenous one day and not want food the next. Don't worry if your child's diet isn't good every day, just as long as they seem satisfied and are getting a well-rounded diet overall.

However, some children have difficulty utilising the nutritional content of their food, or even keeping it in their body long enough for it to be absorbed. For these children weight gain is minimal or even at a loss in which case they have a condition called 'failure to thrive'. Any long term deficit of nutrition can have detrimental effects on the long term physical and psychological health of children and may result in learning difficulties or problems with communication, social interaction and not reaching the milestones expected at certain points in their life.

Consult your doctor if:

  • your child is failing to grow or to gain weight
  • your child always seems tired
  • you child is less interested in playing
  • your child, especially as an adolescent, develops behavioural changes.
At Elsbeth's Doctors our consultant paediatrician provides growth and weight assessments, as well as blood tests for metabolic disease and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. We also help with eating problems.
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