Jamie Rose Chambers

How Do You Know If Your Child Is Meeting Their Nutritional Needs?

Written by: Jamie Rose Chambers
Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist

What our kids eat is a major concern for many parents – often to the point where many parents’ diets are sacrificed in the quest for making sure their child is eating a healthy diet. A balanced diet is so important so that kids meet their nutrition needs for healthy growth and development, to make sure they have plenty of energy and to prevent illness. However there often comes a time in most kid’s lives where this can become a challenge.

Whether it’s due to a fussy eater, the discovery of a food allergy or intolerance, financial strains making buying healthy food difficult, or just absolute confusion around healthy choices for kids – with the sea of information available these days, it can make it incredibly hard to know if kids are meeting their nutritional needs.

Kids also have different nutritional needs at different stages – you might find they want to eat constantly on some days when they’re having a growth spurt, then other days they barely eat much at all. This is really normal but might be a little worrying for some parents because their food intake might not be consistent.

The following are a few signs that a child might not be meeting their nutritional needs:

  • Tired
  • Pale in colour
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Behavioural problems
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Not growing at a normal rate
  • Overweight or underweight
  • Lack of appetite

My tips to make sure your child is meeting their nutritional needs:

  1. Consistently offer a wide variety of foods at every meal and snack from the 5 food groups:
  2. Fruits - 1-2 serves per day – especially red, yellow and green
  3. Vegetables and legumes – a third of their lunch and dinner meal from fresh, canned and frozen vegetables
  4. Bread, pasta, rice, noodles and wholegrain where possible - 4 serves per day for little kids, up to 6 serves for active teens where 1 serve is 1 slice of bread or ½ cup cooked grain
  5. Meat, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, tofu, nuts & seeds - 1 serve per day for little kids, up to 2.5 serves for teens where 1 serve = 65-80g meat, 100g fish, 2 eggs, 170g tofu, 30g nuts
  6. Dairy – 1.5 serves per day for little kids, up to 3.5 serves for teens where 1 serve = 1 cup milk or calcium fortified plant milk, 2 slices of cheese or 200g yoghurt
  7. Offer food every 2-3 hours because little kids have small tummies and older teens have an enormous energy requirement and all need to eat regularly
  8. Limit extra or junk foods and drinks because they have little nutritional value and take up an opportunity for a meal or snack that can provide nutrition.

If you’re concerned at all, check in with your doctor. Most nutritional deficiencies can be managed at home with an adjustment to the diet. A kid’s multivitamin supplement that is sugar free can be helpful to act like nutritional insurance to cover any bases if a child’s diet is still a bit sporadic.

Jamie Rose Chambers - Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist