You may be surprised to notice the impact that your child’s diet has on his health and well-being; his immunity, moods, sleep patterns, and ability to concentrate can all be affected by a less-then-ideal diet. With a few tweaks, and an emphasis on fresh, wholesome fare, you’ll soon get him back on track.
Q: Are there signs that my child is not getting adequate nutrition from her diet?
A: If your child isn’t growing or putting on weight in keeping with her regular percentile line on child growth charts , her diet may be to blame. A healthy, balanced diet promotes regular growth, and although illness can cause some blips, she should be on roughly the same line throughout her childhood. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can cause a number of symptoms, including poor immunity, fatigue, skin problems, muscle cramps, and concentration or behavior problems.

In particular, children who have difficulty keeping up, and seem listless and low on energy, may not be getting enough iron. If she doesn’t eat meat, which is the very best source, offer leafy greens, dried fruit, such as sultanas, dates, and apricots, fish, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, tofu, pulses, and edible seeds, such as pumpkin or sesame seeds.

She may need a good vitamin and mineral supplement. These provide a little insurance for fussy eaters whose diets are less than ideal. They do not, however, take the place of good nutrition, so continue to offer varied, healthy meals, and consult your doctor if her health doesn’t improve.

Q: My child always seems tired; could his diet be to blame?
A: Yes, it may well be. First, look at how much iron your child is getting. His diet may also be low in carbohydrates, which provide energy, and too high in refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and rice, and cakes and treats, which can wreak havoc with his blood sugar (you’ll notice that he seems almost overly energetic after meals, and then slumps).

Make sure he has plenty of good-quality unrefined carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread, pasta, pulses, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Ideally, he needs at least five or six portions of carbohydrates every day. Try to offer a little protein, such as cheese, lean meat, yogurt, or milk alongside, which slows down the transit of the natural sugars carbohydrates contain, to give a sustained source of energy.

See a doctor if your child’s symptoms don’t improve.

Q: My child is constantly picking up illnesses from nursery school; what food can I give her to help ward off bugs?

Your child needs plenty of vitamin C and other antioxidants every day. Fresh fruit and fruit juices are a great natural source of vitamin C. Tempt her with the smoothie too. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants, which have an important role to play in optimum nutrition and immunity . Consider offering mangoes instead of apples, and squash or sweet potatoes in place of her usual potato. Finally, don’t forget oily fish, nuts (chopped), and seeds, which contain EFAs (essential fatty acids) to improve immunity on all levels.

Q: Are there any foods to avoid when children have tummy bugs?
A: First of all, offer small amounts of food and sips of drinks, which can prevent her tummy from being overloaded and making the vomiting or diarrhea worse. Avoid citrus fruits, which are acidic, but offer plenty of apples and apple juice, instead. These contain pectin, which helps to prevent diarrhea, and acts as a “prebiotic” to encourage the health of your child’s stomach. It’s a good idea to avoid milk and dairy products, which can exacerbate the problems, and encourage the build-up of mucus. Bland foods, such as toast, white rice, and breakfast cereals are a good choice. It’s best to avoid spices, as they can irritate the lining of your child’s digestive system.

It’s very important to offer plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration. Little sips are better than long drinks, and some children respond better to drinks offered at room temperature, because they are more easily digested. Having said that, if you can’t encourage your child to drink much, ice chips and fresh fruit popsicles can offer much-needed fluids. An oral rehydration solution may be necessary too, which is available at pharmacies.

Q: Could my toddler’s diet be affecting her concentration?
A: In much the same way that food could be affecting your toddler’s energy levels (see My child always seems tired; could his diet be to blame?), it could also affect her concentration. If she’s eating too many refined carbohydrates, her blood sugar will soar and then plummet, which means she’ll be too “hyper” to concentrate when it’s high, and too tired when it’s low. Unrefined carbohydrates, offered regularly, will ensure steady concentration.

There is also some evidence to suggest that essential fatty acids, in particular, omega 3 oils found in oily fish and flaxseed, can affect concentration levels, in particular with children with autism and ADHD. However, the jury is still out and the research is far from conclusive. It is known, however, that omega-3s are essential for little ones’ normal brain development.

Finally, consider whether an iron deficiency could be the cause of your child’s poor concentration (see Are there signs that my child is not getting adequate nutrition from her diet?).

Q: Are fish oil supplements appropriate for toddlers?
A: There are many fish oil supplements designed for toddlers; however these can sometimes be pricey! It is always best to consume omega-3s naturally in oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, and mackerel. If your little one has two child-sized portions of oily fish per week, this would provide all the omega-3s that she needs. Other good sources include flaxseeds, olive oil, and squash. However, if your child refuses to eat fish, and isn’t tempted by these other sources, you may want to consider a supplement, as omega-3s play an important role in children’s brain function and development.
Q: Is it possible to develop a food allergy at the age of 24 months?
A: Although most food allergies present themselves in infancy, and when the offending foods are first offered, your child may well show the first real signs of food allergy well into her second or third year.

She may have had some minor reactions that were not noticed or connected with the offending food, for example, or it may be that she hasn’t had much contact prior to experiencing a reaction. She may also have a reaction to a food even if she’s eaten it before without any problems.

The best advice is to keep on the lookout for any symptoms , and see your doctor if she experiences a reaction to a food.

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