Childhood is a period of slow growth in which occasional spurts of growth may occur. On an average, child gains 5-10 cms height and 1.8 - 3.6 kg weight per year. Heredity and environment play a major role in the growth and development of a child. It is important for a child to have a weight proportionate to his height.

Deviations in weight and height are of concern only when they are extreme or when the child shows other evidence of lack of vigor.

Toddler nutrition (1-3 years)

Growth during infancy is very rapid and dietary needs are correspondingly high. Toddlers eat less food and have less appetite. In the second year and through the years of childhood, the child’s muscle growth is more and bones begin to lengthen although the skeletal growth is slower. Hence, during this period the child needs less calories but more proteins and minerals for growth.

Dietary pattern:

  • If supplementation of the diet has been done carefully then the child consumes a three meal pattern diet but without heavy spices, oils and fats. So, also bran and other coarse cereals should be avoided.

  • It is important in case of some toddlers who dislike milk, to feed them with curd or milk solids in mashed potatoes, soups, custards or puddings.

  • On the other hand, some toddlers who may drink more milk than required may exclude some solid foods in the diet. For such children, food and mealtimes may be made more attractive so that acceptance of food is readily accomplished.

  • Also, refined sweets and fried foods must be totally avoided.

Pre-schooler nutrition (3-6 years)

Growth during this period is in spurts. While at times the child is engaged in continuous and active play, he is passive at other times. The mental capacities of the child are also being developed.

Dietary pattern:

During these years specific nutrients such as protein, calcium and iron need emphasis since bone growth and muscle development continues. Protein requirements also remain high. Vitamins A and C are required for growth and development of tissues.

Young school age (6-12 years)

During this period the child’s growth is not rapid but continues gradually. Boys and girls have to build up resources for the adolescent period that lies ahead of them. Boys usually grow slower during these pre-adolescent years than girls.

Dietary pattern:

  • During this period the growth of the child is slow and the requirement of food per unit weight is less.

  • Likes and dislikes may have developed in the earlier years.

  • Eating of snacks becomes increasingly common and mother should offer a wide variety of nutritious meals and snacks.

  • At school, he is exposed to food patterns which may be different from those served at home. Dislike for vegetables may continue.

  • They may rush through breakfast due to early school timings and with their evening meals due to eagerness to play.

  • A good breakfast is important as it affects the performance in school.

  • They should be served food in a good environment

  • Their food intake is affected by models set for them by their siblings, peers, parents and other adults in the family.

Adolescent/teenage (12-18 years)

This phase is characterized by the onset of puberty which is the final growth spurt of childhood. Boys tend to mature later than girls. This difference in growth pattern also emerges as a difference in other aspects such as in case of girls there is an increase in the accumulation of subcutaneous fat.

Dietary pattern:

  • The adolescent period is characterized by heavy demands of calories and proteins. The appetite of child increases and he tends to consume more carbohydrate foods and fewer protein foods.

  • Girls need more iron than boys of similar age.

  • Since the rate of metabolism is high, the need for iodine is also increased. It can easily be supplied through iodized salt.

  • The B vitamins are required in greater amounts by boys than girls to meet their extra demands of energy and muscle tissue development.

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