Nutrition and Child Development – What You Need to Know

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Little girl sitting at a table pushing a glass bowl away from her

How does nutrition affect child development?

We all come across various parenting goals on various websites. There are goals about achieving athletic goals, reaching academic achievements, and many more thing.

But in reality, many parenting goals revolve around children and their eating habits.  And most of the real goals that we have for our kids involved proper development in one way or another.

While some parents deal with picky eaters, others have to stop their kids from stuffing themselves with junk, and some struggle with children who simply seem to have been born with no appetite.

Either way, children’s nutrition plays a pivotal role in how kids grow up, which is why parents are most concerned about what their children eat, and how much of it they eat.

Balanced nutrition is the key to healthy development in children and adults as well. However, a lack of balanced nutrition doesn’t just happen because the child is undernourished. Over-feeding is another reason why child development is affected.

There are several reasons why a child might not get balanced nutrition.

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Why Children Might Not Get a Balanced Diet

Financial Issues

If the family is very poor and can’t afford food then they might be at the mercy of whatever free food products are available.
Furthermore, if the family can’t afford nutritious food, they might settle for cheaper options, however such options being cheaper might be an illusion, particularly if these choices lead to health issues down the road.

Children are picky eaters

When children fuss about many foods that are put before them, it’s much easier for parents to give in and provide whatever is easiest.

You know how this goes.  The kid won’t eat what everyone else is eating so the parent resorts to pulling out frozen chicken nuggets or quickly making some other kid-friendly meal.

First of all, it’s crucial to get kids to try many different kinds of foods. But if you are going to lean on chicken nuggets every so often, make sure they are a health version like this recipe for Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets.

Junk Food Addiction

If children are obsessed to junk food, it can be a constant battle to get them to eat real food.

Junk food is specially crafted to be flavorful–to keep the person eating it coming back for more.  Manufacturers use synthetic ingredients in addition to refining processes to do this–and it works!

Lack of Knowledge

If the parents don’t know enough about proper nutrition, then they won’t know how to provide adequately nutritious meals in the home.

If you don’t know how to prepare produce or soak and cook beans, or do anything in the kitchen besides heat up meals in a microwave, then you will be at a handicap to feed your family well.

Food Allergies

While food allergies alone typically won’t make it impossible to get good nutrition, it can make it more difficult.

Whatever the case might be, lack of nutrition or too much of it plays a significant role. In fact, here are some of the ways that child development is affected by the way a child eats.

Portrait of a little girl sitting at a table pushing a glass bowl away from her

How Nutrition Affects Child Development

Intellectual Development

It’s true that a lot of the child’s intellect will be connected to the kind of nutrition he or she gets. As per a study conducted in 2010 published in The Journal of Nutrition, two- year-olds, who were undernourished had 16 percent more chances of failing or would break into school later, compared to children who had balanced nutrition.

Emotional Development

It isn’t just intellect, even emotional development depends on nutrition. How?

Minerals such as calcium are critical in helping a child develop an emotional system. In fact, undernourished children have more chances of having autism, anxiety, depression, or even schizophrenia.

Behavioral Development

How children behave also stems from what they eat. It might be hard to believe.

In fact, for the first two years, if the child doesn’t get adequate nutrition, they could show signs of becoming withdrawn, could be very less active and generally stay away from helping.

The Importance of Nutrition and Child Development

Food and behavior are also related as shown in this post.   But the effects of nutrition on child development need to be looked at as well.

The numbers are staggering. Most three-year- olds in America are not as healthy as they seem to be.

In fact, 90% of these children have poor to fair health and 31% of them are have regular hospital visits. So, it’s essential for parents to understand that just feeding children is not enough, feeding them a balanced diet is important.

There are parents who are constantly worried about their children’s growth. They often panic that their children are not growing the way they should. For such parents, this guide for food requirements for children would be very handy.

Instead of fretting over why the child’s growth isn’t as lightning fast as the other children around, keep track of these kinds of charts.

While we are talking about nutrition and growth, we also need to understand what the essential nutrition is that your children should be getting, and how a lack could derail their potential growth.

Nutrition in the Womb and Beyond

Nutrition starts even before the child is born. Mothers’ nutrition during pregnancy impacts the brain development of the unborn child. Therefore, if the mother is under-nourished during pregnancy, the unborn baby’s brain functions might not develop fully.

The process of providing the right kind of nutrition continues and the most important form of nutrition a child should get is breast milk. There are many benefits of breastfeeding, but one such benefit is that breastfed children are less likely to develop severe bouts of diarrhea, ear infections, or even rashes like eczema.

Iron and Iodine

Once the child grows up and starts consuming solid food, there are a few elements that need to be present in the food. For example, iron deficiency in children leads to slower nerve impulses, as iron is an important component of brain tissues. In fact, it is all the more important in the first two years of a child’s life. If a child has iron deficiency during this period, it could lead to behavioral changes, and slower psychomotor development.

In fact, even iodine plays an important role in a child’s overall development. A lack of iodine in a child’s diet could lead to reduced cognitive development. Some good sources of iodine include seaweed and other sea vegetables, fish (please eat those that are least likely to be contaminated by mercury and radiation), cranberries (that’s surprising, isn’t it?), organic yogurt, strawberries, navy beans, raw organic cheese and organic potatoes.

The Need for Breakfast

Skipping breakfast, which is quite common in children, isn’t healthy either. This might lead to lower concentration powers, leading them to underperform in tests or on other tasks.

Here are some of Adrienne’s favorite easy breakfasts that are kid-friendly:

Chia Puddings including this Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Pudding and Berry Mousse
Homemade Protein Bars
Chocolate Mint Grasshopper Bars
Buckwheat Granola

Finally, child nutrition isn’t just about keeping your kids’ tummies full.

It’s about planning a balanced meal that is as nutritious as possible for them, because what they eat goes a long way in determining how they grow, behave, and perform.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had in feeding your kids well?


Aradhana Pandey

Aradhana is a writer from India. Her areas of knowledge include parenting, children with special needs, health and lifestyle. She loves being outdoors and her hobbies include cycling and hiking. Aradhana has a special interest in children with special needs and parenting and shares her experiences through her other passion, writing. She writes to share her knowledge so that it may help others. Her posts on these subjects have been published on more than 250+ various reputed sites like the Huffington post, SheKnows, Mom Junction and many more. Aradhana writes to inspire and motivate people to adopt healthy habits and live a stress-free lifestyle.

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  1. I need your advice
    What essential supplements shall I provide to my both the son of age 15 and 12 and in which form are they available.
    I am from Veg family, donot eat egg.
    Waiting for your favourable reply.
    Thanks with \Best Regads

    1. Hello there. I personally think that supplements should be taken based on the person but some supplements I wouldn’t personally want to be without. It’s typical for vegan families to need B12. Personally we take probiotics, vitamin D, omegas (very high quality), and a CBD-rich hemp oil. Then other things depending on the person but we all tend to take garlic and vitamin C and gut healing supplements. I hope to write more on this in the future. If you would like you can sign up for updates here:

      I have some posts on some of these things.

  2. Well said!! This is very much necessary to keep your child away from junk food and all perhaps it is next to impossible for kids to manage but parents should need to take care of it.

  3. Please cite your sources for your information. This article is plagiarism at best since you have no credentials.

    1. Hello Susan. I’m confused by this comment. Are you a professor? Plagiarism and sourcing are 2 different issues. So you are insinuating that the author, since she has no credentials, must have copied this from someone?

  4. Somehow I figured this all out decades ago. I always tell parents that they are feeding their children’s brains, because that’s the reasoning I used. I became a single parent when the kids were all under 10, but even with a limited budget and free food we still managed to eat healthy. Each one was breastfed until the ages of 2-3. They thought a carrot was a treat. None of them was picky, but that’s probably because I didn’t offer substitutions.

    Now my kids are 32-40 and have kids of their own, but their spouses are not all as dedicated to good nutrition as my kids are, unfortunately. My kids are all very intelligent, outgoing, slim and healthy. Thanks for putting this together for all moms to learn how important their choices are.

    1. You did a great job. It’s easy to feel that we are being the mean parents by keeping this junk away from our kids but I so wish I had been kept away from it.

      Thank you for reading!