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Why is nutrition important for children who have fussy eating tendencies?

Nutrition and having a balanced diet is extremely important for this group due to their rapid growth and high activity levels. Infants and older children have greater energy and nutrient requirements in relation to their body size compared to adults. Adequate nutrition obtained from their dietary intake needs to include food and drinks from all the main food groups, plenty of starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, rice etc), fruit and vegetables, and some protein, diary and fat. A balanced diet will meet nutritional requirements and achieve normal growth and development. It is vital to instil good eating habits in children and establish mealtime routines.

What symptoms are associated with fussy eaters that can cause reduced dietary intake?

Refusing to eat and refusal to taste new foods is a normal phase most toddlers go through and will grow out of. However for some children they may show continued extreme food refusal resulting in inadequate nutritional intake. Fussy eaters show very strong likes or dislikes for specific foods. This refusal may be linked to anxiety around eating a new food or be related to the senses - touch, taste and smell. These fussy eating behaviours can last well into childhood so it is something parents have to learn how to manage and this can be very difficult. Children may have to rely on a small group of foods to provide their nutrition. If healthy eating habits are established early in life they are more likely to last into adulthood.

What is malnutrition and how can it affect this group of children?

Malnutrition is when there is an imbalance of nutrients in relation to the individuals nutritional requirements. In the case of fussy eaters this imbalance may be a lack of calorie intake alongside a range of vitamins and minerals, if a multivitamin is not used. A lower calorie intake than is required for growth can lead to slow weight gain or even weight loss. Malnutrition can also cause tiredness, result in poor concentration which can hinder their ability to learn, and affect a child's mood. There are many ways to boost the nutritional intake of children with fussy eating habits.

Ways to use Pro-Cal™ powder and/or Pro-Cal shot™ to increase nutritional intake:

Pro-Cal powder and Pro-Cal shot can be used in recipes and mixed into a variety of food and drinks to help boost their calorie and protein intake to meet requirements for growth. There are lots of ways to use Pro-Cal products with food and drink that you know your child enjoys. The Pro-Cal shot strawberry and banana flavours can be mixed into milkshakes, fruit smoothies or poured over ice cream and desserts. Pro-Cal shot neutral and Pro-Cal powder can be added to savoury foods such as mashed potato, sauces or even poured over breakfast cereal with milk. For some children this may help meet their calorie and protein requirements without requiring the addition of a new food or drink.

Top Tips to aid dietary intake:

  1. Use high energy ‘safe foods’ that you know your child enjoys such as milkshakes, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, ice cream and custard. Withholding these high energy foods may lead to weight loss and will not necessarily mean your child will try healthier, new foods. If able and if weight gain is a concern always maximise the nutritional content of a food or drink by adding butter, cream, skimmed milk powder. grated cheese, or Pro-Cal powder and Pro-Cal shot.
  2. Never force your child to eat. Keep mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable and try to avoid putting too much pressure on your child to eat. This will help reduce anxiety at meal and snack times and may help them become more open to trying new food or drink in their own time.
  3. Build on routine and try offering small and frequent meals and snacks regularly including ‘safe foods’. If the meal or snack is small your child will tend to eat this quicker and so have less time to build up anxiety as the mealtime is over quickly. This can be a good way to meet their calorie needs for growth.
  4. Messy play can be a great way to encourage your toddler or younger child to get used to different textures. First introduce textures that you know your child likes. This may initially be dry foods and then gradually progress to more messy and wetter items as they build their confidence. Messy play can help children who would normally be very sensitive to touch on the hands and mouth.
  5. Keep in mind that children who are fussy eaters will often grow and develop normally if ‘safe foods’ are used regularly as these are the foods they will eat and enjoy. Think of any new food or drink as a bonus that can be offered to help widen the variety in their diet. A good environment to offer new foods can be when the child is around their friends so perhaps send new foods in lunch boxes or encourage school or nursery to offer new foods alongside ‘safe foods’.

This piece was written in conjunction with a specialist paediatric dietitian from the UK. ​

Pro-Cal shot and Pro-Cal powder are Foods for Special Medical Purposes and must be used under medical supervision. Suitable from 3 years of age onwards.    Pro-Cal shot contains Milk (Milk Protein, Lactose) and Soya (Soya Lecithin). Pro-Cal powder contains Milk (Milk protein, lactose)​