our everyday life

Influence of Nutrition on Physical Development in Early Childhood

by Eliza Martinez, studioD

Your child's body relies on variety of foods to fulfill her daily nutrient needs. Getting enough of each is vital for normal physical growth and development. As a parent, you are probably well aware of the picky eating habits of many kids. A lack of proper nutrition can inhibit your child's growth and cause problems as she gets older. Starting healthy eating habits early sets the stage for the rest of your child's life.


Your child needs calories to grow. Her calorie requirements likely differ from siblings and friends and her doctor can help you determine an appropriate amount for her size and age. In general, toddlers and preschoolers need 1,000 to 1,800 calories per day and school-age children should get 1,200 to 2,600, depending on age and gender. The trick, however, is to make sure each calorie your child takes in is also nutritionally dense. This means limiting fast food, soda, candy and frozen dinners and serving a variety of foods from each food group. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean protein.

Important Nutrients

Your child needs the same nutrients that you do, but in smaller amounts. However, some are especially important for physical growth. Protein helps your child's body develop and maintain strong muscles. Beef, chicken, fish, beans, milk and nuts are good sources. Calcium helps your child's bones grow and stay strong and healthy. Milk, cheese and yogurt are healthy sources of calcium. In addition, children need carbs and B vitamins from whole grains for energy and vitamins and minerals for healthy immunity, skin, hair and internal organ function.

Encourage Nutritious Eating

You know that healthy and nutrient dense foods are important for growth, but getting your child to eat them is another story. Young kids might be picky eaters while older kids who make their own meals don't always make the best choices. Cooking meals for your family is one way to get around this. Try to prepare one healthy meal to share each day. This helps your child realize that healthy foods can still taste good and teaches her what makes up a nutritious meal. Teach your older child to reach labels if she makes her own choices and avoid bringing foods high in fat, calories, salt and sugar into the house.

Poor Nutrition

In contrast to the many benefits of healthy eating, a poor diet can cause several physical problems in children. A diet too high in fat and calories can lead to obesity, which interferes with physical fitness, but also raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A diet lacking in proper nutrition can also result in stunted growth and bone disorders. Lack of a nutritious diet also effects energy for physical pursuits.

About the Author

Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.

Photo Credits

  • Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images