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Preventive Care
Children's Health

Nutritional Guidelines for Children

09 November 2023 · 4 mins read


This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to childhood nutrition with practical tips for ensuring that your little ones maintain optimal health as they grow.

Adequate nutrition supports the overall health and well-being of the child. Additionally, it helps to ensure sufficient growth and development of the body, maintain a well-functioning immune system, and avoid serious illnesses.

The nutrients in food are the body’s sole source of energy which is utilised throughout the day for various metabolic processes. More energy is required if the child is sick or engages in intense mental or physical activities. If the energy quota is insufficient for the child, he/she may feel weak, which may impair the body's growth.

What is a balanced diet?

A balanced diet ensures that the child is getting all the essential nutrients for the proper growth and development of the body. Children need a variety of nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, to support their growing bodies and brains.

Additionally, a balanced diet helps children to maintain a healthy weight, which is key for reducing the risk of obesity and related health problems. 

It is equally important to note that in addition to supporting physical health, a balanced diet can also benefit a child's cognitive and emotional development. 

Providing children with a good nutritious diet also sets the foundation for healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. This may help to prevent the development of unhealthy food choices, thereby reducing the risk of chronic health problems later in life.


  1. Carbohydrates: Found in grains, cereals, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body.
  2. Proteins: These are the vital basic building blocks of organs and tissues. Proteins are also a significant component of our genetic material - deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). A child’s body needs proteins for proper bone and muscle growth. Proteins are abundantly found in meat, eggs, legumes, corn, and dairy.
  3. Healthy fats: Fat is essential for developing the eyes, skin, good immune system, and absorption of various vitamins. Additionally, it supports normal brain development in growing children. For babies, fat is obtained through formula or breast milk. Older children obtain it through vegetable oils, butter, nuts, fish, and seeds.
  4. Fibre: While fibres are not digested by the human body, they help regulate healthy bowel movements and maintain sugar and cholesterol levels. Fibre also prevents the build-up of potential carcinogens and toxins in the intestine.


These are essential for maintaining the physiologic process of the body.

  1. Vitamins: These are essential for various metabolic and anatomical processes in the body. Some of the critical functions of vitamins in the body include nerve conduction, formation of the blood components, maintaining proper vision, synthesis of collagen, neurotransmitters, fatty acids, antioxidants, metabolism of macronutrients etc.
  2. Minerals: A diet rich in various essential minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, sodium and phosphorous is essential for healthy growth. Like vitamins, minerals help in various physiologic functions of the body. These include nerve conduction and muscle contraction.

    Vitamins and minerals are abundant in:

    • Grains (bread, cereals, corn, rice, and pasta)
    • Dairy (milk products)
    • Fruits and vegetables (including tofu, legumes, and nuts)
    • Meat (lean meat, eggs, chicken, and fish)

What are the common nutritional concerns in children?

Here are some of the most common nutritional issues in children.

  1. Malnutrition

    This refers to getting too much or too little of certain essential nutrients. In children, malnutrition can lead to serious health issues such as eye problems, heart disease, diabetes, stunted growth, etc.

    Some signs and symptoms include fatigue, dry hair and skin, night blindness, loss of muscle mass, anxiety and depression, weight loss, stomach problems, enlarged thyroid, difficulty regulating body temperature, delayed wound healing, etc.

  2. Obesity or overweight

    Obesity in children is a serious condition which occurs when the child is above a healthy weight for their height and age.

    When children eat more food than their bodies need for normal development and growth, the excess calories are stored as fat cells for later use. If this pattern continues over time, it will result in obesity.

    Childhood obesity has become a growing concern in many nations. It is associated with an increased risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. A diet that is high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats is the major cause of this. 

  3. Allergies to different foods

    A food allergy is an abnormal or violent response of the body to a particular food. This triggers an intense immune response which causes a range of symptoms from being uncomfortable to life-threatening.

    Some of the common foods which can cause allergies in some children are: 

    • Eggs
    • Wheat
    • Soy
    • Fish
    • Shellfish
    • Peanuts
    • Milk

    Food allergy can result in severe symptoms such as cramps, hives, swelling, eczema, difficulty breathing, fainting, low blood pressure, etc.

What are the poor nutrition and deficiency disorders in children?

Lack of essential nutrients during the growing years can often lead to long-term deficiency disorders. Some of these include:

  1. Vitamin A deficiency

    This fat-soluble vitamin helps to maintain healthy teeth, skin, cells and bones. Vitamin A is also responsible for the production of eye pigments, which are essential for vision.

    A lack of Vitamin A can result in eye damage which in acute cases leads to a condition called night blindness.

    Foods abundant in Vitamin A include oily fish, organ meat (e.g., liver), carrots, sweet potatoes, dark green vegetables, etc.

  2. Vitamin D deficiency

    Children with Vitamin D deficiency experience muscle weakness and stunted growth of the skeletal system. It can also result in rickets (soft bones) and delayed development.

    To compensate for Vitamin D deficiency, feed your child with foods such as egg yolk, fatty fish, cod liver oil, etc. The sun is another good source of this nutrient, so spending time in sunlight will help raise Vitamin D levels.

  3. Vitamin B12 deficiency

    This water-soluble vitamin is essential for the normal development and functioning of the brain and nervous system.

    This deficiency is more common in vegetarians as there are only a few vegans’ sources of this vitamin. Symptoms include impaired brain function, delayed growth, fatigue, concentration problems, lack of appetite, blood disorders, etc.

    Vitamin B12 is abundant in shellfish, eggs, milk products, organ meat, etc.

  4. Calcium deficiency

    Calcium is essential for the rapid growth and development of teeth and bones. In addition, it is needed for the optimal functioning of the nerves, heart, and muscles.

    Calcium deficiency in children causes symptoms such as dry skin, brittle nails, dry hair, muscle cramps, weakened enamel, etc.

    Bony fish, dark green vegetables and dairy products are abundant in calcium.

  5. Iron deficiency

    The most common symptom of iron deficiency in children is anaemia. This is a condition in which the red blood cell (RCB) count drops, and the ability of the RBCs to transport oxygen reduces considerably.

    Symptoms of a lack of iron in children include a weak immune system, constant tiredness, impaired brain function, pale skin colour, etc.

    Red beans, dark green vegetables, seeds, shellfish, organ meat, apples, beetroots, etc., are some good sources of Iron.

  6. Iodine deficiency

    A deficiency of iodine is the most common cause of brain damage in children. It also causes impaired motor and cognitive development.

    Additionally, it can result in enlarged thyroid glands (causing a disease known as goitre), shortness of breath, weight gain and irregular heart rate in adults.

    Iodine deficiency can be compensated for by consuming fish, dairy, eggs, seaweed, etc.

  7. Magnesium deficiency

    Magnesium is an essential nutrient responsible for over 300 chemical reactions in the body. It also helps other vitamins and minerals to do their job.

    In children, symptoms of magnesium deficiency include hyperactivity, fatigue, migraines, restless leg syndrome, muscle cramps, etc.

    You can help prevent this by feeding your child more nuts, dark chocolate, whole grains, etc.

What are the tips to encourage healthy eating in children?

Any good or bad habit developed during childhood can last into adulthood. This is true for eating habits as well. Thus, it is essential to inculcate a healthy eating regime in your children during their early years.

Here are some of the tips to encourage healthy eating in children.

  1. Make meals fun.

    Adding an element of fun to a child’s mealtime can encourage them to eat healthy foods. You can try making fun shapes with fruits and vegetables or include stories like how eating protein will help them have muscles like their favourite comic book hero.

  2. Encourage children in meal preparation.

    Children will be more inclined to consume healthy foods if you involve them in meal preparation. Let them help you in activities like grocery planning, shopping, recipe preparation, assembling a sandwich, etc.

    Additionally, you could teach them how to identify healthy packaged foods and read nutrient labels while shopping.

  3. Teach them how to listen to their bodies.

    It is essential to teach your children to listen to their bodies at an early stage. For example, ask them the question, "how full is your tummy"? Next, you could encourage your children to eat as long as they feel hungry. Leftovers can be kept for later.

    Never force your children to finish the plate, as it might lead to compulsive eating disorders during adulthood.

  4. Eat your meals as a family.

    By eating meals together as a family, you could foster positive feelings among all the members. It also allows the children to develop healthy eating behaviour. Studies have indicated that having food as a family helps children to enjoy the food more.

  5. Cut junk food.

    Junk food (processed, packaged foods, high sugar/salt products, oily foods) contribute to obesity and various other health problems. Educate your children about the harmful impacts of these foods. Replace junk food with nutrient-rich multi-grain snacks, fruits, nuts, etc.

  6. Introduce new foods.

    Introduce a wide variety of foods to your child to ensure that their taste buds mature and are well-developed to enjoy different tastes. If your child rejects a specific food, do not immediately put it on the reject list. Kids need to be exposed to a particular food 4 to 7 times before they get used to it.

Make an appointment at Pantai Hospitals

Proper nutrition in childhood is vital to ensure adequate growth and development of the body. If you are unsure if your child is getting enough nutrients, get in touch with us to book an appointment with a Paediatrician for a consultation at your nearest Pantai Hospital.

Pantai Hospitals have been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for its commitment to patient safety and service quality.

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