Essential Nutrition for Children

Whenever one talks about essential nutrition for children, it starts with the benefits of breastfeeding. Well, there is no denying on the importance of breast milk for child growth and well being.

However, I will defer from the topic for now. Here, I wish to talk about some basic principles of essential nutritional needs, which we can use to plan our children’s daily diet and nutrition.

Nutritional needs for normal growth in children

Dramatic growth in childhood through teenage development imposes unique nutritional needs for children.

Essential nutrition for childhood development and growth is added to the nutritional needs for children's active lifestyle, high metabolic rate and maintenance of body functions.

Diet deficient in essential nutrients not only jeopardizes overall child growth, but also the functional capabilities of children.

Minerals, vitamins and fibers 

Fruits and vegetables provide adequate essential minerals, vitamins and fibers. But don’t mar the fun of eating fruits by offering them as health foods to keep the obesity at bay. On the contrary; convert them into interesting "fresh fruits desserts", and lure children into eating them: Surely you have heard: "With a spoon full of sugar the medicine goes down!" ;-)


There is a growing trend is to avoid calories, which leaves parents and children stressed on diet issues. Calories are important facet of essential nutrition.

Child growth, both by weight and height, is dependent on adequate calories consumption. Body weight is the outcome of energy intake and energy output. To avoid the imbalance, I would rather emphasis on energy out put.

Recommended daily calorie allowance for children below 6 years of age and the corresponding expected daily weight gain is tabulated below.


0 - 3 months

3 - 6 months

6 - 9 months

9 - 12 months

1 -3 years

3 - 6 years





90 - 100

90 - 100

90 - 100


20 - 30

15 - 20

12 - 15

10 - 12

6 - 8

5 - 6

The main sources of calories are fats and carbohydrates, Both are essential in diet, of course in proper proportion.

Carbohydrates provide energy for day to day activity and basal body functions. Whereas, essential fatty acids along with DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (Arachidonic acid) are crucial for optimal brain growth and development.

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Essential nutrition for normal brain growth

Iron rich foods

Iron is essential in the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Iron deficiency impairs psychosocial, motor and cognitive development.

Children with deficient iron content have reduced activity of Monamine oxidase , the enzyme responsible for inactivating neurotransmitters.

Behavior problems associated with low iron serum levels

Deficient monoamine oxidase activity is known to be the underlying cause of poor psycho social adjustments like depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse and attention deficit disorder. Such behavior problems are also documented in children with low serum iron levels.

It is important to point that behavioural problems due to iron deficiency, present much before clinical iron deficiency anemia can be diagnosed. This is because whatever iron is there in the body is preferably utilized for hemoglobin formation.

Migraines and irregular sexual maturation are also reported in children with iron deficiency.

Effects on fetal brain

For optimal development of neurotransmitters in the fetal brain, iron transport across the placenta increases four folds during the last two months of pregnancy. During this period fetal iron stores are also created to tide over the postnatal demands.

Therefore, all women in child bearing age should get themselves evaluated for potential iron deficiency to avoid permanent neurological compromise in the offspring. Note that the incidence of some degree of iron deficiency during the reproductive years is as high as 60 percent.

Folic Acid

Folic acid should be taken by mothers from before conception and through the first three months of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in fetus.


Iodine is essential for normal fetal growth.


Proteins are the building blocks in essential nutrition:

  • To build, maintain and repair body tissue.

  • Form enzymes, which are essential for various organ functions.

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Recommended Daily Protein Allowance for
Normal Growth in Children


0 to 6 months

6 to 12 months

1 to 3 years

4 to 8 years

9 to 13 years

14 to 18 years

19 to 25 years


9 - 10





Boys 52 / Girls 46

Boys 56 / Girls 46

Related pages of interest

Healthy Food 

Importance of DHA for Child Health

DHA Supplements for Children

Premenstrual Syndrome and Dietary Iron

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