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Nutrition and Pediatric Development: Role of Diet in Therapy

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Parents from all walks of life want what’s best for their children. However, it can be challenging to know what’s best when it comes to dietary and nutritional needs. Beyond ensuring your little one’s tummy is full, you must also consider nutritional intake. Optimal nutrition can prevent malnourishment and reduce the risk of developing various health problems. 

Following the standard dietary guidelines for pediatrics is a good place to start to ensure your child gets nourishing meals and creates healthy eating habits. Pediatric nutrition therapy takes things one step further and is an excellent way to ensure your child’s nutritional needs are fulfilled.

What Is Pediatric Nutrition Therapy?

Nutrition is a key component in therapy for children with chronic conditions. Licensed pediatric therapists understand the specific nutritional needs of children with developmental delays or challenges. In pediatric nutrition therapy, a therapist will assess your child’s dietary needs to develop a suitable eating plan for optimal nourishment. The therapist will also monitor your child’s nutritional status to measure progress, adjust eating plans and assess overall health changes.

Pediatric nutrition therapy involves a holistic approach that considers how all aspects of life impact diet and how diet impacts your child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. The ultimate goal of nutritional therapy is to provide personalized, sustainable dietary support.

Various laboratory tests can give pediatric therapists accurate insight into a child’s health and nutrition status. For example, microbiome health tests can assess the overall health of gut microbiota. Micronutrient testing evaluates vitamin and mineral status, while food sensitivity tests can help therapists eliminate certain foods that may negatively impact your child’s overall health.

Dietary Impact on Child Development

The relationship between children’s diet and development is significant. Beyond genetics and environment, nutritional intake can shape your child’s overall health and well-being.

There are numerous health and growth benefits associated with a healthy, balanced diet, including:

  • Optimal brain development: The human brain requires essential nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals to form and maintain its structure. The right nutrient-dense foods can support neurological developments that influence motor skills, language, behavior and social capabilities. Poor nutrition can restrict brain growth and impact IQ levels in children, and lacking nutrition can also increase the risks of developing attention deficits and behavioral problems that can affect quality of life.
  • Healthy physical growth: The human body grows exponentially between infancy and adolescence. Optimal nutrition is essential to support growing bones, muscle tissue and organs. In contrast, poor nutrition can stunt a child’s growth and development. Stunting is a primary metric used to evaluate childhood malnutrition. This metric determines whether a child has met their growth potential.
  • Reduced risk of obesity: Obesity affects about 19.7% of children and adolescents. It is linked to various chronic conditions, including heart disease and multiple types of cancers. While poor nutrition can increase the risk of obesity in children, optimal nutrition can support healthy weight management.
  • Adopting healthy eating habits: When healthy eating plans are incorporated from a young age, children are set up to adopt healthy eating habits they will follow throughout their lives.

Nutrition impacts every area of pediatric development, from physical to mental and emotional growth. Still, parents and caregivers may struggle to keep fussy eaters well-fed. After all, countless food products are packed with harmful ingredients. Artificial food coloring, nitrates, nitrites, phthalates and perchlorates are just a few common chemicals found in food products that can harm the health of your child. More often than not, these toxic ingredients are found in processed, packaged foods.

Instead of reaching for convenient food products like boxed cereals and microwavable meals, consider offering your child these nutrient-dense foods:

  • Greek yogurt: While you’ll likely want to avoid the range of brightly colored yogurts advertised for kids because they contain food coloring and artificial flavoring, plain Greek yogurt is a tasty and healthy choice. Greek yogurt is packed with probiotics that can support a healthy gut. You can add berries, nuts or honey to flavor plain Greek yogurt.
  • Beans and legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans and soybeans are just a few healthy beans and legumes to add to your little one’s diet. These foods are packed with protein and fiber and can substitute ground beef and processed meats.
  • Eggs: Whether you boil, fry or scramble them — eggs are a great addition to any child’s diet. A large egg contains about 6 grams of protein and various essential vitamins. However, avoid sunflower oil when frying or scrambling eggs. Instead, you can use extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Avocado: Avocados are known as a superfood for good reason. They are a rich source of monounsaturated fats, vitamins C, E, K and B6, and various other beneficial nutrients.
  • Sweet potato: While regular potatoes are relatively healthy, sweet potatoes have high vitamin A content. They are also low in glycemic acid and contain more antioxidants than regular potatoes.
  • Nuts and seeds: Cashews, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds and chia seeds make excellent snacks. Nuts and seeds are packed with fiber, magnesium and minerals that are crucial to bone development.
  • Vegetables: All kinds of vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals that can help your child thrive.

These nutrient-dense foods can help create a balanced diet for optimal child growth and development. Still, it may be tricky to incorporate new foods if your little one is a fussy eater. With pediatric nutritional therapy, introducing healthy foods is easier.

The Benefits of Pediatric Nutritional Counseling

Pediatric therapists are trained to provide comprehensive solutions for a healthier diet. By addressing potential underlying health issues and evaluating the overall nutritional status, a specialist can address various areas of well-being. From supporting healthy digestion and bowel function to correcting nutrient deficiencies and blood sugar imbalances, pediatric nutritional counseling offers a world of benefits.

Comprehensive Understanding of Nutritional Needs

Pediatric specialists provide parents and caregivers with the tools they need to offer their children a balanced diet that fits their nutritional needs. Specialists have an in-depth understanding of dietary needs. They also understand various childhood disorders and how they impact eating habits and food preferences.

By gaining insight into your child’s nutritional status, you’ll be better equipped to support optimal growth through food. Whether your goal as a parent or caregiver is to improve health, manage health conditions or prevent them, pediatric specialists offer insight that makes these goals realistic and achievable.

Lower Risks of Developing Long-Term Health Issues

Children who are poorly nourished are prone to developing various health conditions due to a weakened immune system. Some of the long-term health complications that can stem from poor nutrition in childhood include liver problems, gallstones, early puberty, hormone imbalances, and problems with hip and leg bone development.

Routine Assessments of Your Child’s Health

Working with a pediatric therapist can help you manage your child’s diet over time. Instead of relying on one round of advice, the specialist will monitor your child in therapy sessions to determine whether dietary changes are sufficient. Continuous health assessments are also beneficial in identifying health conditions early on, making it possible to manage and improve health more effectively.

Personalized Nutritional Recommendations

Based on the results of comprehensive nutrition status assessments, pediatric specialists can tailor eating plans to complement your child’s specific nutritional needs. By considering both dietary needs and the presence of chronic conditions, tailored eating plans can ensure a balanced intake of all essential nutrients. Whether your child is a picky eater with sensory sensitivities or developmental delays, therapists can create personalized eating plans that consider their individual needs. With ongoing assessments, specialists can adjust eating plans to accommodate your child’s taste preferences as they change over time.

Pediatric Nutrition Therapy Techniques

Beyond tailoring eating plans that consider your child’s specific nutritional status and health conditions, pediatric therapists also use certain techniques to improve eating habits.

Sensory Desensitization

With conditions like autism and sensory processing disorder, food aversions and fear of new foods may prevent children from following eating plans. While these tendencies can be challenging to manage on your own, experienced pediatric specialists can help children with autism overcome food aversions.

Sensory desensitization is a technique that gradually introduces a child to new food tastes, smells and textures. With gradual exposure, children feel less overwhelmed by new sensory experiences and eventually manage to indulge in new healthy foods.

Oral-Motor Training

Various childhood disorders may impact oral-motor skills, which can make eating a difficult task. With oral-motor training techniques, therapists aim to strengthen the muscles used to eat. Pediatric therapists may focus on improving chewing skills, strengthening tongue coordination and enhancing swallowing movements.

Behavioral Intervention

Pediatric therapists also focus on improving mealtime behaviors. From assisting with setting eating routines to creating a calm, positive environment, behavioral intervention can ultimately help instill positive experiences around mealtimes for children. Therapists may recommend using reward systems and removing distractions to improve mealtime behaviors.

Reasons a Child May Need Nutritional Intervention

There are a few reasons a child may benefit from nutritional therapy. For many children, eating can seem like a basic instinct, but for others, it can be a complex and challenging activity. The latter is often the case when certain conditions are present. Eating involves various bodily processes, ranging from sensory and oral-motor to muscular, neurological and behavioral systems. Certain chronic conditions can impact these processes, creating feeding issues. Nutritional therapy for childhood disorders offers a holistic approach to overcoming eating challenges.

Some of the reasons a child may need nutritional intervention include:

  • Failure to thrive: If a child’s growth and development are below average for their age, nutritional intervention can help identify the cause. Whether nutritional deficiencies or a childhood disorder hinders growth and development, nutrition therapy can help identify and manage the cause of childhood stunting.
  • Eating disorders: Unhealthy eating behaviors can lead to disordered eating. Anorexia, bulimia nervosa and binge eating are all disorders that can affect children. Nutritional therapy can help treat these eating disorders and encourage a healthier relationship with food from a young age.
  • Food sensitivities and allergies: Nausea and vomiting, digestive issues, hives, eczema, and itching or tightness in the throat are some signs of food sensitivities and allergies. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, they may have difficulty eating certain foods. Pediatric therapists can identify allergies and sensitivities through lab testing and tailor an eating plan that excludes foods of concern.
  • Celiac disease: This genetic autoimmune digestive disease can damage the small intestine and impact nutrient absorption. Children with celiac disease have special dietary needs. With the guidance of a pediatric therapist, you can ensure your child receives the nutrients they need while avoiding foods that contain gluten.
  • Cystic fibrosis: Children with cystic fibrosis must consume more calories than children without this genetic condition. A high-calorie and high-protein diet can help manage a healthy weight.
  • Autism spectrum disorder: Children with autism are generally picky eaters. Between sensory issues and food aversions, it can be challenging to implement a balanced diet. Pediatric therapists can help identify nutrient-dense foods that may not trigger your child’s sensory challenges.
  • Developmental delays: Cerebral palsy, down syndrome and sensory processing disorder are some developmental delays that can make meal times challenging for children. Proper nutrition can help improve overall health when these conditions are present, and expert pediatric therapists can help implement suitable eating plans.

Nutrition interventions for kids with these challenges are an essential step towards improving health and quality of life. Nutrition therapy can help children develop a healthy relationship with food to make meal times a pleasant and wholesome experience.

Improve Your Child’s Well-Being at Kids SPOT

Kids SPOT provides a family-centric approach to pediatric therapy. For more than 15 years, we have been improving lives across the United States by giving children and their parents or caregivers the tools they need to thrive. We strive to empower children by instilling confidence that will help them succeed.

We continue to grow and develop our team of pediatric experts by keeping up to date with the newest techniques and therapies. By prioritizing internal education, we can offer you and your child efficient treatments. Beyond education, our team brings genuine compassion to each patient, and we encourage family members to participate in the entire treatment process.

We incorporate nutritional therapy into our comprehensive occupational therapy services to provide children with a well-rounded treatment plan that addresses all areas of well-being. The ultimate goal is to help your little one meet important diet and developmental milestones, overcome complex sensory challenges and improve their quality of life.

When choosing pediatric therapy at Kids SPOT, our pediatric specialists will evaluate your child based on their current health condition to create a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan to support optimal nutrition. During therapy sessions, we will empower your child to follow a balanced, nutrient-rich diet and equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to implement new eating plans at home.

To learn more about our comprehensive pediatric program, contact us online or reach out directly at 1-833-543-7768.