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The Importance of Nutrition in Early Childhood Development

by , 11th Sep 2016

We all instinctively know from birth that food is essential to our own survival. Studies show that a nutritious diet will make your child healthier and better able to learn.

Children can be picky eaters. For many parents, picturing a toddler stubbornly throwing a piece of broccoli to the floor in disgust is easy – after all, it’s an all too familiar scene. However tiring it might be, it’s important that you find ways to convince your child to eat that piece of broccoli, as studies show that having a balanced and nutritious diet directly impacts all aspects of a child’s growth and development.

Why is Nutrition so Important for Children?

The relationship between nutrition, health and learning is undeniably strong: nutrition is one of the three major factors that impact a child’s development. As genes and environment are the other two factors, eating a certain food cannot guarantee that your child will be smarter, although my mother did successfully teach (trick?) me to eat fish when I was little for that very reason. Nevertheless, research studies show that nutrition in a child’s early years is linked to their health and academic performance in later years.

Copyright: Lana K

Copyright: Lana K

Nutrition and Health

However you might personally define it, “a child’s early years” begin before birth when it comes to nutrition. Under-nutrition during pregnancy stunts foetal growth and can lead to poor brain development that result in irreversible chronic illnesses. Under-nutrition of a breastfeeding mother will likewise negatively impact a child’s development, especially in the first 6 months when breast milk is all he/she is consuming. For all soon-to-be and new mothers, it’s worth making sure you’re consuming a healthy and balanced diet full of the vital nutrients that both you and your child need: carbohydrates, protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and D. Although at first glance this list seems overbearing, realistically you probably consume most of these nutrients already – it’s just about following proportions, which the eatwell plate helps to illustrate.

Is it really that important for children to be consuming all of the above nutrients though? The short answer: yes. The benefits of good nutrition to health are endless, but the following few conclusions made by researchers serve to prove my point. Firstly, breastfeeding by mothers following nutritious diets leads to fewer and less severe cases among their children of illnesses including diarrhoea, ear infection and bacterial meningitis. This is because better-nourished children have an enhanced natural ability to fight infection. Secondly, since iron is a vital component of brain tissue, iron deficiency makes nerve impulses move slower and may cause permanent damage to a child’s brain, especially in the first two years of his/her life; iron deficiency during this time is linked to behaviour changes and delayed psychomotor development. However, too much iron also presents problems. As my mother wisely often tells me, “the key is to find the middle way”. Thirdly, under-nutrition has been proven to decrease a child’s activity levels, social interactions, curiosity and cognitive functioning. Although parents everywhere probably harbour the wish that their child wasn’t quite so hyperactively jumping on their bed at 6am, good nutrition remains a must.

Copyright: DeeMPhotography

Copyright: DeeMPhotography

Nutrition and Academic Performance

It seems bizarre to think that what your child consumes at, say, 4 months will affect their learning ability years later. Research has proven this true. Throughout their early childhood, it’s important to monitor your child’s nutrient intake for the sake of their later performance. For instance, breastfeeding appears to lead to higher IQ, while iron deficiency correlates with reduced cognition and achievement at school age. More obviously to the layman, since under-nourished children get sick more often, they miss more school and fail to keep up with peers. Research has made the link even clearer: school-age children who eat breakfast do better in tests than those that go without.

“Eat up please”

When there’s work to go to, bills to pay and dishes to wash, getting your child to eat what they don’t want to (especially when doing so might cause a much-dreaded tantrum) is oftentimes the least of your worries. But it’s critically important. Following nutrition guidelines is relatively straightforward during pregnancy, as well as at the start of your child’s life. When your child starts to form likes and dislikes, my advice to you is to accept preferences but continue to introduce new foods by making silly faces and playing peek-a-boo until you hear that giggle and see your toddler happily putting the spoon into their mouth themselves. Persevere. I promise he/she will thank you one day.


Leave a Reply
  •' Y He says:

    Very well said, Anna. Are you a nutrition or an education major? Couldn’t agree more with your mum, the importance of having a balanced diet; and you’re absolutely right that it’s better to cultivate good eating habit from early childhood, if possible. Keep going, young lady!

    (ncidentally I encountered your article while doing some online search… By any chance, the first name of the wise lady who told you “the key is to find the middle way” is Gina?)

  •' Y He says:

    Hello again, Anna.

    Earlier I actually meant to ask if you’d say hi to your mum for me. Instead, I restricted the urge of doing so because I want to make sure that you’d screen the comments first before posting. Glad you do, so I guess I could tell you just a bit more about me. I went to senior high with your mum for all 3 years and the meaning of my first name in Chinese is, an infant. Technically, I had seen you when you were 1-yo or 2 because your mum had mailed me a photo of you then. Time flies, the adorable baby girl has obviously matured into an intelligent and beautiful young lady. It’s been almost 20 years since I last spoke with your mum, say hi to her for me, will you, please? Take care,

  •' lucy says:

    thank you much for the motivation since all you have said is true and encouraging mothers to be more concern with their children choices.
    thanks much….

  •' fitnesshealthforever says:

    This is an informative post. Got a lot of info and details from here. Thank you for sharing this and looking forward to reading more of your post.

    Health Fitness Nutrition

  •' Anneke says:

    Hi Anna,

    I’m interested in the research resources you’ve referenced for some of your statements. Could you please provide? We are launching a nutrition campaign in conjunction with the education curriculum we provide and I’d really love to reference some key statistics. I believe what you are saying and agree with all the statements, research based metrics would be wonderful to add to the mix. Thanks in advance!

  •' Dean Phillips says:

    I thought it was interesting how you said that the three major factors that impact a child’s development are nutrition, health, and learning. My wife and I have a son who is getting to the age where he can eat solid foods. It would be great if we could find a blog or website that can provide insight on what types of food would be the best for our son.

  •' fitnesshealthforever says:

    Hey, very nice blog. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.

    health fitness food

  •' Zoe Cooch says:

    Nutrition is really important for children. You have talked about nutrition is absolutely and This is very important for the kids.
    Medical Answering Service

  •' Gemma Haines says:

    Thanks for sharing your informative article on healthy eating. Right now I am pregnant can I eat everything from here or I need to avoid some items from this list? Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

  •' RutoLaban says:


    the message is so much straight forward……i’m still a student at Jooust university Kenya …..i will use this for my musters reasearch.

    • NDFAdmin says:

      Dear Ruto

      We are so glad that you can use this article for your master’s research. Keep following our blog because we write about other important aspects of early childhood development 🙂

  •' Mercy says:

    Thank you Anna ,this is an informative script keep on the good work.

  •' AUWAL BALA says:

    Thanks a lot .One important nutrient is DHA found in fish oil, is known for brain development

  •' Tram H Dominguez says:

    Hi there, great article here. I’m doing some research, and I was curious if there are sources and what are the author’s accreditation?


  •' khaya says:

    thank you for the information it was really helpful

  •' Kidshealthbuddy says:

    Really surprised, early childhood food for children much important now a days. proper nutrition value take will give a balance lifestyle .New moms need to take care of plenty of things like thanks for sharing valuable article.

  •' JesseA says:

    Very well researched and nicely explained. I read some healthy recipe blogs on , but they are not especially for kids. So I will add your blog to my list as well.

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