Foods to Accelerate the Growth of Malnourished Children

While chronic malnutrition in the United States is rare, it does affect about 1 percent of U.S. kids, and many others suffer from dietary imbalances, according to Johns Hopkins Children's Center. The Child Welfare League of America reports that 3.1 percent of households in the United States experience hunger. Being undernourished can stunt growth in children. Choosing foods that help accelerate growth in malnourished children gives them the best chance at reaching their full potential for growth and development.

A bowl of oatmeal with strawberries. (Image: OksanaKiian/iStock/Getty Images)

Nutrient-Dense, High-Calorie Options

Choosing foods that are high in calories and rich in nutrients will help accelerate the growth rate of malnourished children – especially those who are also underweight. Nuts, seeds, peanut butter, cheese, whole milk, avocados, hummus and dried fruit are examples. For children who need additional calories to reach healthy body weights, add powdered milk to beverages, soups and casseroles. High-calorie nutrition shakes are an option, too, but only when used under medical supervision.

Dairy Foods

Children who regularly consume dairy products are more likely to grow at a healthy pace. A 2006 study published in "Public Health Nutrition" found that consumption of dairy products – including cow's milk – is associated with increased insulinlike growth factor and leg length in children. Most children need 2 to 3 cups of dairy foods – such as cow's milk, cheese, cottage cheese or yogurt – daily, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.

Protein Foods

Kwashiorkor, a dietary protein deficiency, can cause delayed growth in children, reports MedlinePlus. The Institute of Medicine suggests that children ages 9 to 13 need at least 34 grams of protein daily, kids ages 4 to 8 require 19 grams and children ages 1 to 3 should get at least 13 grams of dietary protein each day. Dairy foods are rich in protein. Other high-protein foods include legumes, eggs, soy products, wheat protein, lean meat, turkey, chicken and low-mercury fish -- such as salmon, catfish and pollock.

Vitamins and Minerals

Getting plenty of essential vitamins and minerals helps ensure malnourished children grow and develop properly. A study published in 2010 in the "Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism" reports that supplementing with vitamin A, iron and zinc helps accelerate growth in short children born small for their gestational age. Although taking nutrient supplements is OK for children when medically supervised, vitamin A is abundant in orange fruits and vegetables --and zinc and iron are present in meats, poultry, seafood, some fortified breakfast cereals and legumes.

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