It's unlikely that specific food choices will prompt your child to grow taller than he is genetically designed to be. But offering children the right balance of nutrients – including total calories, carbs, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals – will maximize their growth potential. Conversely, poor nutrition can result in delayed – or even permanently stunted – growth in children, according to MedlinePlus.
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Go for Protein
MedlinePlus notes that children who consume too little dietary protein may not reach their full growth potential. The Institute of Medicine suggests that kids ages 1 to 3 consume 13 grams of protein daily; children ages 4 to 8 get at least 19 grams; and kids ages 9 to 13 consume a minimum of 34 grams of dietary protein daily. Protein-rich foods include lean meats, fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, soy products, dairy foods, legumes, nuts and seeds. High-protein foods from animal sources may be especially beneficial to help kids grow to their full potential, according to a 2003 study published in the “Journal of Nutrition.”
In addition to eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, getting plenty of calories is essential for proper growth in children -- and can boost growth in kids who were previously malnourished. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 estimate that kids ages 2 to 3 need 1,000 to 1,400 calories daily; children ages 4 to 8 require 1,200 to 2,000 calories a day; and kids ages 9 to 14 need about 1,400 to 2,600 calories daily. The more active your child is, the more calories he needs to maximize his growth and development, and boys generally require more calories than girls.
Vitamins and Minerals
Adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis play an important role in maximizing your child’s rate of growth. Although all micronutrients are important for children, key nutrients for growth acceleration in children include iron, zinc and vitamin A, according to a 2010 study published in the “Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism.” Iron and zinc are abundant in lean red meats, seafood, dark-meat chicken, legumes, and iron- and zinc-fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin A-rich foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, pumpkin, peppers, cantaloupe and mangoes.
It Does a Body Good
Milk -- and other dairy products -- may help kids grow as tall as they are genetically designed to be. A 2006 study published in “Public Health Nutrition” found that consumption of cows’ milk and other dairy foods is associated with higher insulin-like growth factor in children, and with increased leg-bone length in boys. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, most kids need 2 to 3 cups of dairy foods daily, depending on their age and suggested total calorie intake.
- MedlinePlus: Kwashiorkor
- MedlinePlus: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Journal of Nutrition: Animal Source Foods Improve Dietary Quality, Micronutrient Status, Growth and Cognitive Function in Kenyan School Children: Background, Study Design and Baseline Findings
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Functional Food" for Acceleration of Growth in Short Children Born Small for Gestational Age
- Public Health Nutrition: Milk as a Food for Growth? The Insulin-Like Growth Factors Link