INTRODUCTION: The efficacy of interventions against children malnutrition crucially depends on a myriad of factors other than the simple food intake, that must be carefully studied in order to plan a balanced policy. The relation between dietary patterns and growth is at the very heart of the problem, especially in consideration of the fact that dietary pattern involves dimension other than pure caloric intake in its definition. In this work we investigated the relations between dietary pattern and growth comparing children from a rural and a urban area in Andean Peru, in terms of food habits and anthropometric variables to develop a model usable in context interventions against malnutrition. MATERIAL AND METHODS: A sample of 159 children (80 from urban, 79 from rural area), aged from 4 to 120 months (72.7 ± 37.5 SD) was collected. The data were investigated by a multidimensional (principal component analysis followed by inferential approach) analysis to correlate the different hidden dimensions of both anthropometric and dietary observables. The correlation between these dimensions (in the form of principal components) were computed and contrasted with the effects of age and urban/rural environments. RESULTS: Caloric intake and growth were not linearly correlated in our data set. Moreover urban and rural environment were demonstrated to show very different patterns of both dietary and anthropometric variables pointing to the marked effect of dietary habits and demographic composition of the analyzed populations. The relation between malnutrition and overweight was at the same time demonstrated to follow a strict area dependent distribution. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION: We gave a proof-of-concept of the non-linear character of the relation between malnutrition (in terms of caloric intake) and growth, pointing to the need to calibrate interventions on food pattern and not only quantity to contrast malnutrition effects on growth. The education toward a balanced diet must go hand-inhand with the intervention on caloric intake in order to prevent effects on health.