Malnutrition is a complex disorder, defined by an imbalance, excess, or deficiency of nutrient intake. The visible signs of malnutrition are stunted growth and wasting, but malnourished children are also more likely to have delays in neurocognitive development, vaccine failure, and susceptibility to infection. Despite malnutrition being a major global health problem, we do not yet understand the pathogenesis of this complex disorder. Although lack of food is a major contributor to childhood malnutrition, it is not the sole cause. The mother's prenatal nutritional status, enteric infections, and intestinal inflammation also contribute to the risk of childhood malnutrition and recovery. Here, we discuss another potential risk factor, host and maternal genetics, that may play a role in the risk of malnutrition via several biological pathways. Understanding the genetic risks of malnutrition may help to identify ideal targets for intervention and treatment of malnutrition.