Written by: Kimberly Hickman, R.N.
Picky Eaters Club: Does Your Child belong?
Are you a parent who can’t get your child to eat anything green or healthy? If so, then keep reading. Kids need certain nutrients in their diet. Calcium, Fiber, Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, Magnesium, and Potassium are some of the essentials that every growing child needs. There are many foods that contain these nutrients but quite often parents feel helpless when they have a child who refuses to try anything new and who eats the same 5 foods repeatedly. Does this sound familiar? Your not alone and it is a common struggle that most parents have to deal with. Don’t worry though, because this article will provide you with some valuable tips to insure your picky eater gets everything they need!
The only vegetables my child eats are corn and French fries.
First, you must understand that greasy French fries should not be counted as a vegetable. When deep fried they are nothing more that a potential risk factor for future heart disease. Second, corn is a starch and won’t provide as many benefits as other vegetables that will be mentioned.
Pairing vegetables with other foods that kids like is one way of introducing them to your child. For example, a snack before dinner when your child is super hungry could be baby carrot sticks with low fat ranch dip. Another idea is celery sticks with a small amount of peanut butter or cream cheese on the end. Snack time after playing at the park or after school is also a good time to try out a veggie variety. Cherry tomatoes with a mozzarella string cheese stick or cucumbers with lean turkey and mozzarella cheese are a couple of examples. These are quick, easy, and can be so much fun. Sometimes instead of making a big deal out of a child’s refusal to eat vegetables it is better to try multiple approaches to make eating vegetables fun.
Kids like to be a part of things. Another way to introduce new foods and vegetables is giving them the responsibility of choosing a new veggie on each grocery store excursion. On the way to the store tell them as a special treat they get to pick out 1 new food for the family from the vegetable group and the food group. Kids love this! Guide them through the produce section and make a BIG DEAL out of the fact they get to choose which veggie will be on the dinner table and which fruit will accompany it on the plate.
Regardless how picky of an eater your child may be you should never give up on trying different approaches. Vegetables are very low in calories and provide essential nutrients every child needs for healthy growth and development. Make it a habit to have a vegetable at every dinner. Kids mimic their parents, so lead by example. Don’t forget to step outside the box. There are so many different vegetables and ways to make them fun. Some of My Family Plate’s™ favorites are baked sweet potato fries, cheesy spinach, and fajita peppers.
Got Milk? NO!
So your child doesn’t like milk. Yes, this is a problem because milk contains vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients are responsible for helping your child’s body grow strong bones. Also, some ongoing research has suggested that children who make skim or soy milk a part of their daily diet are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. In the past many parents were told that their child needed whole milk or at least 2% to reap all the benefits but that has since changed. Skim milk still has all the benefits, but is lower in fat and calories which is another contribution to maintaining a healthy weight.
Okay, now we know why it’s good, so if my child refuses to drink it how can they get all of these necessary nutrients? First start by knowing how much calcium your child needs because this is different for every age category. Once you know that you can begin doing the following things. Continue to introduce milk daily. Add it to your child’s whole grain cereal at breakfast, make it available at snack time with whole grain crackers and low fat peanut butter, and always in small amounts. If your child already doesn’t want to drink it, rest assured that placing a large glass of milk in front of them won’t help the situation. Try a small 4 oz cup at different times throughout the week but don’t force it.
If you are past this point and have tried everything, don’t worry there are other ways for your child to calcium in their diet. Some examples of calcium rich foods are low fat yogurt with their favorite fresh fruit on top, part skim mozzarella cheese stick, and low fat cheddar cheese cubes. If you child is lactose intolerant and cannot have dairy products, good sources of calcium include spinach, fish and almonds. Below is a list of foods, other than milk, and their estimated calcium content. It is suggested that children 1-3 years of age have 500mg of calcium per day, 800mg for children ages 4-8, and 1300mg for children 9 years-18 years of age.
Food Calcium in mg____
3oz Fish 181
4oz of low fat chocolate pudding 159
1/2 cup of almonds 162
1/2 cup of soybeans 197
8oz of non fat yogurt 452
1 cup of spinach 291
1oz of cheese 207
Whole grains, forget about it!
So everyone has heard the big debate about white bread verses whole grain bread, but do you really understand the reason behind it? The short version of why it is better to feed your child whole grain foods instead of refined white breads, pastas, and rice is because whole grains are loaded with fiber. Whole grains are made with whole wheat flour which has an estimated fiber content of 78% higher than white flour.
Why is fiber so important? Fiber helps prevent constipation because it is not absorbed in our digestive system. Simplified, it helps everything pass through. Not only does fiber help our digestive system stay healthy, but it also keeps us feeling fuller longer which can prevent overeating or eating at unscheduled meal and snack times. When white bread, rice, and pasta are manufactured all of the fiber is removed and you are left with nothing more than starch. Starch is nothing more that units of a simple sugar (glucose) linked together. Eating a high fiber diet has also been associated with lower cholesterol levels which alone can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Kids can still have the foods they love the “whole grain” way. This is where it takes a little work on the parents end. When at the grocery market make sure you READ THE LABEL! Some foods claim to be whole grain but still are not high in fiber, which is what you are looking for. Look at the fiber content on the nutrition label. A safe bet is to buy foods that have 3 grams or more fiber per serving.
Children ages 1-3 years should have an estimated 19 grams of fiber per day and 25 grams is recommended for those 4-8 years of age. It sounds like a lot but there are so many whole grains high in fiber content. Some whole grain breads have over 6 grams of fiber per slice. Other whole grain options are whole grain pasta, whole grain brown rice, whole grain cereal, oatmeal, whole grain crackers, and whole grain pitas. Some food companies are now marketing whole grain white bread. Beware of false marketing and make it a habit to start looking at food labels and knowing what is really in the foods you are feeding your family.
In summary, you are not going to be able to cure a picky eater overnight. Give yourself a break and make small steps and changes everyday. If you follow the 3 tips above you can feel confident that not only your picky eater, but the whole family will be getting the veggies, calcium, and fiber their bodies need.
Things to remember:
→ Incorporate a vegetable at every lunch, dinner, and at least one snack per day
→ Know your child’s recommended calcium intake and if milk fails start providing one of the other calcium rich foods listed earlier
→ Read food labels! Make sure your packaged whole grain foods have at least 3 grams of fiber or higher per serving
→ NEVER give up on taking steps to make you and your family healthy. Eating healthy will reduce risk factors for many diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.