As pediatric registered dietitians, we receive many questions from parents regarding their child’s nutrition. Questions regarding appropriate milk intake, should we incorporate juice, do they need a multivitamin, etc. These are all very common questions we receive on a daily basis.
March is National Nutrition Month, so this is a great opportunity to answer some of those questions! The important thing to remember is all kids are different and the advice may not fit each individual child’s needs. Therefore, it’s important to consult with your doctor or speak with a registered dietitian to provide suggestions specifically for your child and their specific needs.
How do I get my picky eater to try new things?
Picky eating can be extremely frustrating for all parties involved! It’s hard not to give in and just give them anything they want as long as their willing to eat it.
To combat picky eating it’s important to continue introducing new foods to your child. Try introducing one new food per meal and make it fun!
Here are a few of my favorite tips:
• Let your child help choose a new fruit or vegetable to try.
• Have your child help you prepare the meal, getting them involved will get them excited for trying new foods.
• Offer two options; “which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?”
• Offer only one new food at a time.
• Cut new foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters.
• Be a good role model by trying new foods yourself.
You can also use a non-food reward system to encourage trying new foods. For example, if your child tries one new food per week, for an entire month, they receive a prize at the end of the month. Non-food prizes include stickers, bubbles, coloring books, going to the playground, etc. This can be a fun way to track the new foods they have tried. Seeing their progress at the end of the month and rewarding them will get them excited for trying new foods. Picky eating can be tough, but remember it’s temporary! It’s important to encourage your child in a positive way while navigating through this phase!
How can I be sure that my child is eating enough protein?
This is a concern many parents have. While your child’s individual protein needs would be best determined by a doctor or registered dietitian, most healthy children don’t require as much protein as you would think. The table below provides the recommended amount of protein, along with examples of protein sources, for children 1-18 years of age. If your child is a picky eater, there are ways to supplement protein in the diet. However, I would advise to check with your doctor or registered dietitian before doing this. Our bodies are unable to process excessive amounts of protein and developing kidneys may become over-stressed by too much protein. As long as your child is generally healthy and gaining weight appropriately, they are likely consuming adequate protein in their diet.
How do I get my underweight child to gain weight?
First, resist the temptation to allow your child graze all day.
This sounds like the opposite of what you would naturally want to do, it is easy to think: “I need to let them eat whenever they want, they need to gain weight.” However, by setting a meal and snack schedule it allows your child to develop an appetite and eat more at the next mealtime. Having a schedule helps to create a predictable environment in your child’s mind, triggering them to become hungry at certain times.
Second, make family meal time a priority!
Start by sitting around the dinner table together as a family, if your child sees you eating your meal, they will be more likely to eat theirs! Make sure there are no distractions while you are sitting at the table, put away your phones and turn off the T.V.! This communicates to your child that meal time is only for eating, not entertainment.
Third, pack in the calories into their food any way you can!
Here are a few tricks to sneak in some additional calories in their everyday foods:
- Instead of adding water to their oatmeal, potatoes, macaroni and cheese etc., try adding whole milk!
- Add some butter to their vegetables.
- Add additional oil to the pan when prepping their foods.
- Drizzle honey on yogurt, fruits, toast, pancakes.
Here are some high calorie and healthy food options to consider:
- Avocado – make into a guacamole and serve with chips or on toast
- Peanut Butter – add to fruit, toast, oatmeal, pancakes or smoothies
- Cheese – String cheese is very kid friends and easy to bring on the go
- Full Fat Yogurt and Granola
- Smoothies – made with frozen fruit, whole milk, peanut butter, the options are endless!
- Eggs – scramble and sprinkle cheese on top for extra good calories!
- Hummus – great to dip with vegetables or pita bread
- Macaroni and Cheese – make with whole wheat pasta for extra fiber and protein
What are some quick, easy ways to prepare healthy snacks and meals in advance?
Whether you are a working mom or surviving “virtual school,” most of us are very short on time these days. At the end of a long day putting together a healthy meal can just seem too exhausting. The first step to cooking a healthy dinner for your family starts with a little meal planning. Decide on a time that you will meal plan for each week and prioritize it! This will prevent you from getting overwhelmed at dinner time and avoids multiple trips to the grocery store.
Here are some quick and healthy snack ideas for your kids:
- Apples or bananas with peanut butter
- Trail mix
- Carrots, sliced bell peppers, or celery with hummus
- Cheese sticks
- Whole wheat crackers (can add peanut butter or sliced cheese)
Planning meals for the school/work week will save you time and energy! I typically only plan meals for the week and then we eat up and leftovers on the weekends.
When packing your child’s lunch, try to include a few different food groups. You want to make sure to include a protein source to keep them full until dinner time. One easy way to do this is using the “Bento Box”, this allows you to easily put together a variety of foods.
Some examples of a bento box lunch would be:
- Whole wheat crackers + hummus + apples + sliced bell peppers
- Pretzels + peanut butter + berries + cucumbers
- Yogurt + granola + berries + almonds
- Turkey + cheese + carrots + cherry tomatoes
Should my child take a multivitamin or any other type of nutritional supplement?
Our answer is yes! Getting your vitamins and minerals from real food is ALWAYS better than getting it from a pill, this does not replace the need for a healthy diet. A multivitamin is only meant to fill in the gaps in your child’s diet that they could miss at times. Multivitamins are not regulated by the FDA, so there are third party groups that can inspect and verify the ingredients in these products. When choosing a multivitamin we recommend choosing one that is certified by one of these groups; USP, NSF, UL or ConsumerLab.com. Just remember, this is not a replacement for a healthy diet!