Working out what to feed your child can feel like a neverending ordeal, especially when young. During the early months, it’s either breast milk, formula, or a bit of both. But as they get older, they start to move over to solid food, and that’s when the real problems can begin.
Feeding a child can be a source of concern. You instinctively know that it’s a central part of their lives. But getting them to eat a balanced diet from the get-go can be a challenge. They don’t always want to play ball.
Moms have to be careful, though. It’s normal for children to avoid eating particular foods. But if they feel pressured into doing so, it can create even more problems in the future. And nobody wants that.
Here are some nutrition ideas and tips that will help you keep them straight and narrow.
Don’t Fixate On How Much They Eat
Some moms feel like they have to make sure that their toddlers and young children eat a set number of calories each day. Unless they’re scarfing mountains of food, there’s a problem.
That’s not the case, though. The important part of feeding is taking in some food. If you try to overfeed a child, it’ll create unpleasant associations for them. They’ll resist whatever it is that you’re trying to shove down their throats the next time. Your best bet is to simply allow them to decide on their portion sizes, and leave it at that. Kids are very good – just like adults – at working out when they’ve had enough. Their calorie-sensing pathways are highly developed. And they’ll tend to eat what they need and no more.
In some cases, your child may fail to thrive. If they’re underweight, schedule a doctors’ appointment. It could be an indication of an underlying health problem.
Avoid Making Meal Times A Battle
As a parent, you can worry if your child doesn’t eat at mealtimes. You fear that they won’t get their nutrition, and they will wither away. Plus, you can sometimes hold the view that because you spent time preparing a dish, they should eat it.
These perspectives, however, can turn mealtimes into a battle. And that’s where trouble can start. Children want to feel like they are masters of their bodies. When mealtimes become a battle, it can become less about the food and more about a battle of wills.
Just take mealtimes gently. If they really don’t want a particular type of food, try it again later. Lead by example. And make delicious recipes that combine multiple healthy ingredients, hiding the taste of things like greens if you can.
Eat The Foods You Want Your Child To Eat
Nature hardwired children to mimic the behavior of their parents. Doing so is a shortcut to survival. If mommy does things a certain way, then that must be a good strategy for surviving in the world.
It makes sense, therefore, to lead by example. If your child sees you eating meals without complaint, they will too. Eventually, their curiosity will get the better of them, and they’ll munch on whatever you put in front of them. Even if they don’t like the taste at first, they’ll develop the cognitive circuits to make it more enjoyable. And eventually, it’ll just become food, and they won’t even think about it.
Make Healthy Food Choices From A Young Age
The modern food environment is a bit of a disaster for young children. There’s evidence to suggest that high-fat, high-sugar foods hijack their taste buds and actively make regular food taste bad. Thus, when you try to give them vegetables, they don’t want to eat them.
The trick here is to prevent any corruption of their taste- and pleasure-sensing mechanisms. Feeding them whole foods immediately after weaning, or using follow-on products, like Tastyganics, can prevent them from becoming acclimated to a western diet. Avoid extremely palatable foods containing sugar for the first five years of their lives, as this will prevent them from craving such items in the future. It’s a long road, but one that’s worth it for their health.
Avoid Foods That Are Unsafe For Toddlers
Some foods are unsafe for toddlers, and you should avoid them if you can. Examples include sausages and hot dogs, raw fruit with pits, gum, some types of seeds, nuts, and fresh veggies. When babies are aged between one and two years old, they’re still learning to operate their swallowing mechanism. It takes time to get the knack of the coordination of all the muscles in their throat, especially when they’re used to just drinking milk.
Some foods, like those mentioned above, however, are a choking hazard. Nuts, sausages, and pitting fruits are hard to chew and get right the first time. And many kids make mistakes. If you want to feed your children foods on the danger list, pulverize them or chop them up before serving. It is okay to give kids nut flour or crushed nuts – just not the whole thing.
The same goes for fruits like dates and cherries. Remove the nut first and make them into a mash or a paste, just to be extra safe.
How To Approach A Toddler Who Is A Picky Eater
Suppose you’ve done everything we’ve talked about so far, and your child is still a fussy eater. What do you do then?
First, take a step back and breathe. Most experts agree that some children are naturally fussy eaters. It may have nothing to do with your parenting at all. Some people, for instance, can’t stand the taste of coriander for genetic reasons. And no amount of training will change that. The same goes for vegetables high in sulfurous compounds, like kale and broccoli. These chemicals are just disgusting for some individuals.
The good news is that there are ways around this problem. Use parsley or lemongrass instead of coriander. They don’t seem to trigger the same unpleasant taste pathways. And include milder cruciferous veggies, like pak choi, as these have a much sweeter taste than, say cabbage or broccoli. You could even try your kids on lettuce and spinach as these come from entirely different plant families.
Second, focus on offering a variety of equally-palatable foods. Kids will pick and mix, typing different things to see what they like. Also, try combining foods into a recipe. So, for instance, you could make a sweet-tasting butternut squash soup. You could include healthy greens, like cabbage, and just blend it all up, so your kid doesn’t notice.
The American Dietetic Association recommends that parents feed their kids a selection of products from different food groups every day. Whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables are the foundation of the diet. Toddlers will naturally gravitate to the foods that they need to foster growth and development, so long as you provide them. Eventually, they’ll eat a range of meals all by themselves, without the need for parental intervention.
If they’re still struggling with their meals, you might want to try offering them finger food they can pick up and eat themselves, without a knife and fork. This technique can encourage them to take ownership of what they eat, instead of feeling like they have to take direction from the parent.
What About Supplementation?
Supplementation is rarely necessary for kids who eat a range of foods from across the spectrum. There are, however, exceptions.
Most junk plain cereal flours (like white wheat flour) are fortified with specific vitamins and minerals, like B12 and iron. Governments originally mandated this practice because stripping out the bran and germ were leading to deficiencies. People were getting nasty diseases like beriberi and anemia. Toddlers raised without meat or animal products need a source of B12 in their diets. Plus, they might need iron if they’re not keen on eating dark green veggies.
Some health professionals suggest that kids drink cows milk for the calcium content – the idea that more calcium equals stronger bones. However, this view is mainly a western oddity. The majority of children worldwide grow up on vegetables and whole grains – certainly the case historically.
Kids might also need vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because the skin makes it when exposed to natural light. During the winter months, we don’t get much sun exposure, so many people don’t make enough of this hormone.
You can get it from animal products and mushrooms, but not significant quantities. The best place to get it, therefore, is in the form of fortified foods. Unfortunately, these same fortified foods are often, themselves, quite junk-filled. So the best place to get vitamin D is in pure supplemental form. Look for liquid versions, so your kids don’t have to swallow any pills.
So, there you have it: how to feed your child as they grow up. It can be challenging to know exactly how to pitch it. But with these tips, you’re well on your way.
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