“My kids will never be picky eaters.”
Me—15 months later:
“Please just try a bite, Your Highness?”
I want them to eat a variety of foods to lay a great nutritional foundation, but they’re kids, and they don’t give a hoot about what I want. So how does one balance optimal nutrition and picky eating?
Although I’m great at being “Fun Dad,” occasionally I’m left to warden the inmates –and I’ve learned a few things the hard way. Some parenting lessons have to be learned for yourself, and more often than not, that’s the hard way. You probably won’t listen because, let’s be honest, you’re a man (it’s what we do best), but here are a few tips to get you through your mealtime adventure.
Your reaction to mealtime is 100 percent up to you
Much like a wolf, they can smell your fear. You can choose to get frustrated, or you can choose to laugh. Attitude reflects leadership.
“Hire” a sous chef
Including your kids in the preparation process not only teaches them valuable life skills and gives them a sense of accomplishment, but it also gets them invested in the meal so they’re more likely to eat it.
Eating together is a great way to teach important table manners and show what healthy eating looks like. After all, you are a role model. It’s also a great way to maintain a sense of familial connection. Studies show that children of families that eat together are less likely to engage in risky behaviour or develop disordered eating.
As a new parent, I was grateful to lean on the expertise of registered dietitian Joelle Jacobsen of Active Care Health Centre in Kelowna, BC, who has a special focus on performance-based nutrition and child and family feeding. I reached out to Jacobsen in the hopes she can Miyagi us into competence.
How do children’s nutritional needs differ from adults?
Jacobsen: The big difference is children need extra nutrition to help them develop and grow. They’ll need more of these nutrients for their weight than adults. These needs will also change as they get older.
Do you recommend any vitamins or supplements for kids? Are there any they should not have?
Jacobsen: Generally, vitamin and mineral supplements are not needed if children are eating a variety of foods. But a multivitamin can be helpful to make sure there aren’t gaps in nutrition if the child only eats a few types of foods. A standard pediatric multivitamin would be appropriate.
Vitamin D supplementation would be beneficial for most children and specifically for those who eat limited dairy products or dairy alternatives. Make sure to avoid high doses of single nutrients, as this can be dangerous. Caution should also be taken with iron supplementation: only supplement with iron as prescribed by a health care practitioner.
Don’t forget – Quick ‘n Easy Doesn’t Have to be Fast ‘n Greasy!
Are there any foods parents should restrict or avoid?
Jacobsen: Overall, all foods fit! There are some that should be offered in moderation. These include sugar-sweetened beverages such as juice, lemonade, and pop. Instead of juice, offer your child whole fruits. To prevent choking, small, round, and hard foods should not be given to children younger than three to four years old.
Raw milk, raw juice, raw eggs, and undercooked meats should not be given to young children, to prevent foodborne illness. Contrary to previous thinking, high-allergen foods should be actively introduced to children at six months of age. Newer research shows this can help protect against developing a food allergy.
Do you have any tips for parents of picky eaters?
Jacobsen: Parents decide what food, where it’s served, and when. Your child decides if they want to eat it and how much. Include a familiar food at each meal and snack. Continue to introduce new foods often and prepared in different ways. Try not to pressure your child to try it—even “just one bite.”
There will be meals during which children don’t eat as much. Do your best not to comment. Instead, have family mealtimes where they observe eating behaviours and the choices you are making.
For more information, Jacobsen recommends visiting unlockfood.ca, contacting your local health authority, or finding a registered dietitian at dietitians.ca.
- It’s estimated that about 1 billion people around the world have either insufficiency or deficiency of vitamin D. This is especially important in places that experience fewer hours of sunshine per year, as this vitamin is known to play an important role in bone health and mental health.
- Remember the four food groups outlined in the old Canada’s Food Guide? Well, as of last year, make like Donnie Brasco and “fuhgeddaboudit.” Now there are only three food groups, plus half your plate should include fruits and veggies; the protein trend is toward meat alternatives.
- A 2014 study showed a positive correlation between food prep time and nutritional value of meals. But there are plenty of nutrient-dense foods that don’t take much time at all to prepare. Make a “quickie” menu, put it on the fridge, and roll with the punches.
This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of alive Canada, under the title “Daddy Dining Support Group.”