When I became a parent, I was thrown in at the deep end. My first born William arrived nine weeks early and I’m not ashamed to say I was a little unprepared. In those first few weeks, I took each day as it came and learned to deal with situations as they arose using that natural motherly instinct we possess. And that’s how I’ve continued…
As I face new challenges on the parenthood journey, I have realised there is huge benefit in gaining information and advice before a new challenge pops up. Rosie-a new mummy friend of mine is a nutritionist so I jumped at the chance to get some guidance from an expert on kids and food…
How much of each food type should children be eating?
There are days when I feel a little wobbly at kids bedtime and I try to recall what my children have or perhaps more likely, have not eaten that day. Counting up fruit and veg intake seems easy but keeping track of two kids, hungry at different times of the day and not always finishing their meals, can be quite a task. What if Ria doesn’t eat all her peas? Does that count as 1 portion or not? Does dried fruit count? If I feel it’s not been such a good day on the healthy food front, the next day I try hard to pack in the fruit and veg.
Rosie reassured me with her advice on this: Rather than daily tracking of the right foods, zoom out and instead look at what they eat over a week.
Are they eating from the four main food groups – fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy (or alternatives) and protein? Are they gaining weight? Are they active?
The general food intake guideline for a child of two years plus is:
- 3-4 servings of starchy carbohydrates
- 3-4 servings of fruit and vegetables
- 2 servings of protein
Your brain is made of 60% fat, therefore consuming the right fats is very important for good brain function- particularly critical in childhood.
Good fats: flax-seeds, walnuts, hemp-seeds and pumpkin seeds (soak overnight and blend into smoothies), salmon and mackerel (make into fishcakes).
Calcium: essential for bone development. Good alternative sources of calcium to dairy (in case of allergy, intolerance or family preference) are almonds, beans, lentils and seeds. Make your own almond milk or try this smoothie: a handful of almonds soaked overnight, rinse and add to blender with one banana, a handful of strawberries and one cup of water. Simply blend. Serves 1-2 depending on how hungry they are!
Wholegrain foods: always preferable to refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta and rice.) Be cautious in children under two, their tummies are small so they can quickly fill up on wholegrain foods.
Dried fruits: a great alternative to sweets-but they are still high in sugar. Dried apricots are a good source of iron and betacarotene. Ensure they are unsulphured to avoid the preservative sulphur dioxide. Combine with a small handful of nuts to ensure blood sugar levels stay even.
- Nuts are a great source of protein and good fats but official advice is not to give whole nuts to children under five due to the risk of choking.
- Be cautious with soy unless given under the guidance of a paediatrician due to milk allergy. Soy is a phyto oestrogen which means it is a plant oestrogen and can affect hormones when given in high doses.
- Be aware that children under two years old need food very low in salt and sugar. They should not eat any low fat foods but instead full fat dairy.
For any specific concerns, the first port of call should always be the family doctor.
How can we ensure our children grow up to have a healthy relationship with food and make the right choices for themselves?
When it comes to kids and food, we all know what’s healthy and what’s not. We are given more and more information about what is going in to the foods we buy. However, as my children go through different phases, along comes a new challenge I didn’t expect. I provide the healthy options but there are times they just refuse to eat them. One week is a sweetcorn week and the next is not.
Rosie’s advice: The key here is ensuring the whole family have good food habits. Children look to their parents as role models and if parents show a healthy relationship and attitude to food, then this really helps. It’s not always possible, but simple habits like sitting down together as a family to eat and minimal distractions (i.e. no screen time) during meal times also encourage healthy little eaters.
Use the ‘food as fuel’ analogy. Talk to your children about their bodies working like a machine and in order to ‘grow and go’ it needs good fuel – food and water. Like a car needs the right kind of fuel to run, so do our bodies.
Associate good foods with a positive outcome. Make the focus on ‘foods which makes you feel good and gives you the energy to run and play.’ As children become older, you can give them even more information about the foods they eat: “Oranges contain vitamin C which helps to maintain our immune system so that we don’t get ill.”
Avoid talking about diets or body shaming yourself in front of your child. Negative comments about body shape and size, particularly in relation to food, are not sending the ‘food as fuel’ message. You are the role model and your child will learn food relationships from you.
What advice can you give to get children to eat a variety of different foods?
I have two tried and tested methods which will get children to eat new foods. Used together can be even more effective. The first is simply using reverse psychology. It has worked for me on more occasions than I can remember, to say to my child in a lighthearted tone, “Don’t eat the broccoli…” and sure enough with a cheeky smile, a floret of broccoli goes down. Even for older children, this trick can result in the desired outcome. The second uses the influence of their peers at kids tea time. The next time you invite friends of your child’s to tea, do a little bit of research first and find out what foods your young guests eat. Often there will be a veggie or food that your own child has refused or not tried yet. Serve it at dinner and either your child is too excited to realise what they are eating or will eat it because their friends are.
Rosie’s advice: It starts from the very beginning during pregnancy. Research has shown that what we eat during pregnancy, not only nourishes the baby in the womb, but can also shape food preferences later on. By twenty one weeks, a baby is swallowing several ounces of amniotic fluid per day, flavoured by the food the mother has eaten. Babies who experienced a variety of tastes very early on in the womb, were shown to be more likely to accept this type of food when weaning. Breast milk is also flavoured with foods the mother eats. So for mothers opting to breastfeed, it can help the weaning stage if you eat a wide variety of foods and flavours. See https://www.monell.org/
From weaning up to the first eighteen months, babies and toddlers are more likely to eat a wider variety of foods. From two years old, they can become picky, so let them experience lots of different tastes before they get fussy.
Make meal times a calm and enjoyable experience. Try not to get stressed if your child won’t eat a particular food – shouting and getting angry can create a food stand off – one you’re unlikely to win! Even adults struggle to eat when stressed and children are no different. Remember it can take ten attempts (an attempt including just seeing a new food) before a child accepts it.
When introducing a new food, keep the portion size small and include a staple favourite on their plate.
Obviously give lots of praise when your child tries a new food – even if it’s just put to the lips. Star charts and rewards are great for positive encouragement.
Children love to make their own choices and to feel independent. Allowing them to help themselves from bowls on the table, may bring that added incentive needed to win them over to try a new food.
As children grow, there are many developmental stages and emotional changes they go through. Food can sometimes provide security during these times and you may find they only want the same food. During milestones like potty training and first steps, continue to offer variety but note they could be going through a phase which might make them more selective.
If your child is fussy, the good news is the vast majority of children grow out of it. Take time to instil those good habits. Even if your child only eats one type of vegetable, show your appreciation and how proud you are. See http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-andbaby/fussy-eaters/
Rosie’s Top 5 Veggies for Kids
- Broccoli – High in vitamin C, broccoli is a natural antioxidant and immune modulator. It helps fight against flu causing viruses.
- Carrots – Maybe it is true that carrots help you see in the dark – they’re high in vitamin A which maintains good eye and skin health also. The beta carotene in carrots is a natural antioxidant that protects the human body from harmful free radicals (unstable atoms in the body which can cause damage to the body’s cells.) Also carrots are another source of vitamin C.
- Corn on the cob – Kids love the novelty of it and as it’s high in fibre, it’s very helpful for a tendency to constipation.
- Sweet potato – A good starchy food which is filling and an excellent source of fibre. Sweet tasting and a rich source of vitamin A, they’re a great alternative to white potatoes.
- Spinach – It wilts to nothing and is easy to hide in sauces and smoothies lending very little taste! Rich in iron, essential for red blood cell production and Vitamin K, needed in the body to strengthen bones.
Rosie’s Top 5 fruits for kids
- Blueberries – High antioxidant protection against free radicals.
- Raspberries – Excellent source of vitamin C and also also a very good source of B6 which helps to regulate the body’s metabolism.
- Strawberries – High in Vitamin C, B6 and various other vitamins and minerals that benefit our health.
- Kiwi – High in vitamin C and a good source of dietary fibre. Kiwis are a good source of potassium – an important part of cell and body fluids because it helps to control heart rate and blood pressure by countering the effects of sodium.
- Banana – An easily digestible, instant high energy fruit. A good source of vitamins B6 and C and potassium also.
Rosie is available for nutritional consultations for the whole family, not just children. You can check out her website for more information: www.aharanutrition.com
Written by Gemma Sherlock
About the author
After many years of moving around, Gemma, her husband and 2 children settled in Mallorca.
She loves exploring novels and plays, words and meanings and writing in a variety of ways. Not realising that it was something that she would miss, Gemma is happy to have found a new outlet in Nourish.
Why Nourish the Kids? Words, language and especially writing have always been a focus and priority for Gemma.
She likes to express herself thoughtfully and with clarity whether writing or speaking and enjoys discussing and researching new ideas and topics, particularly when it comes to health and well-being.
Likes: Circuit training, pilates, cooking from Ottolenghi books, pukka tea, hummus, reflexology, the audible app, Spanish lessons at MTA and thoughtfulness.