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Your Top Asked Questions Answered by A Licensed Dietitian

Nutritionist Tips: Your Top Asked Questions Answered by A Licensed Dietitian

 

Two of our expert dietitians, Elle and Dina, answered your most-asked questions about kids and nutrition. We were able to take the most important points from both of their responses and combine their answers. Enjoy!

 

1. What do I do about my child who is a picky eater? How can I get him/her to try new foods and eat more fruits and vegetables?

First of all, it is very normal for a child to question the food with which they are presented! Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Imagine you were in a foreign country and there were only a few foods you knew or felt comfortable with, and everyone was always trying to get you to try these unfamiliar items. It might not be a pleasant experience, right? Eventually, over time, if you saw the food over and over again, it would stop looking so foreign. So, just because your child doesn’t like a particular food doesn’t mean you should stop preparing it.

It can be challenging, but there are many strategies to encourage healthy habits. First, continually introduce your child to the food item. It usually takes at least 10 (and can be up to 20) introductions of a specific food for a child to feel comfortable and more open to try it. So keep giving your child that food item and try it with them! Children typically mimic both of their parents’ eating behaviors. Second, involve your child in the cooking process if possible. Make dinners a creative process that your child can help assemble and build. They will be more likely to eat their “masterpiece.” Third, try to pinpoint which food textures or consistencies your child does not like. If you find your child doesn’t like crunchy vegetables or even hard fruit, then provide your child with that fruit/vegetable repurposed into a texture they enjoy. You can take cauliflower and turnips and mash them into a creamy mashed potatoes consistency, for example. You can take fruit and blend it in a smoothie with skim milk. Lastly, don’t give up! If you feel it’s becoming a serious problem and your child isn’t get the proper nutrition, you can always reach out to a professional for more tips and tricks! Don’t suffer alone.

It is also important to note that giving your child a choice is very important. If the child seems to not be interested in vegetables, it may be because the child feels forced to eat that food. So if you were to give the child the option between two vegetables, they will feel more control over what they are eating. According to the center for Disease Control and Prevention, nine out of 10 children do not eat the recommended amount of vegetables. There was a study done at Texas A&M University that also shows that children are less likely to eat the vegetables on their plate if there are more delicious items on that same plate. So it is important for parents to put foods that are similar choices together, rather than putting pizza or fries next to a bunch of broccoli on the plate.

2. How can I feed my family with different preferences and weights?

Adjusting food preferences for a diverse family can be hard. However, it is important not to ostracize or single out any one family member. Instead, make it a family effort to eat more nutritious options. Place emphasis on making healthier choices for the whole family’s benefit. Instead of making separate meals, try to make the same meal and adjust the portions accordingly on every child’s plate. Instead of encouraging seconds right away, have your overweight child drink water and start a dinner conversation to make dinner time last longer. It takes around 20 minutes for our brain to even register that we ate, so overeating at dinner can be attributed to the length of our dinner.

Keep in mind that restriction just leads to the child wanting to eat more. They will find food elsewhere (school, friends, grandparents, etc.), so restriction just doesn’t work.  Studies have shown that when a parent thinks their child is overweight, that child is more likely to stay overweight or become more overweight than when a parent thinks their child’s weight is not an issue. Why? Because of restriction.  

It is also important to remember that you are not a short order cook! Have one meal that you can offer them if they don’t want dinner (for me it’s a peanut butter sandwich). Don’t change that secondary meal option, ever. You may find that your kids start to try the food that you made for the family more when they are only presented with one alternative option. This way, they won’t go hungry if they don’t like dinner, but they don’t get whatever they want.

It is also important that during meals there are options. If you are eating as a family, try to put a wide variety of foods on the table, both healthy and some less healthy choices. This way the child who may need to focus on eating better will be forced to eat with portion control. If the child is able to see their parents and siblings eating the same thing they are more likely to eat what is on the plate. Making separate meals for each child is unhelpful and may lead to more self-consciousness for that child who is given less. A study done in southern England showed that modeling is the most important influence on a child’s eating habits. Thus if the child is able to continually see a parent eating like them, they will follow those habits.

3. How can I control/ monitor what my child eats when I’m not there? How can I get them to make healthy choices?

The bottom line… you can’t! And that’s okay. We don’t have to control everything. Sometimes, kids need to learn for themselves. What you can do is talk to them about making healthy choices and why healthy choices are important. In these conversations, try to keep weight out of it. You love them no matter how they look.

When you are not around, your grocery shopping purchases will determine what your child eats. Continuously stock your pantry and fridge with more nutrient dense food options, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, popcorn, whole grain chips, and dried fruit. Limit the amount of processed and refined sugar choices. Not only will that limitation help your child make healthy choices in the house when you are not home, but when they are away from the house they will most often gravitate towards foods they are familiar eating.

There is a lot of research on restriction and how it can negatively impact a child’s diet in the future. Leanne Birch and Jennifer Orlet Fisher researched restriction in 2000 and found that girls at 7 years old who were given access to snacks only when they were at school would be more likely to take them than 7-year-old girls who were given the same access at school but were not restricted at home. Another study shows that if restricted at age 5, girls are more likely to eat when they are not hungry from ages 7 to 9. This also resulted in girls at 9 being the heaviest. It is important that parents have planned snack time where the child knows that they are going to be able to have a snack at a certain point in the day. It is also important that children are given dessert every so often, so that they are not restricted from eating sweets.

4. How much should my child be eating and how often? What’s the appropriate serving size?

It depends on your child’s age, gender, weight, and activity level. Keep in mind, children’s stomachs are much smaller than adults when portioning out plates.

I always try to incorporate mindful/intuitive eating. Have them focus on how hungry/full they are before/after eating. Try to eat slowly and enjoy the eating process.

It is important that a child’s growing body is able to eat as their body needs food. When a child is at school, they are usually very active, which will also increase their caloric needs. Typically, children should have three meals a day, plus two to three snacks throughout the day. Since they are still growing it is important that they maintain a steady growth by eating significant meals. Grains are typically portioned to 3 to 5 ounces a day, which could be two slices of bread, cereal, or pasta. Vegetables should be 1 to 1.5 cups a day as well as fruits. It is crucial that children consume 2 to 2.5 cups of milk per day, and that they consume 2 to 4 ounces of protein per day.

5. What does an appropriate breakfast look like for a child and how do I get them to eat before school?

Breakfast really is one of the most important meals of the day! Breakfast should be a complete meal. A complete meal includes a complex carbohydrate and a serving of protein. The best way to encourage breakfast in the morning is to have the whole family eat a quick meal together. Children mimic the eating habits of their parents, so if they see their parents are not eating breakfast, chances are they won’t want to either. However, time is crunched in the morning, so don’t make it a gourmet meal. A quick easy breakfast to eat with the whole family can be low fat greek yogurt mixed with berries, and a low sugar granola sprinkled on top!

Another key to getting in a good breakfast is making sure the child is well rested. Make sure your child has time to fully wake up and start their day stress-free before trying to get them to eat. Most everyone wakes up dehydrated, which can actually make your stomach feel upset.  Try offering a glass of water when they first wake up. Let that settle for a few minutes before offering food.

A good breakfast for a child includes a lot of things — eggs, French toast, waffles, pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, bagel, fruit, yogurt, smoothies, etc. While it is hard to push your child to have a breakfast, it is very important that they eat something before they go to school. Studies have shown that if you start with something small in the morning, a child will be more likely to eat it. Do not put a huge plate in front of them because that could overwhelm the child. It is also helpful to have the child drink the meal, like a smoothie. Your child may think it is less food if they are looking at it in a cup, but in reality you could add a lot to a smoothie.

6. What are easy and healthy breakfast, school lunch, dinner, and snack ideas for my children?

Easy grab and go options are ideal for kids and parents! Breakfast can be a nutrition bar and a piece of fruit. Look for low added sugar bars such as the Kid’s RX bar and give them a banana. Make lunch fun but also simple! Lunch can be rice cakes with some nut butter, a low fat string cheese, popcorn, and grape tomatoes. Dinners should be engaging for your child. Try to make dinners fun but easy. Make your own pizzas using a whole wheat pita, low fat shredded mozzarella cheese, and veggies on top. Have your child decorate his pizza and encourage him to make a vegetable face on his pizza. Not only will your child want to try the finished product, but they will be eating their vegetables! Snacks are a great opportunity to sneak in another fruit or vegetable. Try making vegetable faces on a rice cake with hummus as the base, or fruit and vegetable smoothies, or even homemade guacamole!

Some other healthy ideas for children could be whole wheat pancakes with fruit on top for breakfast and apples with cinnamon or a smoothie for a snack. For school lunch, it is important to send something filling such as a sandwich with whole-wheat toast, some protein, and some vegetables as well. It is also important that the child is given sides as a snack so that they can have something sweet as well. An example of a sweet snack could be a cheese stick, some sort of 100 calorie pack snack (of their choice), or a fruit.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

10 Tips From A Dietitian Nutritionist for Picky Eaters

 

“I know! She eats anything! I can’t believe it!” your friend exclaims, referring to her 5-year-old daughter as she chomps away on a Salmon Avocado Roll, while your child eats “orange mac and cheese only, Mom, not the white kind!”

Is your friend’s daughter more advanced? More gifted? More mature? Not at all! Your friend’s child is simply different from yours, and that’s OK. 

Feeding troubles affect up to 25% of normally developing children and up to 35% of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. That’s a lot, right? It’s a common issue to have, but it’s not a problem — it’s something you can work with and overcome together as a family. It’s important for everyone in the family to understand what the “picky eater” is going through, so you can all help out. Many families work with a child dietitian nutritionist to help them along this tricky path, and you may want to, as well. It’s always good to seek help if something isn’t working for you or your family.

Here are 10 tips for families with picky eaters so you can understand where your child is coming from, and help them eat well in the process.

1. Establish A Routine

It’s important to have a routine. As adults, we should also look into this, because it’s been proven that our bodies are happiest when we have a specific schedule to stick to. Studies have shown that children and adults who eat at the same time every day are less likely to be obese and have lower BMIs and blood pressure than people who eat at random points throughout the day. According to Gerda Pot, a professor at King’s College London who was interviewed by the Times, appetite, digestion, and how our body processes food are actually linked to circadian rhythms. This means that our bodies follow a 24-hour pattern in relation to food, just like how our bodies need sleep. It’s so interesting! But it can be so hard to stick to a schedule…

Here are ways to feed your child in a way to encourage their appetite by establishing a routine.

  • Consistency — Serve small meals and snacks at consistent times of the day, with 2–3 hours between each meal and snack time, allowing the child to become hungry before the next meal. Young children feel most comfortable with scheduled mealtimes.
  • Beverages After — Offer milk, nutritional beverages, juice, soup, or water at the end of the meal or snack, and not before, in order to prevent filling their stomachs.
  • Duration
    • Eating should begin within 15 mins of the start of the meal.
    • Meals should last no longer than 20–30 mins.
    • When the meal is over, all food should be removed and only be offered again at the next planned meal. You should not become a short order cook!

2. Respect Your Child’s Appetite

Your kid may not be hungry! And even if they are, it’s important to never force or bribe your child into eating. Forcing or bribing creates pressure, which can lead to children eating even less in the long run. Positive tactics like praise or a gift can also create pressure, though. It’s hard to remember this when you’re trying to get your child to eat, but, believe it or not, pressure in any way makes kids like food less.

What are examples of pressuring messages or tactics?

  • Praise (“Oh my gosh, you are such a good boy for eating that! Good job!”)
  • Shame or guilt (“If you loved me then you would eat this…”)
  • Bribes (“If you eat this, I’ll give you a toy after dinner!”)
  • Distraction (“Just watch your favorite TV show while you eat this…”)
  • Threat or force (“You have to eat this or I won’t let you go to that birthday party this weekend.”)
  • Pressuring therapy (“We’re going to have to bring your nutritionist back for therapy if you don’t eat this…”)
  • Nutrition admonitions (“You need more spinach to grow stronger…”)

So what should you do?

  • Start to learn and notice your child’s hunger signals.
  • Allow your child to choose how much or how little of the offered food to eat. Don’t make them clean their plate!
  • Respect your child’s natural inner signals of hunger and fullness. They will change from day to day, so be open for differences!

3. Make Food Fun

Let your child have fun with food! Food is a glorious thing, and we should treat it as such, as long as we aren’t negatively affecting others in the process. Why not enjoy it? Cut pieces of toasts into silly shapes! Make funny faces with fruit on the plate! Make everything on the plate the same color in different shades! When we understand that food is meant to be enjoyed, we’re more apt to be curious for more options. Discover your playful side, too!

Here are some ways to make meals fun for you and your child:

  • Make Faces On Plates — Paint plates at a paint studio or buy plates with faces on them, so you can move the food around to become different parts of a person’s head. Spaghetti can be the hair, broccoli can be the nose, corn can be the teeth, and so on.
  • Be A Monster — Allow kids to act like monsters destroying and devouring their food, as long as they don’t make a mess around the house, or as long as they take responsibility for cleaning up afterwards. The spinach can be the grass in the yard, the chicken can be the house, the pasta can be the fence… and THEY ARE THE MONSTERS EATING THE NEIGHBORHOOD!
  • Grow Your Own Food — This gives kids a chance to see where it came from, and have a hand in the process. When a child plants something and watches it grow from seemingly nothing over a long period of time, it makes it rewarding to try a bite of what they saw growing on the windowsill or in the garden!
  • Watch Cooking Shows Together — Shows like “Master Chef Jr.” are a great way to get kids excited about food. When they see other children their age making food and becoming masters at cooking, it makes it more exciting. Try some of the recipes that you see on the cooking shows together! Notice what excites your kid, and incorporate that meal into your next plan.
  • Use Dips And Spreads — Get kids to eat their fruits and veggies by offering fun things to dip the food into. It’s fun to try different tastes, and the physical movement of dipping gets them connected to their food in a different way.
  • Eat A Rainbow A Day — Focusing on color is a great way to get kids to try different food groups. Encourage them to try to eat something of each color of the rainbow every day, and keep track of what they ate already!
  • Make Up Your Own Food Names — Teach children the proper names of foods, but come up with your own silly words for them, too. A green smoothie can be “monster juice” and pineapple can be a “ferris wheel.” Ask your kids to help you come up with their own funny names!
  • Make Food Into Fun Shapes — Does your kid have an obsession with the solar system? Cut things into stars and circles for the planets! Are they learning to spell? Make the food spell out their name on a plate. Make the meals look fun and enticing, and your child may be more keen to try a bite or two… or more!

4. Be Creative

Systematically introduce new food! Provide some of your child’s favorite foods together with a small amount of new food. If the child refuses a new food, offer just one bite of the new food without tricking, hiding, bribing or forcing. (If the child continues to refuse after three attempts, do not force the child.) Attempt to reintroduce the new food after a few days or weeks. A child’s preference often changes, even if it takes a few tries!

5. Minimize Distractions

Avoid allowing television, tablets, toys, electronics or books at mealtimes, as this takes away the experience of eating. Instead, engage children using food or by allowing children to self-feed.

6. Establish Rules

Don’t make a second meal if your child refuses the first one. Having a second option always available, like a salad or a bowl of cereal, takes the pressure off both parent and child, because everyone knows the child will still be able to eat something. (If your kid wants to have a sugary bowl of cereal every night, obviously this option doesn’t work for you!) Your child should know that you will not drop what you’re doing to make them what they want, even if they don’t like what’s offered.

Everyone should wait at the table until they are excused from the table. This means that if your child doesn’t want the meal, they still have to sit at the table until everyone else is finished, whether they eat or not.

Whatever your rules are, stick to them as much as you can.

7. Be Patient

Encourage independent feeding – allow for food spillage and age-appropriate mess during mealtimes; cover the floor if it makes cleaning up after meals easier.

Maintain a neutral attitude during feeding time and never become or even appear angry. Your child shouldn’t associate anger with food!

Be patient with your kid, but also be patient with yourself! This may be a trying experience for both of you, but if you give in to what your child always wants to eat, they won’t grow.

8. No Sweets As A Reward

Dessert is not a reward for eating well. This teaches your child that the dessert is the best part, and they should save room for it. It only increases your child’s desire for sweets! Think of making your family’s typical dessert fruit or yogurt, or only offering dessert once or twice a week.

9. Have Your Child Help

Ask your kid what they want! What vegetables and fruits are they craving? Have them help you pick out healthy food at the grocery store. They can help you prep the meal, too! Many kids love to help wash veggies, set the table, or stir a sauce.

10. Set A Good Example

  • Eat Together As A Family — Families should eat together as often as possible. Three-four times a week is what you should aim for, and if you can get more than that in, great! Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be dinner. It can be breakfast or lunch. It also doesn’t have to be a home cooked meal! Eating together can include ordering your favorite takeout every once in a while.
  • Try Things You Don’t Like — If there is a particular food that you yourself don’t like, tell your child you are going to try it prepared in a different fashion to see if you like it in a new way. Show your child that people can change, and it’s ok to try things again.
  • You Have To Eat Your Fruits And Veggies, Too! — Don’t tell your child to eat a nutritious meal and then only serve yourself the pasta and tomato sauce. Do what you’re asking your kid to do.

 

Should I seek the help of a CDN Certified Dietitian Nutritionist?

It’s OK to ask for help. There is a certified dietitian nutritionist in your area who has trained for this, and who may know the ups and downs better than you do. Why not seek the help of a professional?

If you want to find a dietitian nutritionist, ask your pediatrician about where to start. They can lead you in the right direction on where to look in your area.

Or, ask us! We’re always happy to help you find a dietitian or nutritionist who’s right for your family. We’ll match you with a professional specialist, and their expertise, knowledge, and planning tools will help you solve your picky eater concerns. Whether you want to seek the advice of a licensed dietitian nutritionist, a therapist, a fitness guru, or a tutor, we’re your one-stop-shop to help you and your entire family — adult or child. Contact us for more information!