I remember being little and secretly shoving all my vegetables into my napkin when my grandma wasn’t looking. My clever plan didn’t work too well; I got caught and had to sit there until all my veggies were gone. I didn’t like veggies at all as a kid.
Looking back, though, I think for the most part I didn’t like them because everyone talked about them like they’re so bad. Well, if you hear people say that all the time, you start to believe it. So with my kids, I started them very early with veggies and always tried to hype them up and make them fun. I’m always looking for insight on how to keep my kids strong and healthy and how to get them to eat their veggies, boost their immune system, eat a well balanced diet, etc.
Luckily, one of my friends, Gina Jones, is a go-to for me when I have health and food-related questions. She is a functional medicine dietitian — and she has little kids’ of her own, so she gets it. This month, I wanted to catch up with her and get the answers to the most common questions she gets from parents relating to their kids health and eating habits. I Hope they help you.
SARA: How can parents help a picky eater?
GINA: Having a picky eater can feel frustrating as a parent, especially when there seems to only be a handful of foods your child will eat. Keep in mind that while this is common, it’s definitely not hopeless.
Most kids need to be introduced to a new food 10-12 times before accepting it. Serving new foods with familiar foods is a comfortable way of gaining food exposure. Very small portions of new foods are completely acceptable, so feel free to add one slice of a cherry tomato to their normal dinner plate.
Including children in the shopping and preparation of food has been successful, too. This allows your child to be adventurous with food on their own terms if they are in charge of picking one new item for the family this week.
SARA: Does my child need to take vitamins?
GINA: As a dietitian, my goal is to always help my clients get the most nutrients from their food first, and then, if needed, use supplements. Supplements are always on an individual basis. However, for a generally healthy child without any symptoms, there are some basic supplements that can be helpful. If your child has a well-balanced diet — including fermented foods — they will typically only need a Vitamin D supplement. vitamin D is recommended for all ages to support bone health, growth and immune system function. If your child does not consume fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles or kimchi, you may need to add in a child’s probiotic.
A multivitamin can be helpful for those that do not have a well-balanced diet or those that have dietary restrictions..
SARA: Does my child need to drink milk every day for calcium?
GINA: Absolutely not. Calcium is abundant in so many foods that it is not necessary to drink cow’s milk. If you typically avoid dairy, try adding in calcium-rich foods daily. These will include foods like kale, collard greens, plant-based milk, figs, beans, lentils, almonds, chia seeds, sardines and canned salmon.
SARA: How often should my child eat? I feel like he/she eats all the time.
GINA: A child’s metabolism is much higher than adults and they tend to need many more calories to keep up with energy production and growth. Some easy tricks to help your child stay full longer include adding in healthy fats with each meal and snack. Healthy fats include avocado, coconut, nuts/seeds, nut butters and healthful oils (olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil). Including more high fiber foods like vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds helps increase satiety, as well.
SARA: What are some kid-friendly vegetable options?
GINA: Introduce vegetables early and often so that your kids will be more accepting of a variety of vegetables. If your child is not a fan of vegetables, try to make it fun by cutting them into different shapes. This works well with cucumbers and squash using a small cookie cutter. It’s amazing how many more cucumber slices my kids will eat if they are flower-shaped. Include different color vegetables like yellow tomatoes, white asparagus or purple broccoli for a fun variety.