“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 care what I want. So … how to balance optimal nutrition and picky eating?
What a dietitian recommends
As a new parent, I reached out to registered dietitian Joelle Jacobsen in the hopes she could Miyagi my family into mealtime competence. She has a special focus on performance-based nutrition, as well as child and family feeding.
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: 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.
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 behaviors and the choices you are making.
Quick ’n’ easy doesn’t have to be fast ’n’ greasy
I’m no Jamie Oliver, so if it can’t be made with an oven/stove, a blender, a knife, and a spatula, I don’t make it. Here are some quick and nutritious eats I regularly make for my brood.
My kids are not big fans of meat. It’ll blow your mind what you can do with other high-protein foods like lentils and garbanzo beans. You can mash them up and combine them with basic spices and oils to make a dip or shape them into balls or patties. One of my kids’ favorites is lentil “meatballs.”
Vegetables and fruits
Turn produce into a smoothie! Spinach is one of the most nutrient-rich leafy greens on the planet, and its taste and texture get a super boost when blended with fruit. Let your kids help by picking their own ingredients. Strawberries, blueberries, and bananas are great options.
An ode to the humble oat: From the classic bowl of warm oatmeal to pancakes, and from nutritious smoothie addition to muffins, this breakfast staple is one of the most nutrient-dense grains available. It can be made into almost anything edible within minutes—including the venerable oatmeal cookie.
If you and your kids are ice cream lovers, this dessert is a game changer. Its ingredients? Frozen bananas and cocoa powder.
Peel 4 bananas and freeze them for at least 4 hours. Place frozen bananas in a blender container, add 1 Tbsp cocoa powder (or to taste), and blend until creamy. Boom. Done. Your kids will love it—and you’ll be “fun” and “healthy” Dad.