This is a 3-topic series focused on nutrition for toddlers, in particular dealing with picky eaters or children who cannot eat certain foods. I’m glad to know a friend, Natalia Stasenko, a registered dietitian, whose passion is pediatric nutrition and shares nutrition tips on her website, online classes and of course, with all of us here in this series!
More on Natalia, RD – Natalia has a Master of Science in Nutrition Education from Columbia University. She founded her private practice Tribeca Nutrition and online nutrition class for parents of babies and young children at Feeding Bytes.
For further information on her latest online course on feeding toddlers, do check out this link. Natalia is also offering 30% to readers of Eczema Blues with the code EcBlues30.
Who is Picking the Food?
Come to think of it, the willingness to open one’s mouth, put food in, chew and swallow can’t be forced. So seen in that light, your toddler is the one choosing the food. The problem steps in when he/she is choosing so much, the term ‘picky eater’ soon becomes how you see your child. Natalia has a special interest with helping parents feed picky
eaters, given her own parenting experience, let’s find out more from her in today’s interview!
MarcieMom: Natalia, thank you for joining me again in this series. The one last week on how much to eat was really insightful. Before, children can ‘pick’ the foods, parents must first put the food before them. What are your top 3 must eat foods that are essential for toddlers, on-top of the standard fruits and vegetables, protein source and carbohydrates?
Natalia: I would change the term Must-eat to Must-served. I feel like when parents are under pressure that their child must eat a particular food, children sense it and are more likely to reject it.This is a very small part of the nutrition talk we share in our upcoming online class where we discuss food alternatives and supplements if the child does not eat (yet) nutrient rich foods.
The Must-serve foods are:
Orange and dark green rich fruit and vegetables, due to Vitamin A, important for eye health and immune system
Oily fish such as salmon and tuna, due to DHA, important for retinal and brain development
Red meat, fortified cereal, beans, due to Iron, important for oxygen transportation and storing it in cells. Most common nutrient deficiency in small children is iron deficiency
MarcieMom: Assume that the child is refusing to eat the healthier butternut squash, broccoli and fish. What would you recommend a parent to do?
i. Forget about these foods, try new ones
ii. Stick to these foods, try new way of cooking
iii. Keep cooking these foods and let the child ‘starve’ if not eating
iv. Keep cooking these foods and more, just in case
In the option(s) you choose or maybe another option or a combination, how long should a parent try a certain tactic?
(It’s already starting to sound laborious to me, lucky for me, my child happen to love superfoods!)
Natalia: I would suggest to keep serving these foods, in the context of family meals, alongside the foods your child has already warmed up to. The biggest mistake parents make is creating pressure at mealtimes in an attempt to get their children to eat particular foods. This does not work. Catering, i.e. giving only the foods that your child likes, also backfires. Non-pressure, pleasant mealtimes, role modeling and plenty of exposure help kids push themselves to learn to like the foods the rest of the family is enjoying. Exposure to less liked foods outside of mealtime through shopping, cooking and taste-testing also works.
New ways of cooking may also help. For example, many toddlers dislike texture of meat so in the class we will share a recipe of meatballs cooked in broth that are literally melting in the mouth. When it comes to vegetables, even the simplest of them can be prepared in a variety of ways. For example, you can grate a carrot, cut it into matchsticks, make it into ribbons, steam it, roast it or pan fry it with some butter.
We definitely do not suggest starving your child till he eats certain foods. After years of working with children with feeding problems, I know that some of them would rather starve than eat something that is not acceptable to them. Besides, it creates a very negative mealtime dynamics that leads to smaller appetites and ultimately less variety in diet. Since our class is for parents of picky toddlers, we talk about specific strategies that help streamline meal planning to include the challenging foods and let everyone enjoy the meal in a pleasant environment.
MarcieMom: Various nutritionists have shared on this blog about inflammatory foods. Would you think this is of concern to young children as well? If so, which are the top inflammatory foods that you see commonly given to children and should be avoided?
Natalia: While we are still learning more from research what exact benefits anti-inflammatory diet brings to adults and children, it is clear that reducing processed foods and boosting fruits, vegetables, lean protein, oily fish and whole grains is a path to good health for both kids and grown ups. However, research shows that an overall dietary pattern seems to be more important than adding or removing specific foods from diet. I often use 80 to 20 ratio in my talks and classes, where 80 percent of food in kids’ diet are minimally processed from the list above and 20 percent are fun foods including treats. That said, I do not think that hydrogenated fats and artificial colors have a place in children’s diet. Of course, eating a blue lollipop or commercially prepared french fries from time to time is not likely to have a big health effect but if parents have an opportunity to choose candy with natural colors or bake french fries at home in the oven, it is great.
MarcieMom: A final question, how would you grade my ‘food grading’ chart that I use to educate my child? Feel free to shift items around!
Natalia: I think it definitely helps to create a balance in the diet, with the focus on more nutritious foods. I think that following a chart like this can help lay down very good foundation for healthy eating habits in the future. However I must say though that as kids are growing up and have more outside influence on their diet from the peers, I had to adjust my feeding strategy to occasionally include “forbidden” foods like soda and cookies. Research shows that kids who are restricted tend to over indulge when they are given access to foods that are forbidden at home. Again, serving the foods you want your child to eat all the time is the key to get them learn to enjoy their flavor, which is the best nutrition education parents can provide.
Thanks so much Natalia, I can’t wait for next week’s interview on What Not to Eat!