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My Child Won’t Eat Anything!

I think every parent has gone through a phase with their kids where they just refuse to eat something.  It could be because they don’t like the color of the plate or they won’t eat food that’s all mixed together, like a stew.  Sometimes, it comes completely out of the blue. One day they like avocado and the next day they don’t even want it near their plate.  It seems like the only thing they’ll eat is a honey sandwich without crusts. What can you do to ensure that they are maintaining a good diet and have a healthy relationship with food?

The first thing to do is remember that you’re doing a great job.  The only constant, with kids, is change. If you consistently present them with healthy food options, then you’re already on a great path.  We all go through certain “seasons”. Kids do, too! Perhaps they loved broccoli and now they’re sick of it. This doesn’t mean that they’ll never enjoy broccoli again or that they’ll end up as a frail adult.  Try different ways to cook broccoli and keep exposing them to this healthy vegetable. Eventually, something will click. Or, use the opportunity to explore new vegetables that you and your family can try. What about some rapini or bok choy?  You never know, until you try…. And try and try, again.

Is My Little One Getting Enough Food?

Perhaps you’re feeling a bit insecure about your child’s health if they’re a picky eater.  It’s understandable! Children are in rapid growth phases which means that their little, soon to become bigger, bodies need a significant amount of nutrition.  All that growth needs fuel!

AgeCalories*ProteinFruitsVegetablesDairy or Alt.Grains
2-3
(Girls & Boys)
1,000 - 1,4002-4 ounces1-1.5 cups1-1.5 cups2 cups3-5 ounces
4-8
(Girls)
1,200 - 1,8003-5 ounces1-1.5 cups1.5-2.5 cups2.5 cups4-6 ounces
4-8
(Boys)
1,200 - 2,0003-5.5 ounces1-2 cups1.5-2.5 cups2.5 cups4-6 ounces
9-13
(Girls)
1,400 - 2,0004-6 ounces1.5-2 cups1.5 - 3 cups3 cups5-7 ounces
9-13
(Boys)
1,600 - 2,6005-6.5 ounces1.5-2 cups2-3.5 cups3 cups5-9 ounces
14-18
(Girls)
1,800 - 2,4005-6.5 ounces1.5-2 cups2.5-3 cups3 cups6-8 ounces
14-18
(Boys)
2,000 - 3,2005.5-7 ounces2-2.5 cups2.5-4 cups3 cups6-10 ounces

When you have a look at this chart, maybe you’re a bit surprised as to how much or how little you little one actually needs to eat.  Generally, we like to focus on portions rather than calories. And, as always, focusing these portions on whole foods. A ½ cup of Greek yogurt sweetened with a touch of maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla is much healthier than a yogurt tube.

When children are young, they seem to inherently know what their body needs.  Rather than focusing on what your child has daily, perhaps you can look at their intake over a couple of days.  Or, we also like to recommend food charts as a way of tracking what your child chooses to eat. Yes, we said choose.  Present your child with healthy food and healthy food options and trust that they will make the best choice for their body.  Guide them to learn about different tastes and textures. The more stress you create around the table, the less likely your children will want to spend time there.

Why are food charts helpful?  They can not only help you track what your child is eating but it gives your child the sense of controlling what their intaking.  Make it visually pleasing and a type of game and you’re in for a sure hit.

Now, of course, you can modify it like you need to.  Adding more or less of one food group if you know your child needs some extra support.  Also, variety is key. The more variety you present to your child, the more they will get to explore new tastes and textures.  However, there is another benefit. Variety can also give you peace of mind that by eating a variety of food, they are taking in a variety of nutrients.  

For older kids, meal planning is another great way to help your kids have a sense of control around the family table.  You can involve them in selecting weekly meal themes or having one day a week to pick their favorite meal. By displaying your weekly meal plan in a place where the whole family can see it, there’s also no surprise when it comes to dinner.  The kids know what to expect and you can get their input on how to alter the menu to their preferences.

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What Strategies are there to get kids to eat veggies?

We’ve covered food charts and meal plans.  But what are some other strategies that you can try to get your picky eaters to snack on more veggies.  

1 – Starve them then feed them.  Okay, don’t get too upset here. We’re not actually suggesting that you starve your kids.  What we are suggesting, is that kids won’t starve. And odds are, if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat what you put in front of them.  Have your veggies prepped in advance so you can easily prepare a plate of mixed veggies and hummus post school and pre-dinner. Resist the urge to give them alternatives.  So often we’ve witnessed kids fuss at the table, only to get their favorite cracker snack 20 minutes before or after dinner.

2 – Let them pick their food.  Literally. If you have the opportunity to take them to a local farm or farmer’s market, do it!  Veggies taste so much better when you’ve picked them yourself. And if you don’t have access to fresh produce, take them with you to the grocery store.  You’re probably already thinking of the struggle of grocery shopping with your kids but if you can get them involved, you’re more likely to see their involvement in the kitchen and at the table as well.  Give your kids the opportunity to choose their 3 or 4 vegetables for the week. If they choose them, they’ll most likely eat them.

3 – Dip it.  Studies show that kids are more likely to eat their veggies if they’re served with dip.  So why not make your own rather than rely on a store-bought, possibly filled with preservatives and MSG, version.  You can always do better with a homemade dressing. Simply mix garlic powder, onion powder, dried dill, kosher salt, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, and fresh chives into a cup of plain Greek yogurt.  Voila!

4 – Peer Pressure.  Kids tend to copy what they see.  So you can tap into this type of behavior a couple of ways.  You can send them to a family member’s house or a friend’s house where you know their eating style is different than yours.  The kids will often eat what’s in front of them when they see the others at the table eating wholeheartedly. Kids also watch what you do.  Make sure that you are a positive role model and watch your words around food. If you are a picky eater, well, your child will most likely adopt some of those habits.  If your child sees you eating and trying a wide variety of food, they’ll most likely adopt those habits, too.

5 – Make it Smooth.  We’re not big fans of sneaking vegetables into your children’s meals.  Children need to learn to love different tastes and textures. However, the Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that children nearly double their vegetable intake when the vegetables are pureed, making morning smoothies a great idea!  Try blending half of an avocado, a cup of spinach, half of a banana, ¼ cup of pureed pumpkin with ½ cup of almond milk or water for a nutrient-dense way to start the day.

What’s most important is to take the pressure off of your kids.  The less attention you put on eating vegetables and the more you just have it as part of your daily habits, the better your chances of raising children with positive relationships with food.

Need some suggestions for “kid-friendly” meals?

As always, keep it simple.  However, we know many kids that also love spicy and ethnic foods.  There are really no hard, fast rules. But there are, super healthy choices.  Here are some of our favorites:

Breakfast:

Smoothies are an excellent way to put a lot of nutrition into one serving.  Packed with leafy greens, avocados, coconut and different fruits, smoothies are an easy go-to breakfast.  You can also make them really thick and serve them as smoothie bowls. Invent a fun name, like monster soup, and inspire your kids to drink them up.

Here’s a couple of recipes to try:

Green Coconut Smoothie

green-smoothie-healthy-breakfast

Blueberry Kale Smoothie

blueberry-kale-smoothie

Low Carb Egg Muffins

Mini bites are always a big hit.  Rather than traditional eggs, try egg muffins.  You can change the veggies and add some cheese tailor them to your youngins.

egg-muffin-low-carb-diet-kids

Lunch

Kids also love food that looks fun.  Our pumpkin soup and jack-o-lantern peppers may have been inspired by Halloween but they would make a great, kid-friendly meal at any time of the year.

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

recipes-healthy-children-diet

Stuffed Jack’o’Lantern Peppers

stuffed-peppers-recipe-kids-eat

Pink Radish Soup

Radish soup is so visually pleasing and simple to make.  Your kids don’t need to know all of the great ingredients that are in the soup.  Just find a fun name, like Love Potion or Iron Man soup, and watch your kids dig in.

radish-soup-recipe-kids-health

Snacks

Tahini Beet Dip

Here’s another opportunity to have fun with the name of a recipe.  As we said, kids love to dip… and this recipe is sure to please you, and them.

tahini-beets-dip-healthy-child-diet

Snacks can be fun, sweet AND healthy.  When you make your own desserts and snacks, you are in complete control of the nutrition you’re presenting your family.  These two recipes are great examples of nutrition all-stars:

Coconut Almond Bars

almond-coconut-snack-bars-healthy

Frozen Chocolate Banana

banana-chocolate-frozen-kids-dessert

Dinner

Mini Cheeseburger Bites

Mini cheeseburgers for mini hands.  Kids love things that are in kids-size.

mini-cheeseburgers-kids-recipes

Tilapia Skewers

Rather than presenting your kids with highly saturated fatty fish sticks, why not try Fish on a Stick?  Yes, please! Pirate sticks, or fancy fish, or…. You get the idea. Have fun with this alternative to fast food.

fish-skewers-tilapia-kids-meal

Cauliflower Mac’n’Cheese

This is a delicious non-pasta version of mac n’ cheese.  That’s right. We use cauliflower instead of pasta to keep it low carb and full of health benefits.  Let’s see if your kids can tell the difference?

vegan-mac-cheese-kids-dish

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