Fueling Your Kids To Keep Them Healthy

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Mother and children prepare vegetable salad in kitchen

Food is a relationship–build a good one by starting early

Kids and their relationship with food is as unique as the one between parent and child.  Some children love all foods. Some kids only eat bagels and chicken nuggets. Other youngsters love carrots, and still, others can’t stand apples.  As parents, how do we cope with, mold, and sometimes indulge the food relationships kids have without feeling like short-order cooks?

In this article, we have several tips and tricks to bring harmony to the most discordant food experiences, so that you can relax into proper nutrition for your kiddos.  Read on for the “skinny” on truly nourishing and delicious food for your whole family and bringing up super healthy kids

Mother and her daughter cooking food for breakfast in kitchen

Make Your Own Nutrition with Vitamin D

The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies in a child’s diet in today’s culture are iron and vitamin D.  Let’s tackle vitamin D, the “sunshine” vitamin first.

Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun.  We Minnesotans and other people who live in colder climates are at higher risk for Vitamin D deficiency because of our lack of sun exposure to the skin for many months out of the year.  Combine that with all the current warnings to wear sunscreen at all times, and it’s a wonder we don’t all have rickets.

Yes, it’s essential to ward off sun damage to the skin, especially for fair-skin types who burn easily.  However, for optimal vitamin D synthesis, doctors recommend 20-30 minutes of sun exposure to the skin three times per week.  

For best results, try catching some rays with your kids (or ask their childcare provider to assist them )in the middle of the day around lunchtime for an optimal Vitamin D-producing effect.  Set a timer for 20-30 minutes, and then cover your kids, find some shade or slather on a quality sunscreen.

Check for Iron  

Is your child getting enough iron in their diet?  Too much iron can indeed be a severe health risk in kids, but the reality is that many children (up to 47% worldwide) are not getting enough iron in their diets.  

You can boost iron content by adding or increasing the following foods in your family’s daily fare:

  • Red meats
  • Organ meats like liver
  • Enriched cereals like raisin bran
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Beans–like kidneys or limas
  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Spinach

Iron comes in two forms:  heme (from animal products) and nonheme (from plant sources.)  Heme iron sources are easier for the body to absorb. Try having your iron with a side of citrus like an orange or grapefruit or kiwi for best absorption.

Lunch box with sandwich, fruits, vegetables, orange juice and nuts.

What About a Multivitamin?

Many doctors may recommend a multivitamin to supplement your child’s food intake.  If you are curious about it, talk to your pediatrician to get their recommendations on specific brands or nutrient balance.  For picky eaters to be super healthy kids, a daily vitamin may be a good idea for their optimal wellness.

Creating a Love for Lots of Foods

Variety is vital for creating balance in your child’s diet.  It’s essential to provide food sources for your kids that support their developing pallets as well as their overall health.  We need to have foods that are rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats, micronutrients, and of course, flavor to build our kids’ deep relationships with food.  

Of course, we know that veggies, fruits, meats, dairy, whole grains, and a few select fats and oils make up the foundation of a healthy diet.  But, how do we make those foods enticing for our kiddos? Try a little spice in your life with herbs and flavors that make the savory and sweet a truly salivating experience for your little ones.

Growing super healthy kids is more than just providing healthy food. They need to understand the benefit of food and learn to enjoy different kinds.

Young girl in front of vegetable dish.

Spices are Your Friend–But Be Careful

Spices add so much flavor and fun to foods, but sometimes kids are a bit reluctant to try them.  Start your kids on a few gentle spices or herbs a little at a time. Here are a few healthy lunch ideas that incorporate a touch of spice into the menu:

  • Whole grain toast with butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon
  • Sliced apples with a sprinkle of cinnamon or ginger
  • Baby carrots and hummus with a dash of smoked paprika
  • A tossed salad with chopped cilantro mixed in with the greens

Picky Eater Problems

If you find yourself with a very picky child–one who gags at the smell or taste of any new food in his mouth or seems traumatized every time you try to get him to eat a portion of new food, he could be suffering from a deeper issue than just an under-developed food palate.  

There are now “Food Therapists” for kids with issues around food relationships.  Physical or Occupational Therapy can help your child if you notice a lot of gagging or trouble swallowing new foods or foods with certain smells and textures. Other types of behavior therapy can help if you suspect your child’s food aversion is more about anxiety and fear.  

If your child’s food aversions have begun to affect his weight or development, or if your family is having to say “no” to outings like eating in restaurants because of uncertain food choices, see your pediatrician. She may recommend a therapy resource to gently move your child into a broader acceptance of different food experiences. Healthy eating for picky eaters is possible.

Child eating apple

Keep Doing Your Best

If you’ve ruled out a deeper issue, getting your kids to eat healthy may be about consistency and boundaries.  It is our job as parents to provide a wide variety of healthy foods for our kids to try. It is their job to determine if they will ultimately eat the food.  It can take as many as 10 tries of a single food before they like it.

At each meal, it can be helpful to have a few foods available your child enjoys, and one or two foods that are new.  Allow one serving of the favorite foods, and then require a try of a new food before any more favorite foods are consumed.  Be sure to be an example and let your child see you eating a bit of all the foods on the table so she can do the same.

It’s okay if we don’t all have exactly what we want to eat at each meal.  Rotating “favorite food” nights for each family member can be a fun exercise in learning, sharing, and growing our healthy food relationships.

Stay consistent in your offerings and trust that your child will find his way to eating foods that keep him healthy, full and satisfied.

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