It’s funny all the things you don’t think about when you become a parent. When I had my daughter, I never thought about what to feed her. I knew it was just going to be the basics, right? Breast milk or formula, followed by baby foods, and then the gradual change over to solid foods. It’s easy, right? Well, not really. As the parent of a toddler, I find myself struggling sometimes to get my kid to eat certain foods that I know she needs. After spending about two weeks on the applesauce and chicken nugget food plan, I decided it was time to talk to the experts. I even included questions from some of the Jeff and Jenn Morning Show
family of listeners. Caitlin Kenny, MD
, and Kathryn Beaulieu, MD
, from The Christ Hospital Physicians – Primary Care, answered our questions.
What is something you would like to see in every kid’s diet?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages like pop, juice, sport drinks, flavored milk, etc. Kids should get zero calories from drinks, with the one exception of low fat or fat free milk.
If my child were a perfect eater, what would she be eating in a day; how many servings of which foods?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Kids should be getting a total of five servings of fruit/vegetables daily. The best way to encourage this is to follow “my plate” recommendations from ChooseMyPlate.gov
, and make half of each meal fruits and veggies. Kids should also get 2-3 servings of dairy daily.Should we be seeking out “organic” foods for our kids?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Fresh fruits and vegetables of any kind are very important in any healthy diet. Organic foods are not necessary for a healthy diet, but if it fits into your family’s budget, then organic foods are good too. The added cost is not worth it if it means skimping on other aspects of a healthy diet.
What are your thoughts on juice?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Juice is not recommended as part of a healthy diet. It should be thought of similarly to soda and candy. It has a ton of sugar and very little nutritional value. You would be much better off eating the whole fruit. If you choose to allow some juice as special treat, you should have no more than 4 oz daily and not before one year of age.How should we be “negotiating” with our kids regarding food?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
You want them to develop a healthy attitude towards eating and a healthy diet, so focus on keeping the dinner table a positive environment. Avoid begging and bargaining. Research shows that many tastes are acquired and it may take tasting a new food up to 10 times before your child starts to like it, so ask that your child tastes the food, but not necessarily finish it. The next time the new food is served, ask that they taste it twice. Also be sure that you are setting a good example; your plate should also be made up of half fruits and veggies just like your kids.
Never become a short-order cook or prepare special foods for mealtime (i.e. chicken nuggets and mac & cheese). If your child refuses to eat the main dish, limit the acceptable alternatives to oatmeal, low fat yogurt, or a simple sandwich.
Can we introduce condiments and toppings to help our kids eat vegetables?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Yes, to a point. It is fine to serve raw vegetables with 1-2 tablespoons of ranch dressing, or to top steamed broccoli with 1-2 tablespoons of shredded cheddar cheese. The serving size of the condiment is key; don’t let the bad outweigh the good. Toddlers especially enjoy eating foods that are accompanied with dips.
Is there harm in telling our kids “if you eat this, then you can get that?”Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Tempting as it can be, avoid bribing and bargaining whenever possible. This can lead to the “prize” food becoming more desirable, and the healthy food an unpleasant chore, which can lead to nightly dinner table battles. Always ask that your kids taste the fruit and vegetables prepared. Also, stick to appropriate portion sizes to the protein and carbs offered. If your child is hungry, they should want to eat everything on the plate, including the fruit and vegetables. Dessert does not need to be withheld if they did not eat everything. And remember desserts don’t have to be unhealthy, fruit is a wonderful option.
How do you feel about the clean plate club?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Ask that your child taste everything on the plate; they do not need to finish everything. You should encourage them to eat when hungry and stop when full.
If kids won’t eat, should we believe “they will eat when they are hungry”?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Your kids should be expected to participate in meal time and sit at the table until they are excused. So long as they are developing and growing as expected and not losing weight, they can skip a meal (or two, or three). Be ready with a healthy snack and meal options when they want to eat.
Can we talk about picky eaters! Do I let my child just drink milk and eat carbs or do I force the veggies and proteins too?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Milk should be limited to 16-24 ounces daily. Drinking more than this can cause kids to fill up on milk and not be hungry for solid foods and can lead to iron deficiency anemia.
Again, follow “My Plate” rules and give carbs as only 1/4 of the whole meal. Help your child explore new foods and textures by offering a variety of vegetables and fruits throughout the week. Try adding different seasoning to make new foods tasty and offer small portions at first and again ask that they taste all new foods.
Is there such a thing as too many fruits and vegetables? That’s what my kiddo prefers and seeks out. How can I get her to eat as much meat or healthy starches?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Higher protein foods like meat or fish should be offered at least two times a week. Other sources of protein include dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) and beans. If your child still will not eat meat at least 2 times weekly, talk to your pediatrician and consider starting a multivitamin with iron daily. As long as your child is eating enough calories, starches and carbs are not a necessary part of the diet.
My kid only wants to eat mac & cheese for every meal. What should I do?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Mac & cheese should be offered as part of the meal only on occasion. There are some tricks you can try to help make food variety more fun. Toddlers are more open to trying foods arranged in creative and eye-catching ways. Make foods into fun, colorful shapes they recognize. Finger foods are also fun, and dips are usually loved by toddlers.
You can also involve your toddler in meal planning. Toddlers love exercising their decision-making abilities, so ask them to pick which veggies they want for dinner that night (only give them acceptable options like broccoli or green beans). You can also involve them the same way in the grocery shopping, they can help pick out which fruits and veggies to bring home.
My 14-month-old grandson will not eat solid food, only baby food. If he tries it, he will gag and throw up! What should I do?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Talk to his pediatrician. He may need further evaluation to figure out if he has issues with textures of foods or problems with the motor coordination needed to chew and swallow solids foods.
How do I get my once-fairly-adventurous eater (who is now a picky, strong-willed 4.5-year-old) to try new foods?Dr. Kenny & Dr. Beaulieu:
Involve them in the process of choosing and preparing new foods. Let them pick out a new recipe (from acceptable options you provide), bring them grocery shopping and pick out something new from the produce section each week. Involve them in cooking. Some tasks are perfect for toddlers, like stirring, counting ingredients, and “painting” on cooking oil with a pastry brush for example. Older kids can help with measuring or chopping.
Once you have an accepted food, you can use food bridges to introduce similar flavors, colors and textures. For example, if your child likes pumpkin pie try mashed sweet potatoes next, then mashed carrots.Thanks so much to Drs. Kenny and Beaulieu for answering our questions! Nutrition is so important and hopefully with some of these helpful tips, we’ll be able to get our kids on a good nutrition path. Good luck and happy eating! Looking for a health partner for your family? Schedule an appointment online today with a primary care provider near you!