Feeding fussy eaters a healthy diet can be an uphill battle. Once kids get a taste for sugar and salt, or latch onto a certain style of food and won’t let it go, the very sight of vegetable can trigger a major protest.
It can get even harder when a child has a behavioural disorder like autism, histamine intolerance and Pyrrole uria. Kids with conditions like these often have narrow palates and big cravings for sugary foods, bread, crackers and other things that are high in carbohydrates. Improving the nutritional intake of fussy eater is integral to keeping kids healthy, and effective at getting children with other illnesses well again.
But when it comes to feeding picky eaters the number one rule is simple – consistency. Put good, healthy meals on the table most of the time and that will become the norm. As a parent and a naturopath, I have developed some strategies for ensuring my kids get the nutrition they need … most of the time.
Here are 10 tricks to get your fussy eaters eating.
1. Include protein
Always make sure there is complete protein at meal times to give your kids the building blocks that their growing bodies require and to help regulate their blood sugar levels so they don’t have a sugar high and then crash. Good protein sources include:
- red meat
- quinoa or whole grains combined with legumes and/or nuts.
2. Nutrient dense foods
Fussy eaters need nutrient dense foods, and by that I mean healthy foods. That means:
- lots of fruits and vegetables
- grains (especially whole grains)
- full-fat dairy products
- seafood, lean poultry and meats
You should also avoid foods that are full of empty in calories. That means sugary foods, salty snacks, sweetened yoghurt, soft drinks and other junk foods. They are high in energy but low in nutrients.
3. Just add vegies
It’s easy to fill up on rice crackers but kids need more! Add nut butter or hommus to those crackers. Better still ditch the crackers and give them carrot, capsicum or cucumber sticks for dipping. (It’s worth it just for the look on their face the first time you do it.)
4. Swap sweet for savoury
Instead of muesli or other cereals for breakfast which can cause a blood sugar spike and launch your little ones (and you!) on an emotional rollercoaster, try offering eggs, avocado on toast or nut butter with banana on toast.
5. DIY treats
If you want to eat a sweet thing, make it yourself. Replace sugar in other recipes with rice malt syrup or coconut sugar to sweeten baking with lower GI sweeteners.
Most of the time you eat well as a family, but 20 per cent can be saved up for birthday parties and other special occasions. As most parents know, there is no shortage of moments when the sugary treats are flowing. Roll with it, but ensure the other 80 per cent of the time things stay on the right track.
7. Out of sight, out of mind
Hide the good stuff in meals. Try grating frozen organic lamb liver into the bolognaise or add a tin of brown lentils to the meatball mix when making spaghetti meatballs. Chocolate cakes are delicious (and can disguise fresh beetroot). Try making these gluten-free cupcakes that have a can of cannellini beans in them. Here’s a great recipe.
These are sneaky but effective ways of improving the nutritional profile of the food kids eat.
8. Lead by example
Be a good role model and eat a whole food based diet. That means 80 to 90 per cent of what you eat should belong in the fridge because it is perishable. If the kids see you munching on a carrot they are more likely to eat carrots too.
9. The skinny on skim
Use full fat dairy products. Kids have a higher dietary requirement for saturated fats than adults and the less adulterated the food the better.
10. Get high tech
Shop with the Chemical Maze app – know what additives, preservatives and colours are in the food you’re eating. The Chemical maze app allows you to look up those mysterious numbers in the ingredient lists of foods at the supermarket.
A final note
Fussy eating can often be a symptom of something else at work. A child’s narrow palate can be caused by deficiencies in zinc, iron or magnesium, among other things. If in doubt a simple blood test with your health practitioner can help you to determine if there is something driving you child’s fussy eating.
Have you developed your own strategies for dealing with picky eaters? Leave a comment below and let others know what has worked for you.