“Children can meet their nutritional needs without eating vegetables,” my nutrition professor announced to my college nutrition class. Every mom in the room gasped with relief. Of course the topic of healthy eating for picky eaters wasn’t high on my priority list at the time. But I’ll never forget the impact it had on parents – and now I understand why.
When it comes to feeding kids, it’s the parent’s job is to offer a nutritious diet. But we all know that the food we choose doesn’t always make it into the mouths of “>picky eaters. So what’ s a parent to do?
Have a plan!
Because it can take a while for little palates to come around, try pairing these easier-to-accept foods with other items they aren’t ready to eat (yet).
1. Offer tasty cantaloupe: Rich in both vitamin A and C, nutrients kids need on a daily basis, cantaloupe packs nutrition and a sweet taste. Have it as part of breakfast or for a snack and feel good knowing your little one is getting the same vitamin A found in green veggies.
2. Stock the pantry with ready-to-eat cereal: Picky eaters may not be eating many iron-rich foods, especially at-risk kids age 3 and younger. Finding a cereal that contains iron along with whole grains and fiber is key. One example is Cheerios which contains more than 40% of the Daily Value for iron and is a good source of fiber (try to keep sugar at 10g or less per serving).
3. Include vitamin C-rich fruits: Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron at meals. For picky eaters, make a habit of including strawberries, cantaloupe, orange slices and kiwi with meals, especially breakfast.
4. Serve sweet potatoes: Also rich in vitamin A, sweet potatoes have a sweet flavor that many kids like. Serve sweet potato fries with a sandwich and watch your kids attack.
5. Sneak in whole grains: You child won’t be able to tell that their macaroni and cheese is made with whole grains. There are many whole grain products on the market to experiment with — whole grain waffles, crackers and pasta. Check this listing from the Whole Grains Council.
6. Provide palatable protein sources: Most children get their share of protein from milk and yogurt but it’s the nutrients in eggs, meat, fish, and beans – iron, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc – that are essential for growth. Make healthier versions of chicken tenders at home, try French toast using a DHA-rich egg, serve meatballs with toothpicks and include nutritious beans as part of a burrito or finger foods for younger children.
7. Try veggies and dip: Keep serving veggies at meals but also try them at snack time. Kids like to dip veggies like carrots, zucchini and cucumbers in tasty dips like hummus or ranch dressing. A recent study showed kids age 4 to 10 prefer crunchy veggies.
8. Offer nuts: While nuts can be a choking hazard for younger children, they make a tasty and nutritious snack for kids. Try dry roasted almond slices which are crunchy and great topped on yogurt. Most nuts are rich in vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, selenium and copper.
9. Watch out for fillers: Children getting too much juice and milk may eat less food throughout the day. Stick to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation to limit juice to 4-6 ounces for children 1 to 6 years old and 8-12 ounces for kids 7 to 18 years old. And to meet their calcium needs, kids aged 2 to 8 years old need 2 milk products daily and older kids need 3.
10. Consider supplements: If your child won’t eat entire food groups like fruits and veggies, talk to your pediatrician about a multivitamin.
But even if you child doesn’t need a multivitamin, they might need other supplements. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfed infants and older children drinking less than 4 cups of milk per day get 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Omega-3 fatty acids are another supplement that might make sense for children who don’t eat fish. See Kids & DHA: The Complete Guide for Parents to see if your child is getting enough.
Do you have picky eaters at home? Are you worried about their nutritional status?
For more on what to feed your kids see our Nutrition for Children section.