This season check out Bloom’s new seasonal nutrition newsletter, about all things new life and Spring!
Click here to read, and as always, let us know what you think, and what you’d like to know more of!
x Angela @ Bloom
This season check out Bloom’s new seasonal nutrition newsletter, about all things new life and Spring!
Click here to read, and as always, let us know what you think, and what you’d like to know more of!
x Angela @ Bloom
If you have a fussy eater, you’re not alone. My own children are all fussy to some degree and have definite lists of things they do and do not like (or as I prefer to say, are still learning to like). As a paediatric dietitian I have a tool box of strategies that I can dip into to try and get them to include more new foods in their diet and help make eating a harmonious and pleasant opportunity for us all. Don’t get me wrong, feeding my family is still hard work, it requires a lot of planning, patience and perseverance. Fussy eating generally isn’t cured overnight, but with the right strategies it is something that will improve.
Here are some strategies that might help you pack a healthier lunchbox for your fussy eater….
Packing Map – In our introduction we talked about including foods from each of the “grow, glow and go” categories. Take this a step further and create a packing map or guide with your child. Explain to them that their lunch box needs to include at least one item from each of the following food groups: Fruit, Vegetables, Dairy (or dairy equivalent), Protein and Wholegrains. Get them to suggest fruits, vegetables etc that they are happy to have in their lunchboxes and write them down. Use this guide to help pack the lunchbox each day. For a fun and interactive way to create a packing list with your child take a look at the healthy lunch box builder by the Cancer Council.
You can also download our lunchbox planner here
Expose and Explore foods –
One thing we know about fussy eating is that children need to be exposed to new foods a LOT of times before they learn to eat it. If they’ve never seen a capsicum they simply can’t learn to ever eat it! A small token serving of food in the lunchbox is a great opportunity to expose your child to new foods. I packed cucumber as small stars or sticks for about 2 years in one of my child’s lunchboxes before it was eaten. The trick to this approach is to keep your serving size small enough that it won’t overwhelm your child and to make sure there are plenty of other foods in their lunchbox that are preferred items.
Stuck in a rut? –
Lots of parents tell me that they get stuck in a rut of the same old vegemite sandwich and a packet of 1 or 2 preferred items. These parents are often worried that their child will eat nothing if they change things up. The trick here is to make small but noticeable changes over a period of time.
Start by getting a new lunchbox (Bento boxes work well for this approach). Show your child their packet of preferred snack food (eg tiny teddies) and tip it out into one of the compartments. Next change the shape of their sandwich with a fancy sandwich cutter or just do triangles instead of squares. Along with this add a token new food from one of the food groups above (remember we’re exposing not expecting that they will eat it). After they’re accepting these small changes, take it a step further. Switch some or all of the biscuits for something similar (eg if they like tiny teddies try weet-bix mini bite multi packs). Once they’re accepting a rage of similar biscuits you could even try a home baked snack.
Exposure is again is the key for success here. Why not try a lunchbox day on the weekend? Put out an assortment of sandwiches, fruit, veggies and snacks at lunchtime and let every member of the family packs a lunchbox (you too Mum and Dad). Then sit down to lunch together or better yet make an occasion out of it and head out for a picnic. You could even have a lunchbox dinner one night!
Get Smart with Snacks –
If you’re really struggling to get your child to eat fruits or vegetables then you might need to make your snack choices work harder. Because young children need to eat regularly, snacks contribute a large amount of energy and nutrients into the diet. To help boost my children’s intake of vegetables, I’ll frequently bake cakes and alike that contain vegetables, fruits, seeds and wholegrains. Some of our favourites include moist zucchini chocolate cake, chocolate black bean cup cakes and you can even make sweet potato brownies! A quick google search will give you plenty of recipes to try!
Most parents (myself included) are pretty keen to take a look inside the lunchbox at the end of the day and see what has (or hasn’t!) been eaten. It’s pretty depressing when you go to all that hard work to have most of it come home again. But don’t despair there are many reasons why your child might be bringing foods back home. Children’s appetite’s can vary hugely from day to day, sometimes they simply won’t want to eat as much as you’ve packed. It’s preferable not to put pressure on your child to eat their entire lunchbox. Only they know how hungry they are and you need to trust that they can regulate their own appetite.
They want to play or talk too much. This is usually an issue with younger kids. Playing with their friends often takes priority to eating. These kids usually leave school ravenous and do with a gentle reminder to eat the remainder of their lunchbox on the way home. Difficulty opening foods is another big one. Check that your child can open various containers, packets etc before you send them. For some children the school environment can be a huge sensory challenge. So many people, so much noise, so many distractions. If this is your child an occupational or feeding therapist will be able to work with you and your child’s school to help manage some of these challenges.
Most kids will bring some food back home at least some of the time. If your child is bringing their entire lunch home most of the time it’s probably worth a chat to try and figure out what the problem is. Outside of that, quizzing children about why the celery sticks are coming home again generally doesn’t get them to eat or enjoy them, better to just serve them and let your child decide whether they want to eat them.
If you’ve been following Bloom for a while you’ll know that I like to make a lot of my children’s snacks. I do this to maximise the nutrients in their snack choices whilst minimising less desirable nutrients such as salt, sugar, fat and refined carbohydrates.
For young children who need to eat regularly, snacks form a large part of their daily diet and should really represent our major food groups as much as possible, not something just grabbed in haste to fill a hole.
Now no one likes to be a slave to their kitchen, so when I bake for the lunchboxes I do large batch cooking and freeze. I look for recipes that include ingredients from our key food groups like fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and seeds (or nuts if your school permits them). I’ll often try and reduce the sugar too. If you need some inspiration you might like to try our green seed slice or coco cranberry bliss balls.
Even with great planning and preparation there are still weeks where I might find I have nothing on hand, or I just don’t want to or have time to cook. In these situations I turn to a selection of pre-packged snacks from the supermarket that still offer plenty of nutrition. I also like to alternate my home cooked choices with purchased snacks to mix things up a bit and ensure the kids don’t get bored of the same old thing.
To help you make smart choices in the supermarket we’ve come up with this list of Bloom approved snacks.
1. Roasted nori sheets – These are a great source of iodine. 1 small 8g packet provides 30% of a young child’s daily iodine requirement. It should be noted that these are very high in salt but as the serving size is so small (8g) the total quantity of salt consumed is small.
2. Fruit/Raisin bread – I’ve always got a loaf in my freezer. Sure it has some added sugar, but most of the sugar comes from the added dried fruit. It’s low GI, filling and has around 120 calories per buttered slice (1 slice is plenty for a recess snack). Tip top have alsohave a wholemeal Raisin toast and that’s got my tick of approval
3. Cheese and Crackers -I’m not really a fan of the pre-packaged cheese and biscuit packs as they cost a fortune. Even when you’re low on time you can still still grab a handful of crackers and cut a slice of cheese (or a cheese stick if you really need to). Not all crackers are created equal though. You definitely want to focus on buying a wholegrain variety (look for those with at least 4g of fibre per 100g) and with a sodium content less than 400mg/100g (harder to find).
My top picks would be Ryvita wholegrain crisp breads (I’d suggest breaking two in halves as they are larger), Vita-Wheat crisp bread range and crackers (note these all exceed 400mg of sodium/100g,but most are under 500g/100g) and the Mary’s Gone Crackers range (although please note these are a more expensive option).
Team with your child’s preferred cheese and you have a filling snack option high in fibre, B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids (from the seeds), calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
The crunchy texture of these products will appeal to many kids.
They come in plain (lightly salted), as well a variety of other flavours. I love that they come in individually wrapped portions so you can simply grab and chuck into the lunchbox. They also hit the mark for fibre content, sodium and overall calories, not to mention they also count towards your child’s daily intake of vegetables!
Another option that’s sure to be a hit with most kids that is filling and high in fibre. I’d recommend you check what type of oil your popcorn is cooked in (or better yet go for air popped, although many kids may find this too bland) and avoid any cooked in palm oil (a saturated fat we want to avoid).
Also look for those with a lower sodium content, ideally less than 400mg per 100g. I’d also stay away from any of the sweetened varieties, children don’t need the extra sugar in these products.
My pick would be CobsR natural sea salt variety. I buy it in the large packs and portion it out to save money, but if you’re really low on time you may prefer the individually packed option.
5. Coles “buddy” dried fruit and seed packets – with a few varieties on offer there should be something here that most kids will like. Some varieties contain “fun” foods like mini marshmallows and chocolate buds. This personally doesn’t bother me and I find the inclusions of some fun foods in a trail mix makes it more likely my kids will eat the whole thing.
6. Weetbix mini breakfast biscuits – These multi-pack biscuits have just over 1 teaspoon of sugar per packet but best of all they have 2.8 g fibre, more than most other snack biscuits on the market. They are also fortified with iron and a range of B vitamins. Bel vita also make a similar biscuit however with 3 teaspoons of sugar per biscuit they are my second choice, although I it should be noted that they contain more fibre at 4g per packet.
7. Milk boxes/Smoothies – Devondale mini milk boxes are a perfect option to deliver a hit of calcium (and protein) to your child’s lunchbox. As they are long life milks you don’t have to worry if they get warm during the day. My kids are happy to have plain milk but I do also give them flavoured ones to mix things up a bit. The Devondale Moo flavoured milks have around 1 tsp of sugar per 100g which is not overly bad given that this product also contains lots of other worthwhile nutrients. Sippah straws are another quick option to pop in the lunchbox with a thermos of plain milk and contain less than 1/2 teaspoon per straw. Nudie also released a range of long life brekkie smoothies last year in flavours such as banana and mixed berry. They are sweetened with maple syrup and have around 1.5 teaspoons of sugar per 100ml.
8. Fruit straps – There are a few different options on the market now, for example The “Fruit Wise” and “Bear Yo Yo’s. Both brands are made from 100% dehydrated fruit with no added sugars or fillers. Per serve these products contain about 1/2 the calories of a fresh piece of fruit. Most people don’t find them as filling as eating fresh fruit (because the water content has been removed from them) and of course being quite sticky they aren’t a great option for your child’s teeth. I wouldn’t make this your every day fruit option but they’re a reasonable back up.
9. Date and seed based bites/bars and protein balls – eg Kez’s kitchen lamington bars. These are made from dates and seeds and have nothing but real ingredients added. If you are buying these sorts of products check the ingredient list and try and avoid those with added sweeteners such as honey or rice syrup. Most of these products are quite pricey and I feel you could make a similar version yourself for much less but for those busy times they are a handy option.
10 Messy Monkeys – Out of all the flavoured savoury snacks/biscuits on the market for children these would probably be my pick. They are high in fibre (2g per serve) and don’t contain artificial flavours or flavour enhancers, the salt and fat content is however quite high (as are many other similar products in this category). My biggest concern with savoury salty snacks for children is that it tends to program their taste buds to want more salty highly flavoured foods and these flavours aren’t found in natural whole foods. That’s not to say that I’d never buy these snacks for my children but I certainly limit them to occasionally and where possible I try to buy plain varieties of biscuits.
11. Mini dips and baby cucumbers – we love the Obela mini dips for the convenience of their grab and go size! Keep and pack of baby cuqs (cucumbers) on hand and have you have a super healthy snack prepared in 30 seconds!
Preparing school lunch boxes can feel a little like ground hog day.
And no wonder, as kids go to school for around 200 days per year! But fear not… if you’re in need of a little school lunch inspo, you’ve come to the right place!
Bloom’s winter newsletter for 2019 is all about lunches and lunch boxes. Get ready for the low down on the boxes we love, and how to fill them with nutritious, tasty food your kids actually want to eat! Favourite sandwich fillings, great non-sandwich lunch ideas, dietitian approved packaged snacks, and more.
We hope our tips and tricks help hit the spot. Click here to start reading!
X Angela @ Bloom
You’ve heard it before – it’s famed as the most important meal of the day. But why is breakfast so good?
Breakfast, literally, breaks the fast from overnight, fuelling your body with energy and nutrients for the day ahead. So, breakfast is like the platform you use to dive into the day. Start the day right and the day ahead is looking good from the get-go!
In nutrition research, eating breakfast is linked to many good things. There’s an association between eating breakfast and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as increased overall nutrient intakes for key nutrients like fibre, calcium, iron, folate and vitamin C. Research suggests skipping breakfast impairs cognitive performance (so little brains don’t work as well!) , and there are associations between skipping breakfast and an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Back in 2014, an Australian Bureau of Statistics Census at School Survey found that as many as 1 in 7 kids weren’t eating breakfast on a given day. And similar numbers of adults were found to skip breaky back in the 2013 Australian Health Survey, and 2012 National Nutrition Survey. So if this is a common occurrence in your house, it’s time to take action!
Set aside even as little as 5-10 extra minutes in the morning routine to sit and eat. And given that breakfast is one-third of our main meals, it makes sense to make it count nutritionally.
Breakfasts higher in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and lower in free sugars are the way to go.
How do we do this? It’s as simple as choosing minimally processed foods, (like food from the major groups of the Australian Guide to Healthy eating, or AGHE, below), and getting your kids on board with the choices! When kids have some input and ownership of the meals that are chosen for the family, they’re more likely to eat them.
When talking to kids I love using the analogy of foods that make you GO, GROW and GLOW.
GO foods are the grains or carbohydrate sources – the yellow area from the AGHE. They provide energy, fibre and if you’re choosing whole grains, lots of metabolism-boosting B vitamins.
GROW foods are what you might typically think as the protein sources – meat, eggs, nuts, dairy – giving protein and essential nutrients like iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc – important for building muscles and bones. These are the blue and purple sections of the AGHE.
GLOW foods are those foods that help your body feel great – they’re from green sections of the AGHE. Filled with fruits and vegetables, they’re packed with all the good stuff – fibre, prebiotics, and a whole host of vitamins and minerals.
So a breaky that ticks all 3 big GO, GROW and GLOW boxes is a great start.
How do we achieve this? Try some of the easy ideas below:
· A smoothie (milk, yoghurt and fresh fruit) & a slice or two of grainy toast with your favourite topping
· Grainy granola, with oats, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, served with milk or yoghurt
· A breakfast wrap – multigrain wrap, filled with scrambled eggs, tomato and spinach
· A jaffle, made with wholemeal bread, filled with baked beans and cheese
· Good old fashioned porridge oats made with milk, and topped with banana and cinnamon
· Rye sourdough with tomato, avocado and crumbled feta
The list goes on!
So give your family breakfast the once over. Look at what you’re regularly serving, and where you might have gaps. Pop in something from the food group that’s missing to give your breaky a nutrient boost and supercharge your day!
Packaged breakfast cereal often gets a bad wrap. With many options either full of sugar, low in fibre or high in salt, I can understand why.
Current research into gut health however, clearly indicates that a diet high in wholegrains is important for maintaining a diverse gut biome (a large collection of good bacteria that live in your gut). The undigested components of wholegrains (known as prebiotics) act as a fuel source for these bacteria. When these good bacteria break down the prebiotics, they produce a range of “bi-products” which are thought to have a number of beneficial effects on our body. Packaged breakfast cereals can be a good source of wholegrains (and other nutrients) if you know what to look for. Wholegrain breakfast cereals are a great source of fibre which is a nutrient often lacking in young children’s diets. Getting enough fibre each day helps prevent constipation.
I scoured the supermarket to give you my round up on what I consider to be some of the best packaged options available.
Uncle Toby’s Shredded Wheat Biscuits contain 100% wholewheat and not a single other ingredient! Winner! Because it’s just wheat, the salt content of this product is very low at 21mg per 100g. The fibre content is excellent at 12.2.g per 100g.
I also think the shredded look of these biscuits is highly appealing to children.
Sanitarium Weet-Bix are made from 97% wholegrain wheat. They have a small amount of added sugar and salt, but overall their nutritional content is good with just 3.3 g of sugar per 100g (that’s just under 1 teaspoon of sugar per 7 Weet-Bix!). This product is also fortified with the B vitamins niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folate as well as iron. The iron content of Weet-Bix is particularly impressive. Two Weet-Bix provides 3mg of iron which is 30% of a 4-8 yr old’s daily requirement. If your child struggles to eat meat or other iron rich sources of food (likes eggs, legumes and nuts for example), then using a fortified cereal such as Weet-Bix may be beneficial.
Uncle Toby’s Weeties are a wheat flake made from 99% wholegrain wheat. They contain a small amount of added salt (still quite reasonable at 375mg/100g) and no added sugar. Like Weet-Bix they are fortified with some B vitamins (thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid), however they don’t contain any added iron (note: wholegrains are naturally a source of what is called non haem iron. To ensure an adequate intake of Iron I would always recommend that families choose wholegrain bread and cereal options over white refined options that are lower in naturally occurring iron).
4. Muesli (natural or toasted)
Natural or Swiss style muesli is a muesli made without added fats or sugar. It usually contains a variety of dried fruits, oats, nuts and seeds. Toasted muesli will have a similar composition, but also includes a fat (usually a canola or sunflower oil) and a sugar source (eg honey, molasses, maple syrup or similar) and is oven baked giving it a crunchy texture.
A toasted muesli will usually have a higher fat, sugar and calorie content. That said, many people often prefer it’s “crunchy roasted flavour” and given all the beneficial nutrients otherwise found in muesli, I think a toasted muesli is still a sound choice. Look for varieties cooked in a quality oil (such as sunflower, canola or rapeseed, not generic “vegetable oil”) and those with sugar listed lower down the list of ingredients.
Personally I like to use a swiss or natural muesli as a base to make Bircher Muesli from, and a toasted muesli to eat with milk, yoghurt and fruit.
My personal favourite is Carmen’s Classic Fruit and Nut Muesli. The fat and sugar content of this product are both moderate, but it’s worth noting that some of the fat is naturally occurring from the nuts and seeds, and much of the sugar content comes from the dried fruit.
All things considered both natural and toasted meusli’s are good minimally processed breakfast options that are high in fibre, good fats (from the nuts and seeds), potassium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin C.
You can balance out your breakfast and maximise your nutrition, by serving your choice of cereal with a reduced fat milk, greek style yoghurt and some fruit. Not only are you adding more fibre and fuel for your good bacteria by adding some fruit, but the addition of dairy also contributes calcium and phosphorus needed for bone health.
It’s that time again… With the change of seasons comes a new Bloom Nutrition Studio seasonal nutrition newsletter. Hurrah!
This Autumn we’re sharing our top tips to start the day right, with our gorgeous new Breakfast Issue.
Planning better breakfasts, breakfast in a hurry, long and lazy weekend breakfasts, and some awesome new recipes await inside.
Sit back, relax, and have a read. We hope it brings lots of delicious, nutritious inspiration to your family breakfast table.
x Angela @ Bloom 🌿
An issue that is frequently misunderstood by parents is exactly how much protein children need everyday and where they can get it from. One of the most common concerns I hear from parents of fussy or picky eaters is that they’re not getting enough protein. As we go through their child’s diet, they are often surprised to find that their protein intake is fine.
One of the reasons for this is that our bodies actually don’t need that much protein. Even in children that are growing rapidly, it’s not hard to meet their requirements. We also get protein from sources other than meat which many people are unaware of. For example breads and cereals, whilst usually recognised as a source of carbohydrate, also contain protein. Whilst some of these sources do not contain a complete range of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) when eaten as part of a balanced diet, overall protein intake will be sufficient. Dairy is a very significant source of protein for young children. I always ensure there are adequate alternative sources if we need to avoid dairy for some reason (eg the child has an allergy).
So how much protein do children actually need and where can they get it from? Below I’ve included a pictorial to give you an example of how easily a child’s protein requirements are met.
Toddlers 1 – 3 yrs (between 10 – 15kg): 11g – 16g protein per day
1 shredded wheat biscuit without milk 2g
1/2 Cob of corn 2g 1 small cup of milk(200ml) 8g
Slice of cheese 4g
Children 4 – 8yrs (16 – 26kg): 15 – 24g protein per day
1 cheese sandwich 12g 200g tub of yoghurt 6g 1/2 cup broccoli 4g
Children 9 – 13yrs (29kg – 46k): 29 – 46g protein per day
3 weetbix with milk 14g 1 banana 1.5g 4 vita wheat crackers with cheese 7g Small tin of tuna 16g
The typical Australian diet usually provides most children with more protein than their bodies require (in fact a recent Melbourne based study (InFANT) found that very young children (aged 9 months to 5 years) protein intake from diet alone was 2-3 times higher than age appropriate Australian recommendations. Occasionally we see children who’s growth is faltering and part of our management plan is to try a high protein and energy diet to get them moving again. In these situations we will use these diets on a short term basis until a medically agreed upon target is achieved.
What is concerning me as a paediatric dietitian is a trend I’ve noticed on social media to use protein powders and shakes in children, that have been designed for use by adults. As our obesity rates have risen and as a nation we have become more focused on health, there has been an explosion of supplements many of them protein based drinks, powders and bars.
There is evidence that in adults a diet higher in protein can be beneficial for weight loss, particularly in promoting satiety after a meal. We do not have this same evidence in children. The by products of protein break down are filtered out by our kidneys. The more protein we eat, the harder our kidneys work getting rid of the waste. The concern here is that if our kidneys are placed under long term strain, then the chance of developing chronic kidney disease later in life might be increased. Research in adults has suggested that high protein diets are probably fine if your kidney function is normal. We don’t have this data for children. If children are fed these exceedingly high protein intakes for years as their kidney function develops and matures, what is the long term effect? Most of these protein based shakes, powders etc provide around 20g of protein per serve. For your average 10 – 15kg toddler, that means they are receiving 1.3 g – 2g protein/kg/day before you’ve even factored in any food. When we treat children who’s growth is faltering or are malnourished, as dietitians, we don’t usually exceed 2g protein/kg/day and this is on a short term basis only. My feeling is that it would be quite possible for children to be receiving as much as 3g protein/kg/day if they are regularly using adult based protein supplements. The other issue here is that many of these protein based shakes will also be high in added vitamins and minerals and there is the real possibility of exceeding the upper safe limit for these nutrients as well.
If you are concerned about your child’s diet, a children’s based supplement will always be a wiser choice than something designed for adults (note – even when a product claims to be made of all natural sources as many of these protein powders and alike do, it does not mean it’s safe for children). As a dietitian I always prefer to look for food based ways to address any nutritional concerns, but sometimes we do have to use supplements. At these times I prefer to use a multivitamin and mineral supplement as most shake type supplements usually take the child’s appetite away and can hinder the progress of expanding a child’s diet.
I’ve written more about this here. If you just want to provide a little boost to your child’s nutrition, a simple smoothie made with your preferred milk fortified with a handful of nuts (I like using raw cashews) or chia seeds and some fruit or steamed vegetables, will go long way to not only adding extra protein but also iron, zinc, phosphorus, vitamin C and fibre.
Why not try my choice mint smoothie if you’re looking for something to boost your child’s nutrition? You can get the recipe here.
Without a doubt the “vegan diet” (avoidance of all animal based foods) seems to be one of the more popular of our time. Whilst some follow this diet out of concerns for animal welfare or the environment, many people follow it for it’s nutritional benefits. A vegan diet has been shown to reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer. In 2016 the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics updated their statement on Vegetarian and Vegan diets, stating that they are safe to follow at all stages of the life cycle when appropriately planned (including in infants, children and pregnant and lactating women).
A good vegan diet requires more effort than just pasta and sauce, especially for children, who have very particular nutritional needs. If you are going to embark on a vegan diet, having a thorough understanding of the nutrients that are at risk and having a plan for how you will meet them, is key. Below is a summary of the key nutrients you need to consider for children following a vegan diet.
Energy (calories) – The vegan diet can be lower in energy because of the large number of vegetables consumed. Whilst this might be a good thing for adults looking to lose a bit of weight, for children who are growing rapidly it can be a problem. Balancing the vegetables in a meal with good quality wholegrain carbohydrates (eg rice, pearl barley, quinoa, wholemeal pasta) and a protein source, will help ensure each meal has adequate energy.
Protein – If a wide variety of plant food is eaten and energy intake is adequate, then it is generally agreed that protein intake will meet your child’s needs. Without adequate amounts of protein and energy, children can fall behind with their growth. The key here is eating from a wide range of plant based foods. Unlike animal foods, not all plant based foods contain the “complete” range of amino acids required by our bodies. By eating a wide variety of different plant based foods, a complete range of amino acids will be consumed. Good sources of plant based proteins include: soy products, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. These higher protein plant foods should be consumed at each and every meal.
Iron – Iron from plant foods (called non-haem iron) is not as well absorbed as animal sources. Phytates and polyphenols (naturally occurring compounds in vegetables) inhibit the absorption of iron, whilst the presence of vitamin C (naturally present in many fruits and vegetables) can help improve absorption. Over time the human body is able to adapt to a diet with low iron availability ( a measure of how well iron can be absorbed from foods). Inadequate iron in pregnancy can have serious affects on the developing infant, for this reason it’s advised that an iron supplement should be used. Breastmilk provides adequate iron to meet the needs of infants up until 6 months of age. Beyond 6 months of age, good vegan sources of iron include hummus, cooked mashed legumes and lentils as well as tofu.Whole grain cereals are higher in iron. Fortified foods such as weetbix, should be used regularly in the diets of young children to help achieve adequate iron. Infants who are not breastfed should use a soy formula under 1 yr of age.
Calcium – Calcium absorption from plant foods high in oxalate is generally poor (eg spinach). White beans, tahini, chia, calcium set tofu and almonds are all reasonable sources of calcium.
For children their most reliable source of calcium will be from a calcium fortified plant milk such as soy milk. Under 6 months of age, breastmilk or soy formula will provide your child’s calcium requirements. Between 6 months and 1 yr breastfeeding or soy formula should be continued and calcium fortified soy milk can be used in cooking and to make up breakfast cereals. (see note below on suitable milks for children).
Iodine – Good sources of iodine for Vegan’s include sea vegetables (eg nori sheets) and iodised salt. Pregnant women should always take an iodine supplement to ensure the adequacy of their diet. In Australia all commercial bread products that are not labelled as “artisan or organic” must be fortified with iodine. For most children using these fortified products together with iodised salt in cooking should be sufficient to meet their needs. For infants under 1yr salt shouldn’t be used in cooking. Breastmilk or formula provides sufficient iodine.
Vitamin B -12 – B12 is not found in plant foods. Pregnant and lactating women need to pay particular care to ensure their diets are adequate. As breastmilk will provide the sole source of B12 during the first 6 months of age it is vitally important that breastfeeding mothers regularly eat or drink foods fortified with B12, or take supplements. B12 fortified foods in Australia include soy milk, soy burgers and alike, as well as some yeast spreads. Checking the ingredient list of these products will tell you whether they are fortified or not. The nutrition information panel will tell you how much B12 is present in the food. A pregnant or lactating Mum drinking 650ml of fortified soy milk each day (eg Sanitarium So Good) would have an adequate intake of B12.
Vitamin D – as most vitamin D is obtained from sunlight, vegan infants and children will generally receive sufficient amounts so long as their skin is exposed to sunlight each day. Breastmilk is a poor source of vitamin D. For breastfed vegan infants a supplement may be required, especially during the winter months or if the mother’s own stores are low. Your GP or paediatrician can advise on this.
Fatty acids – EPA and DHA are n-3 fatty acids that are important for brain, eye and heart health.
Seafoods such as oily fish (eg salmon) are some of the best sources, whilst meat and eggs provide lesser amounts. ALA is a plant based n-3 fatty acid that our body can convert into EPA and DHA. ALA is found in nuts and seeds, with flaxseed, chia and walnuts all being good sources. Olive oil is also a good source.
Choosing the right plant based milk for your child is critical to ensuring they are getting enough energy, protein and calcium in their diet. A calcium fortified milk soy milk is the best choice for vegan children. Ideally chose a soy milk that contains at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml and preferably one that is also fortified with vitamin B12. Depending on how much of this milk your child drinks, they may not need additional B12 supplements. Soy milks have some of the highest protein contents of plant based milks and are therefore ideal for growing children. Other plant based milks include almond, rice and coconut. These milks however, tend to be lower in energy and protein and therefore are not the first choice for vegan children. If your child has an allergy to soy products speak with an accredited practising dietitian about the best choice of alternative milk that will tick all of their dietary needs.
Vegan Meal Plan for a toddler or pre-schooler
2 weetbix with 1/2 cup so good essential soy milk
To serve: sprinkle 1 teaspoon of chia seeds and 2 TBS stewed apples
1 cup (200ml) so good essential milk
wholegrain crackers with 2 TBS peanut (or cashew/almond) butter and 1 TBS sultanas
Wholegrain toast fingers (1- 2 slices) with vegan margarine and 2 TBS hummus
Kale chips (made with olive oil and a sprinkle of iodised salt) and cucumber sticks
Smoothie made with 200ml so good essential milk, 1/2 banana, 2 TBS coconut yoghurt, 1 teaspoon chia seeds, 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup and cinnamon to taste
Roasted seaweed sheets and cut up grapes
chickpea, broccoli and tofu curry in a mild coconut sauce served with 1/4 cup cooked basmati rice
soy life soy yoghurt with a sprinkle of toasted muesli (vegan variety)
This example meal plan meets a 2 -5 yr old’s needs for calcium, iron, iodine, vitamin B12 and protein.
Notes: Analysis is based on using So good regular soy milk which is fortified with both calcium and vitamin B12, Helgas wholemeal bread with grains which is baked with iodised salt and soy life calcium fortified yoghurt.
Like most dietitians I don’t like the word “diet”. It makes me think of a whole lot of “rules” that need to be followed and adhered to, and for the most part take the fun out of eating. Now of course for some people, needing a “diet” is a necessary part of life. As a dietitian, I’ve helped many people with low FODMAP, gluten free, low potassium, high energy etc diets, and when required these diets can deliver huge health benefits. Because my job involves advising people on “diets” many people often question me as to my own diet. Do I follow something in particular? People often assume I’m highly restrictive with my choices, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love food and (mostly) enjoy cooking. I also enjoy looking for new ways to make healthy foods tasty and easy to prepare.
I strongly believe in the concept of mindful or intuitive eating and definitely have a “non diet’ approach to health. I do believe that our bodies are equipped with everything we need to maintain a healthy weight, this is our appetite. For some people this might be slightly heavier and for others slightly lighter, there’s no denying that we all come in different shapes and sizes. In our fast paced society many of us have lost the ability to tune into our appetite. We eat because the food is there, because it’s 12noon and that ’s when we take our lunch break (whether we’re hungry or not), we eat too fast, we eat because we are tired/stressed/emotional or even happy. Over time we stop listening to our bodies.
What I do try to follow is our Australian Guidelines to Healthy Eating and my diet is probably most closely aligned to the Mediterranean way of eating. I also try to focus on what I should be eating not on what I shouldn’t be. This means I’ve always got some sort of plan for how I’m going to get my 5 serves of veggies and 2 serves of fruit in each day. I also try to tick off my 3 serves of dairy and will look for opportunities to add nuts and seeds (for the heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids they deliver) to my meals and snacks, as well as other quality proteins. When I choose grains with my meals, I make sure they’re wholegrain and low GI as much as possible. I find that by focussing on eating all the foods my body needs for health each day, I actually have little appetite left for snack foods or more indulgent choices. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my chocolate, cakes ice cream and a glass of wine as much as the next person, and if a truly feel like having them I do. I don’t restrict any food but I listen to my body and I set aside the time to eat. Eating when you’re distracted scrolling through Facebook, driving in the car or even reading a magazine can often mean your not tuning into your natural appetite. In fact if you’re eating like this you can often get to the end of the meal and not really feel like you’ve eaten because you haven’t stopped to enjoy the flavours and textures of the food.
So here’s what a dietitian eats in a day!
Breakfast: I’m very seasonal with my breakfast, when the weather is cold I always start the day by making a huge pot of porridge (rolled oats) for my whole family. For myself I top it with brown sugar, chia seeds, cinnamon and walnuts. Most days I have 1/2 glass of unsweetened orange juice and a small (piccolo size) white coffee. In warmer weather bircher muesli or toasted muesli with Jalna sweet and creamy yoghurt and fruit does the trick.
Mid morning: Often I find a coffee is enough for my morning snack. It’s always a skinny latte but this time it’s a larger size (medium if I’m out and about) and about 200ml if I’m home. On this particular day I was hungry for a snack as well so I had some multigrain crackers and hummus. Other choices would be one of my coco cranberry bliss balls.
I’m always looking to get a lot of vegetables in at lunch so I don’t have to fit them all in at dinner. It also helps keep me full all day. This week I made a huge batch of these spiralised sweet potato noodles sautéed in chilli, olive oil and lemon zest and teamed it with crunchy oven baked kale and a sprinkling of pine nuts.
I usually team my lunch with a green smoothie or I have a fruit salad with Jalna sweet and creamy yoghurt and a sprinkling of toasted muesli.
Mid afternoon: I’m not usually hungry, sometimes I have a peppermint tea. Occasionally I join my kids in their after school snack, but the key here is I listen to my body and eat if I’m hungry.
D; My dinners are planned for the whole week to minimise the stress of having to come up with things on the fly (and then not having the right ingredients). I divide the week up between meals I know my kids like, meals I like to eat and new things we want to try. I always aim to have at least 1 vegetarian meal and 1 fish meal (I should really be eating more fish, 2 would be ideal) and 2-3 red meat meals. Lots of our meals are served family style where everyone can help themselves to what they like. This helps give the kids some control and choice at the dinner table, and has been shown to help minimise fussy eating in the the long run. Our meal tonight was chicken drumsticks cooked in the oven, salad, kale chips and bread. No matter what type of meal I’m cooking, I aways make sure that there are plenty of vegetables (even if my kids don’t always chose them!).
D: Now as I said earlier I don’t believe in restricting any food. Research has shown that the more we try and restrict foods that we think are “bad for us” the more we crave them and can often end up overeating them. With that in mind, if I feel like having a “treat” I go for it. This particular night I had a chocolate covered ice cream on a stick (connoisseur).
With regards to alcohol I really try to minimise my intake. New research published in the Lancet this year has suggested that our current guidelines advocate for too much alcohol. It’s been suggested that men and women should have no more than 100g of alcohol per week, or 6 standard drinks (a standard drink being just 100ml of wine). Our Australian guidelines are currently under review and will be released next year. Given the association between alcohol intake and some types of cancer, (and because I come from a family with a high risk of breast cancer), I try to restrict my intake to a standard glass of wine and I make sure I have at least 2 alcohol free days a week.
So there you go I follow a diet that is flexible, nourishing and above all enjoyable. Whilst i eat for health I also eat for enjoyment and that’s something I truly want to teach my children. I believe that that teaching your children about healthy eating starts with respecting that your child has their own programmed appetite and they intuitively know how much they need to eat each day.
Fascinating research has been conducted on infants that shows how beautifully programmed an child’s appetite can be. Very young infants were fed baby formula made up to different calorie strengths. Guess what happened? When the babies were fed the energy dense formula they drank less, and when they were fed the more dilute formula they drank more! In other words their appetite kicked in and they ate (drank) according to their needs. How amazing is that?
Other research has shown however, that by age 4yrs many children are learning to ignore their natural appetite and already display signs of what we call “non hungry” eating.
So how can be help our children become intuitive eaters?
My top tips are:
Julia @ Bloom
( ps if you want to read more on my thoughts about how I feed my children and teach them about food you might like this blog post)
We’ve just returned from a short family holiday and it’s had me thinking a lot about food. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me “ohhh you’re a dietitian, I bet your kids eat well!”.
Well yes and no. If you saw me on holiday I’d suspect that dietitian wouldn’t be the first thing that sprung to mind. That’s because on holidays I’m completely happy to live in the moment and enjoy plenty of occasional food. After all, that’s the very definition of occasional food..it’s eaten occasionally, and that’s what holidays are.
Food isn’t just about nutrition. Food can also act as a wonderful memory. Cast your mind back to your own childhood and I’ve got no doubt that you can instantly identify both positive and negative memories that you have of food. Perhaps your nana made a particularly good chocolate cake and now every time you eat cake you think of her? Maybe you made pancakes on the weekends and they are now symbolic of family time for you? Did you have a particular food that you shared with your family at Christmas?
Rituals represent an important part of family life that bring happiness to children’s lives and give them something to look forward to. Many rituals in family life revolve around food and the benefits that come with this have nothing to do with nutrition.
So back to my holiday, let me tell you what we ate. For my children the day started with either cocopops or nutrigrain, two cereals that would generally NEVER make their way near my pantry. But do you know why I do this? Because it’s a ritual my husband had as a child. He has fond memories of this and therefore it’s something he wanted to repeat with his own children. My kids have to agree on what two choices of cereal they want and when it’s gone, that’s it. My kids don’t ask for these foods outside of holidays because they know it’s simply not what we do.
Beyond breakfast there was generally no planning and we ate as saw fit in the moment. Our five days away certainly weren’t balanced and we definitely didn’t eat enough vegetables. Will it kill us? Absolutely not. One of the most important things to remember about diet, is that it’s your overall pattern that matters, i.e. what you are doing most of the time.
Some of the biggest studies that have been conducted looking into which diets are best for cancer prevention and heart health such as the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) or Women’s Health Study (A large prospective study looking at risk factors that predispose women to heart disease), look at say fruit and vegetable intake over a prolonged period of time, and then break it down into groups with the highest and lowest intakes. What we see in these studies is that those people in the highest groups of intake have significantly lower rates of disease (eg heart disease or specific types of cancer). If you monitor your diet and try to get your 2 serves of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, preference wholegrains and a moderate intake of lean meat and dairy, you are doing a really good job and the occasional ice cream, cheese platter or cake won’t really make any difference.
Some people might argue that I’m putting these foods on a pedestal, but I disagree and feel that I am simply reminding my children that some foods are only occasional. I could pretend that many of these processed, high sugar, low nutrient foods don’t exist or I could prohibit my children from consuming them. But do you know what? Research has actually shown that the stricter you are with your child’s (or your own) diet, the more they (or you) are likely to binge on these occasional or “junk foods” when they have access to them. I’m a realist, these processed foods exist, and I don’t see them leaving our supermarket shelves anytime soon. I know my children will be introduced to all of these foods eventually, so I might as well do it in a manner that pleases me, and truly teaches them that occasional foods are just that. I also spend time teaching them what good nutrition looks like and how to cook. Learning where processed “occassional” foods fit into your diet is just as big a life skill as learning what good nutrition is and how to cook!
So this holiday season quite worrying about your diet! Eat mindfully and enjoy the food you are eating with your family. The ice cream won’t kill you, but the memory your kids have of that time Mum and Dad let us eat 2 ice creams in one day, will last a lifetime.
Julia @ Bloom