Children’s nutrition

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When my children wanted to cook cornflake cookies recently, I realised that I had an opportunity to improve on an age old favourite and turn into something that could go into their lunch boxes.
My lunchbox baking criteria is that it must include a wholemeal or wholegrain base for fibre, B vitamins and longer lasting energy. I also like to include fruit, veggies and/or seeds.
With most Australian schools being nut free, I frequently try to include seeds in my cooking as they are an equivalent source of important nutrients such mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fibre, protein and minerals like phosphorus and magnesium amongst others. Chia seeds are slightly unique in that they are a very good plant source of Omega 3 (ALA) fatty acids. Most seeds contain Omega 6 (although linseed is also a notable source of Omega 3). Our bodies can’t make ALA and so we must source it from our diets. Nuts and seeds along with olive oil and leafy green vegetables are all good sources. Chia seeds are also particularly high in fibre, so including them in your families diet can really help your child hit their daily fibre requirement.

They may be expensive but a small amount goes a long way! I hope you have fun making these cookies with your kids!

Cornflake Chia Cookies

Ingredients

125g butter softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons chia seeds
pinch of salt
2 cups of crushed cornflakes

Method:

Heat Oven to 180 degrees celsius.
Using an electric mixer beat butter and sugar together and light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until mixed. Fold in the flour, baking powder, chia seeds, crushed cornflakes and salt.
Shape into small balls and place about 5cm apart on a baking tray. Cook for around 15 mins or until lightly golden.
Store in an airtight container in your freezer for 3 months.

Note: this recipe was inspired by a classic cornflake recipe found on taste.com

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Have you ever sent out birthday party invitations, with a polite little “Let us know if you have any food allergies” at the bottom, only to be faced with a wave of responses you weren’t expecting? 

Well – keep calm, and carry on. With a little know how, feeding kids with food allergies is totally manageable – and actually kind of fun! Here’s our go to guide to keep you on the right track…

Start by making a list of the kids with allergies, and those ingredients that you need to avoid. Then decide what party food you will make and buy, and match them up. At the end of your food planning, make sure there are at least one or two safe options available for each child on the list.

You can generally cater the needs of the kiddy crowd, including those with common allergies, with a few simple staples. Fruit kebabs or platters, fruit juice icy poles, fairy bread (with milk free bread and milk free margarine), plain potato chips or crips, and popcorn made with only oil, salt and or plain icing sugar are a good start. 

The main event however, the birthday cake, can be the tricky one to cater. And in this regard, cupcakes can be a lifesaver. You can substitute out different ingredients easily, and make a few different batches for different kids if need be.

If you’ve got a favourite cupcake recipe you want to use, try these modification tips:

Gluten free or wheat allergy? 

Use a premix gluten/wheat free flour (like Bob’s Red Mill, Vitarium, Schar, FG Roberts or Woolworths brand), and ensure you use pure icing sugar or a gluten free icing mixture for your topping, as many icing mixtures contain a small amount of wheat flour.

Egg allergy? 

Use Orgran egg replacer and water in place of eggs. Some people use chia or flax eggs ( with ground chia seeds and water ) but the texture of this is often better suited to a muffin recipe with chunky ingredients rather than a smooth cupcake.

Dairy free? 

Use soy milk or rice milk, and a dairy/soy free margarine, like Nuttelex. TIP:  buy a new tub of margarine for the party to avoid any contamination with things like peanut butter or toast crumbs from the family.

And… remember to read all the food labels of your usual ingredients to check for the allergens your guests need to avoid!

In Australia, the 10 most common food allergies are to milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, sesame, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and lupin. The recipe below can me modified to cater for them all if need be.

Bloom allergy friendly birthday cupcakes

-makes 12 large cupcakes

Cake ingredients:

2 cups self raising flour (regular or gluten/wheat free mix)

¾ cup castor sugar

¾ cup milk (or soy or rice milk)

125g melted Nuttelex margarine 

2 eggs (or 2 tsp Orgran egg replacer + 2Tbs water)

2 tsp vanilla essence

Icing:

4 cups pure icing sugar

1 cup Nuttelex

2-3 Tbs milk (or soy or rice milk)

1 tsp vanilla essence

Optional:

Food coloring, or try a more natural colour and flavour like raspberry or strawberry powder or cocoa powder.

Sprinkles, cachous, fresh or dried berries or other favourite decorations (remember to check the ingredients!)

Method:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C

Line 12 hole muffin pan with paper cupcake cases or reusable silicone ones.

Sift SR flour and castor sugar into a large bowl, and make a well in the centre.

Add eggs/egg replacer, vanilla, your milk choice and melted Nuttelex into the centre and gently stir to combine.

Spoon into cupcake cases, up to about ¾ full, to ensure they don’t rise too high when cooking.

Bake for about 12-15 mins, or until just cooked through.

Cool thoroughly on a wire rack before icing.

Icing:

Beat margarine and vanilla together. Sift in icing sugar, adding in a little of the milk as you go, and your colour/flavour if using. Beat until evenly combined.  Spoon into piping bag and pipe on top cupcakes. Decorate as desired!

Cupcake decorations – Keep in mind any decorations you use may contain things like milk or wheat, so check labels carefully. Major supermarkets tend to carry items like sprinkles and cake confetti that are often suitable, or consider a non edible decoration like a paper topper that matches your party theme.

Remember when cooking for a crowd to be aware of cross contamination in the kitchen. When preparing foods, clean work areas, and use separate chopping boards, utensils and serving plates. Always remember to wash hands between preparing items too.

 ***

The other way to deal with food allergies, which is also totally acceptable, is to admit if you feel unsure or overwhelmed. 

Invite the parents of kids with food allergies to stay at the party to make sure their little one is safely included.  Many parents of children with severe allergies will do this automatically- stay on and keep watch, ask you what ingredients are in a product, or bring along some food of their own, and their medicine bag just in case. 

They wont be offended, they’ll appreciate you take their little one’s allergies as seriously as they do. And you will all have a great time, safely enjoying the celebration together!

Angela @ Bloom


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I’m starving” is a fairly familiar line uttered by children at the end of each school day. Consuming lunch up to three hours before pick-up, they no doubt are hungry. But how often do you provide an after-school snack only to find the munchkins won’t not eat dinner then ask for another snack again before bed? Frustrating isn’t it?

Most children aged under five need to eat every two to three hours. For older children, every three to four hours is sufficient. All children are born with the ability to regulate their appetite. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when full. 

Spacing meals and snacks helps children respond to their appetite. If children are allowed to graze all day, they are never really hungry – or full. Over time, this can erode a child’s natural ability to tune into their appetite, leading to issues in maintaining a healthy weight.  

If you’re offering a snack after school, consider when you are planning to serve dinner. If your children are returning home at 4pm and dinner is planned for 5pm, there’s little chance they are going to be hungry enough to participate. Two hours later at bed time, they’re certainly going to be asking for a snack again. 

Planning the timing of meals and snacks ensures children sit at the table hungry and ready to eat. No one routine will suit every family. For some, serving an early dinner at 4.30pm will be the most successful way to ensure children are not over tired and able to successfully participate in the meal. For others, providing a healthy filling snack after school then serving a later dinner will work well. 

Learning to eat a healthy, balanced diet comes from role modelling. Try to plan a dinner time routine when at least one parent can eat with the children, most of the time.

As we all know, children have a tendency to be fussy. In my experience, snacks can play a large role in contributing to finicky eaters. Because snacks are often considered as something to eat quickly on the go, I find many children are eating nutritionally empty snacks, such as crackers, chips and packets of sweet biscuits. Poor planning is often the culprit. Because children have small appetites and are prone to fussiness, you really need to think of every occasion they eat as an opportunity to offer good nutrition. 

If providing an after-school snack works for your family routine, my top tip is to have planned snacks ready. Once the youngsters are helping themselves, you’ll find they invariably choose foods you don’t want them to eat and portion sizes can get out of control. An after-school snack should not fill them up completely but take the edge off their hunger so they maintain a healthy appetite at dinner. 

My top suggestions for after-school snacks that focus on the core food groups and deliver plenty of nutrition include:

Smoothies – Ideally, try to incorporate a vegetable (eg, a green smoothie – my family’s favourite includes frozen mango, baby spinach, 1 green apple, water and ice) but fruit-based smoothies are good (frozen strawberries, strawberry yoghurt, water and ice is always a hit).

Kale chips – I’ve never seen my kids devour more greens then when I make a batch of these. Simply tear the kale leaves from the stingy vein that runs through it, toss with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and a little salt and spread evenly over a baking sheet. Don’t over crowd the tray or the kale won’t crisp. Cook at 120 degrees Celsius for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Grazing plate – Focus on your core food groups. I routinely offer wholegrain crackers, nuts, carrot, celery or cucumber sticks, nori sheets, cut up fruit and maybe a dip.  Many children don’t get offered nuts since schools are generally nut free. Nuts are high in essential fatty acids so remembering to offer them outside school is a must.

Still complaining they’re hungry? Remind them dinner is on it’s way and if the complaints continue, offer cut up vegetables, such as carrot, celery etc.

If you’ve stuck to your routine and your children are still demanding a snack before bed, ask yourself whether they truly ate well at dinner? If yes, offer a healthy snack. Nine times out of ten, I find that older children are asking for a snack because they haven’t eaten well at dinner. If you suspect this is going on, it’s ok to hold onto your child’s dinner until bed time. When they tell you they’re hungry, offer to heat it up again.

If you need more advice on fussy eating head here.

Julia x


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As we head into another term (How is it Term 3 already???), my mind always turns toward the dreaded lunch boxes, and I start to think about what new items I could add to keep things interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like coming up with creative new ways to fill up my children‘s lunch boxes and meet their nutritional needs, but the monotony of making them day after day takes it’s toll.

I imagine most Mums (and Dads) probably feel this way, so in the interest of making everyone’s lives a little easier, I thought I’d share my latest finds and ideas to help keep your child’s lunchbox interesting! I’ve also created a cracker of a new recipe for you, my choc orange lunchbox truffles! And let me tell you, not only will your children love these, but they are a great accompaniment to your mid morning coffee!

Do your kids like sushi? Then why not try adding some Nori sheets to their lunchbox? They are a great source of iodine, vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium. Here’s a tip: your local sushi shop might sell offcuts. I buy a huge packet from my local shop for just $1! Of course you can buy the large sheets from your local supermarket too.

 

With most Australian schools now “Nut Free” zones, our children miss out on this great source of essential fatty acids. Seeds offer the same nutrition and fats as nuts, so looking for ways to include them in your child’s lunchbox is a must in my mind. They’re also a great source of protein,  fibre, magnesium and phosphorus. If you’re short on time try the Coles range of “buddies”. They have several different varieties, each featuring dried fruit and seeds. Of course you can make your own too. I like to start with a base of puffed corn then add shredded coconut, cranberries, yoghurt covered sultanas, pepitas and banana chips. 

 

Wholegrain crackers or vegetable sticks with dip make a great lunch or snack. Coles mini avocado or hommus dips are a great option for those mornings where you just need  to grab and go. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These school holidays I’ve spent some time in the kitchen creating some new lunchbox recipes I hope you’re children are going to enjoy as much as mine. Below is my recipe for Choc Orange Lunchbox truffles. Enjoy! 

 

Choc Orange Lunch Box Truffles

13 Meedjool dates (pitted)

1 cup rolled oats

3 teaspoons coco powder

1 cup dried cranberries

2 Tablespoons of chia seeds

zest of 1 orange

3 Tablespoons of fresh orange juice

Add all ingredients to your food processor and blitz unit it comes together. Shape into small balls, then roll in coco powder. If coco powder is too bitter for your children you may prefer to roll in desiccated coconut instead. Store in an air tight container in the fridge. 

This post is not sponsored.


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Milk substitutes are rapidly gaining popularity in the modern food supply. They’re chosen for different reasons by different people  – allergies, intolerances, vegan diets, environmental concerns, and of course health benefits. Do you choose any plant based milks in your family diet?

 

Readily available plant based milks include almond, coconut, soy, oat, rice, as well as couple of other more obscure varieties like cashew, hemp seed and flax seed milks.

Home made milk substitutes are also becoming more popular, with people enjoying knowing where their food is coming from, exactly what goes into it, and the lower level of environment impact from food prepared in the home.

Like with all food selection there are lots of factors that will guide your individual choice, depending on what’s important to you –  things like taste, nutrition, health conditions, availablilty, cost, and environmental sustainability.

I’m all for the availability of dairy milk substitutes. They’ve been a great source of nutrition for many of my clients, and I’ve personally included them in my diet over the last decade since having children with food allergies. Back then the choice available was much smaller, and asking for anything more exotic than a soy latte was unheard of!

These days I actually enjoy a variety of plant based milks in my coffee or with granola for breakfast, but I also drink cow’s milk regularly and eat other milk based products like cheese. Dietary variety is a key factor in meeting nutrient requirements after all!

If you want to make sure your milk choice is helping meet your nutrition needs, there are a few key factors you should look out for.

Energy – This varies widely between the type of milk you are choosing, and is dependant on the amount of fat, carbohydrate (sugar) and protein in each milk. Low energy milks include choices like skim cows milk, rice and almond milk, and higher energy choices include full fat dairy milks, and traditionally produced coconut milk. If you’re choosing you’re milk based on its energy content, look at the nutrition panel and compare brands for their 100ml serving. But don’t just look at energy content, by doing so you may be doing your body out of lots of important nutrients below.

Protein – Again this varies widely between milk sources and brands. Items like rice milk are typically very low in protein, as is the base ingredient of rice, but surprisingly to some people, so are most nut milks, as the protein portion of the nut is mostly thrown away. Cow’s milk tends to be the highest in protein at around 3.5-4g/100ml, and soy milk is typically the highest protein plant based milk, averaging around the same . While calcium fortified soy milk is nutritionally my plant based milk of choice, its important to note that it’s not the right choice for everyone (for example some children are also allergic to soy protein, and some soy milks are not good choices on a low FODMAP diet).

Fat – Full cream cow’s milk is often rejected by people due to its higher saturated fat content when compared to skim and reduced fat choices. However fat is an important source of energy in the diet, and children under 2 years (when not drinking breastmilk or formula) are encouraged to use only full cream milks. Fat also plays a role in satiety, or how full we feel after eating and drinking, so many people prefer to use full cream milk for this reason. Coconut milk for cooking has 16 g/100ml fat, where as coconut milks designed for drinking have less (eg Sanatarium coconut milk 2.1g/100ml), but be aware most of this is saturated fat too. The source of fats in other commercial plant based milks is mostly unsaturated fats, but may also be an added fat like sunflower or canola oil, added for texture and energy content, rather than a naturally occurring fat.

Calcium – Plant based milks like rice, soy, coconut and nut milks are not naturally high in calcium. This means to meet your calcium requirements you will either need to choose a fortified commercial variety, choose enough other sources of dietary calcium, or take a calcium supplement. My personal choice is to choose a calcium fortified variety, and we recommend those that contain at least 120mg Calcium per 100ml.

Sugar – Many ( but not all) commercial plant based milks are sweetened with sugar or sugar alternatives to improve flavour. Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar in cow’s milk (and in human breast milk ), and our body usually produces the lactase enzyme from birth to be able to digest this. If you are lactose intolerant, all plant based milks are suitable, however simply swapping to a lactose free cow’s milk could be your best nutritional choice. If making plant based milks at home, keep in mind that large amounts of added sugars will add extra energy to your diet.

Iodine – Cow’s milk and dairy products are a source of dietary Iodine – an important nutrient for thyroid hormone production – especially in pregnancy and childhood. However, milk is not the high source of iodine it once was, since dairy industry stopped using iodophores to clean milk storage vats in the 1960s, and should not be relied upon as the primary source of iodine in the diet.

Plant based milks however are significantly lower in iodine, and swapping these into your diet will mean you definitely need to look for another source to boost your iodine intake.

The good news is there are other great non dairy sources in the diet like fish, shellfish and seaweed and eggs, which all contain more iodine per 100g than milk. On top of this, commercial bakers in Australia must use iodised salt in bread making, so there is an additional source of iodine readily available. As dietitians we typically advocate for using less salt in the diet, but where salt is used, choose iodised salt (unless you have a medical reason not to do so!).

B12 – Cows milk can be an important source of B12, particularly for vegetarians who don’t eat eggs. Some commercial soy milks are fortified with B12 (like Sanitarium So good Essential). If your are vegetarian, it’s worth reading your food labels to check how you can best meet your needs.

So choose your milk wisely, as it is an important source of nutrition in your day. If cow’s milk is not for you, that’s ok, but it’s not always as easy as a simple swap. If your favourite milk choice is lacking in a certain nutrient, make sure you boost your diet with other foods to cover the gaps. For the best individually tailored dietary advice, see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, particularly if you or your family have any additional health issues.

 

Angela @ Bloom 🌿

(These tips, and other great nutrition stories, are available in our quarterly nutrition news updates. Subscribe to our nutrition newsletter on our home page to be the first to get it, straight in your inbox!)


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As the cold weather starts to hit hard in this part of the world hot chocolates start to become the drink of choice. In fact in my house I often offer up a hot chocolate for “dessert”.

Another Mum recently asked me whether there was a better choice between a hot chocolate, Milo or Ovaltine. Good question! 

I guess the first thing to be aware of when adding flavours to your milk, is that you are adding sugar (note there are some sugar free versions available). I’m personally happy to add some sugar into my child’s diet when I know it’s packaged up in a food that also delivers them beneficial nutrients (you can read more about my thoughts on sugar here). Milk is a great source of calcium, protein, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus. Ideally kids should aim for 3 serves of dairy a day to meet their calcium requirements.  If your child’s diet is otherwise balanced, a small amount of sugar added to milk is not harmful.

Products such as drinking chocolates, Nesquik (Australian version) or alike, are simply coco powder, sugar and/or added flavours. Milo and Ovaltine differ in that they also include a small amount of aditional nutrients, namely iron, vitamin C, vitamin D, extra calcium, phosphorus and a range of B vitamins. On average these products (when made according to instructions, roughly a tablespoon per glass of milk depending on the product) add between 2 – 2 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to your child’s diet and around 60 – 80 additional calories. If you want to know more about how much sugar you should be allowing in your child’s diet click here. 

The additional nutrients offered in products such as Milo can be beneficial for some children. For example a standard serve of Milo provides about 35% of a 4yr olds requirement for iron, which can be handy if your child doesn’t eat red meat. As always, it’s preferable to use real foods to meet your child’s nutrient requirements, and I wouldn’t recommend using these products on a daily basis.

You can avoid the commercial products all together and flavour your child’s milk another way. Recently I’ve been making my children a nourishing cinnamon and vanilla hot frothy milk which they just love. For the everyday version I omit the sugar and cream, but if I’m dressing it up as something special, I go all out and add a little wow. I hope your kids enjoy this as much as mine!

Vanilla Cinnamon Hot Frothy Milk (enough for 4 children)

600ml milk 

2 cinnamon quills (or 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, but be aware this will leave a strong cinnamon residue at the bottom of the cup)

2 teaspoons vanilla essence 

2 tablespoons of castor sugar (you can omit this if you want to and the drink still tastes great, albeit less sweet)

Optional: whipped cream to serve  

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and heat gently over low heat. Once hot use a hand whisk to vigorously whisk until the milk becomes frothy. If you have a coffee machine with a frothing function you might like to use this to create a denser froth for the top. Top with whipped cream if using and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Enjoy!


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If you’re concerned about your child’s diet, chances are that you’ve probably already started them on a multivitamin. But what are in these vitamins, and is this the answer to your concerns about fussy eating?

These days there are a wide variety of vitamins aimed at kids that come in a multitude of preparations such as “gummies” (a sort of a soft chewable lolly), capsules with liquid centres, crushable tablets, and of course liquid preparations. The other major variety of vitamin supplement on the market for children, are those that are made into milkshake type drinks, think toddler formulas and more specialised pharmacy products like Pediasure or Sustagen.

The majority of multivitamins on the market are made up of mostly B vitamins. Nearly all will include a good dose of vitamin C, and possibly some minerals like iron and zinc. Some will include vitamin D and E, most do not contain vitamin A or iodine, or larger minerals such as calcium. If they do, it’s usually in small amounts. I’m aware of at least one product on the Australian market that is a multivitamin and Omega-3 fish oil preparation, but you will usually need to purchase a separate supplement if it’s fish oils you’re after. 

Milkshake type supplements offer a more comprehensive range of nutrients and are complete with protein and energy.

But what does your child actually need? 

Most people that make their way to see me are worried because their toddler/pre-schooler/older child is fussy and not eating a wide variety of foods. If I really drill down to what parents are concerned about, two food groups come to mind: vegetables and meat (usually red meat). Most of us are familiar with some sort of population based recommendation as to how we should eat. In Australia, we have the “Australian Guide to Healthy Eating” (AGHE)(https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating). The pictorial below demonstrates the proportions of each food group we should be aiming to eat across the day. For those of us that remember the old food pyramid, Nutrition Australia has revamped it and it now represents current recommendations (see below). Both the AGHE and Food Pyramid are based upon recommendations outlined in our Australian Dietary Guidelines. 

 

Most parents know that their child should be eating roughly 5 serves of veggies and 2 serves of fruit each day along with the above recommendations. If your child’s not eating like this then there’s usually concern about whether they are getting enough vitamins and minerals. Some parents may also be worried about protein if their child isn’t eating meat.

What I know after more than 15 years of practice and analysing hundreds of children’s diets, is that there is more than one way to eat that will meet a child’s requirements. 

Most fussy eaters that I have worked with are reluctant vegetable eaters, they probably eat some fruit but prefer a predominantly carbohydrate based diet (cue crackers, bread, pasta and noodles on repeat!). Sound familiar?

Diets rich in grains and cereals are generally adequate in B vitamins, the major component of most multivitamins. Iodine is worth pointing out as it is not included in most multivitamins and recent studies have shown low to moderate levels iodine deficiency in Australian children. Iodine is important for brain development and deficiencies can lead to mental and intellectual problems. Simple changes to your child’s diet like using iodised salt in cooking, using bread that includes iodine (a mandatory requirement since 2009 in Australia) and including seafood and eggs regularly, will ensure iodine requirements are met without the need for supplements.

Fruit contains a similar range of nutrients to vegetables, so if they are eating some fruit, it’s more than likely they’re getting nutrients like beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), vitamin K, folate as well as minerals such as potassium and magnesium that are also found in vegetables. A child who is a reluctant meat eater (particularly red meat), may be lacking in Iron, however, there are other non meat sources of iron in ours diets (for example wholegrain, fortified breakfast cereals as well as beans and legumes), and if your child consumes these regularly, their iron intake may well be adequate. Vitamin C requirements are generally adequate if your child eats two serves of fruit each day.

Dairy products are not usually something I see parents of fussy eaters struggling with. In fact many fussy eaters over consume dairy (particularly milk), so calcium is not generally an issue. Some parents are worried their child isn’t going to get enough protein if they don’t eat meat. This is rarely a concern. Protein is found widely in our diet (although the quality varies), including in dairy products and breads and cereals. I usually find that protein intake from dairy alone is sufficient to meet a growing child’s needs. In fact most fussy eaters I deal with, usually exceed their requirements for protein. 

What do I recommend?

For most children that I see I don’t recommend a vitamin supplement and rarely would I recommend a milkshake type supplement (I reserve these for children with extreme fussy eating who may also need to gain weight, but this is very much on a case by case basis). One of the major drawbacks of using milkshake type supplements  is that you are using this product to fill your child up, and not actually making any headway with them eating real food.

Whilst your child may not be eating ideally, it’s highly likely they are still getting what they need to grow. If I do use a multivitamin preparation then I would aim for one that includes iron. The other nutrient that IS usually a concern with fussy eaters is fibre. Fibre is NOT included in vitamin preparations but there are some fibre supplements on the market which can be used for children.

What your child is missing out on if their diet is low in vegetables are phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are thought to be one of the reasons that diets rich in vegetables (and fruit) might help to protect us against chronic diseases such as some types of cancer. Examples of phytonutrients include lycopene, known for cancer prevention, and leutin, important for eye health. Let’s not forget small oligosaccharides and resistant starches (collectively known as prebiotics) that are found in plant foods either. These are very important for optimal gut health and with more and more research pointing towards the importance of gut health for the prevention of chronic disease, we can’t overlook the need for a diet high in prebiotics. Phytonutrients, and prebiotics aren’t included in vitamin preparations. 

So you may be starting to get the idea that a multivitamin isn’t really the answer to fussy eating and possibly not even necessary.  As always, my main aim when working with clients is to identify nutrients that might be of concern and find ways to increase these nutrients in your child’s diet using real food, not supplements.

 Our population based guidelines above are “ideal” ways of eating that are associated with maintaining a healthy body weight and avoiding chronic disease as we age. It’s what we want to be aiming for with our children long term and what we as dietitians can help you achieve, but it’s not the only dietary pattern that will give them all the vitamins and minerals they need each day. 

One of the reasons I don’t often recommend vitamin supplements is because it’s usually adding another layer of “work” for parents, remembering to 1. offer it and 2. get your child to take it. I’d rather parents put their energy into using practical strategies to try and change their child’s diet. We know that food habits and preferences are formed in childhood, so if we want our children to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and other plant based foods, along with quality proteins, we need to work towards it NOW. Sure, their choices at the moment may not make them deficient in anything, and they may still grow, but for optimal health as they mature, we want to get the dietary foundations and patterns of eating right in childhood. 

If you’re concerned about your child’s diet make an appointment to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian who specialises in children.

Angela and I are working on some exciting strategies to help you in your journey to feed your family real food and optimise your intake of plant based foods. Make sure you sign up to our newsletter so you can be kept in the loop as well roll out our new tools that will make feeding your family easier!

The advice in this blog post is of a general nature only and may not be right for your child. If you are worried about your child’s diet we suggest your consult with an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

 

Julia @Bloom


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Persistence. The key to combatting toddler fussy eating?

I’ve had lots of people say to me, “You’re lucky your kids are good eaters. It must be easy because you are a dietitian”. Thankfully, my kids do love to eat – now. And I genuinely feel more happy and relaxed at family meal times now with 4 kids at the table than ever before.

But I will be honest – it’s still not “perfect” (is there even such a thing?), and it was a long road to get to where we are.

We haven’t exactly had things easy in the feeding department. All 4 of my kids have had food allergies – 2 still see the Allergist regularly. One had the most sensitive gag reflex as toddler, she would eat an entire meal, vomit then immediately ask to be fed again. And one had a horrible run with enormous tonsils and adenoids, having multiple infections, speech difficulties and feeding aversions before needing speech therapy and surgery.

All of these are minor issues in comparison to the complexities faced by many other families – but they were enough to add stress to an already gorgeously chaotic family life.

So while I haven’t had the easiest run with feeders, I do feel incredibly blessed that our issues were small, that my training allowed me to see what was happening, and that I had the knowledge to know where to get help, and what to do at home.

But as I said, it was a long road to get here, particularly with Mr Tonsils. In all honesty, how we ended up here was not through luck, or my profession, but through sheer persistence.

There were so many times when I wanted to just give him pasta, again, while we ate something else. Times when I picked up food from all over the floor, screaming on the inside, but calmly outwardly saying “Food stays on the table”. Countless times when I lamented the huge waste of food as I throw the veggies in the bin, again.

But it was the persistence with calmly offering without expectation, giving only brief and gentle encouragement, and most importantly, family role modelling that led to where we are today.

Recently, he, the fussiest of my four, finally bit into a cherry tomato (albeit in a effort to squirt his sisters with the insides – but thats how we encouraged him to put it in his mouth) and said “I tasted the juice!”. A few months ago he would’ve pouted “I don’t eat tomatoes, take it off my plate!!!”.

He also ate black charcoal noodles – “Mum, black is my favourite colour”- when they arrived unexpectedly in his beloved ramen noodle soup at a new restaurant. He randomly picked up the broccoli I was preparing for his sisters’ school lunch boxes and said “Mum, I eat this now, I’m strong”. He then proceeded to pop it in his mouth and walk away – the rest of us stunned into jaw dropping silence. He picked up chicken breast of the plate and ate it without a word, after months of not eating it. He drank a green smoothie and called it “hulk juice”, flexing his biceps as he drank.

So, you can safely say we had an amazing week at the dining table that week (cue champagne!), which reminded me that all that persistence with our feeding plan was worth it. We were winning.

I know I’m not alone in this sort of feeding experience. I’ve met so many parents over the years who have faced the same thing. The ongoing trials, but then finally the successes.

This year Julia and I will be putting together a package to help families with their in home feeding issues; so watch this space.

We will share the training and experience we’ve had as Paediatric Dietitians, and the trial by fire we’ve had as parents. We’re aiming to provide families with scientifically sound, but genuinely practical advice.

It works if you work it. We’ve got proof!

 

Find this, and more family eating, health and wellbeing stories in our Bloom quarterly nutrition newsletters. And to subscribe to future updates, click here

Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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The toddler years can make you feel desperate. One minute they enjoy food, the next they’re rejecting everything you offer them, and the word “yuk” and “no” feel like they’re on repeat. 

It is often during this time, that I see parents using “distraction” techniques in an attempt to get their child to eat. By distraction I mean doing things like allowing them to watch their favourite TV show, propping an iPad up at the table, or allowing books and toys to be played with whilst they eat their meal. 

And do you know what? It can work for a while, but what are the consequences of doing this, and what are you really teaching them?

Did you know that all children are born with the ability to regulate their appetite and consequently their energy intake? Studies in healthy young babies have shown that if you increase the calorie strength of their infant formula, they will simply decrease the amount of formula they take. It makes sense really. To survive as a species, our bodies need to have some inbuilt ability to know how much energy we need. This is what our appetite is. What’s interesting, is that whilst we know babies can self regulate their appetite, studies have shown that by the pre-school years many children display “non hungry” eating behaviours. In other words they have learnt to eat in the absence of hunger and are not responding to their appetite. How does this happen?

Non hungry eating is a learnt behaviour that evolves from the environment around us. It occurs when we learn to associate eating with other things. It can come from very simple experiences. For example has your child ever hurt themselves and you’ve soothed away their pain by offering up an ice block or some other treat? Or perhaps you’ve had the opposite experience and rewarded your child with a treat because they excelled at something? These simple experiences repeated over time start to teach us to use food in a way that isn’t linked to our appetite.

Going back to using distraction techniques at the dinner table, what you are really teaching your child is to eat to an external cue, not to their appetite. Your child is learning to eat mindlessly and is far more focussed on the tv or iPad. But I can hear many of you crying “but it works, they stay at the table and they eat!”. Well yes it can. Providing something enjoyable at the dinner table (tv) will certainly be more likely to get them to stay there. But let’s be clear, they’re there to watch tv, not to enjoy the food or your company. If your long term goal is to have your children willingly coming to the table and participating in the family meal, this approach isn’t going to solve it.

Far and away the biggest concern with offering a distraction at the dinner table is the fact that it doesn’t allow the child to properly listen to their appetite. As I’ve already explained, young children can be very good at self regulating and will eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Allowing them to watch tv or do other activities whilst they are eating, erodes this ability, and over time contributes to non hungry eating. This is a risk factor for becoming overweight or obese. Teaching your child to listen to their appetite is probably one of the best things you can do early on to set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

So how do you get your child to come to the table, stay there and eat? This is the million dollar question isn’t it? First of all you need to think about the reasons that your child is not coming to the table or wanting dinner. For young children the reasons for this can often be that they are simply not hungry or they are just too tired. If your child is healthy and growing, you need to trust that they know how much they need to eat. Our expectations as parents often need checking as well. Most parents I have interviewed serve their child far too much food. Toddlers are strange creatures and can adopt all manner of eating patterns. One Mum recently told me that her 2yr old eats breakfast and then doesn’t eat again until dinner. Many toddlers are very good at going for several days eating very little to then have a few huge days of eating. These are all frustrating experiences for us as parents.  As always I recommend that you adopt a “division of responsibility” around feeding. That is you decide what, when and where your child is going to eat and then it’s over to them as to whether they are going to eat it at all, and how much of it they are going to eat.

You have no way of knowing how hungry or full your child is. Don’t ask them to have a prescribed number of bites or “clean their plates”. This is reinforcing not eating to their own natural appetite and over time can erode their ability to tune into it. 

So if your child only eats a teaspoon at dinner try not to obsess over it. I’m going to finish by quoting the guru of infant feeding, Ellyn Satter “Be happy with what you serve, not what they eat”. 

A word on feeding disorders in infants and children…

I’ve written above that all children are born with the ability to regulate their appetite, there are however, some exceptions to this.

Infants or children that experience medical problems early in life can often get off to a horrible start with feeding. These experiences can completely destroy their ability to regulate their appetite. 

For example I have worked with many premmie babies who have required nasograstric feeding from birth to survive. Being in a hospital environment, these babies are usually fed to a schedule with quantities and times dictated by dietitians and nursing staff. Whilst every effort is usually made by staff to try and adapt the feeding regime to how they see the baby responding, it is simply not the same as feeding the baby on demand and to their appetite. There may also be traumatic oral experiences such as orogastric or nasogastric tubes being inserted multiple times, oral medicines, ventilators etc etc, all of which can contribute to making a child what we call “orally averse”. That is, they don’t want anything (even things we think of as pleasant such as food), anywhere near their mouth.  Other children with severe sensory issues or Autism, can also find eating such a challenge that this overrides their instinct to tune into their appetite.

These children are HARD work to feed. Whether you are trying to wean your child off a feeding tube or avoid having one inserted, it has probably made you stressed and anxious, and willing to try anything to get your child to eat. In many instances, parents find they can get a little more in if they let their child watch tv. Unfortunately while this appears to work in the very short term, it’s not solving the underlying problem, which is allowing this chid to reconnect with their natural appetite. If you are struggling with a child with extreme eating behaviours, we would still recommend not using tv or other distraction techniques at the dinner table. This just puts another barrier in place which prevents your child from learning how to self regulate their appetite. 

If you are struggling with a child with a severe feeding disorder get in contact and we will try and point you in the right direction for help.

Julia @ Bloom


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Sugar. There’s been an explosion of interest over the past few years, but how many people actually know why we should be limiting it, and how much exactly should we be limiting our children to?

When I ask most parents why they believe we should avoid sugar I usually get answers such as “It’s bad for you” or “It causes Type 2 diabetes”, neither of which are really correct. With so much hype and hysteria over sugar, the real evidence and concern with it’s intake has been lost, such that people now think it’s mere consumption is going to do them harm.

Back in 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) released their Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children. You can read the full document here: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/149782/1/9789241549028_eng.pdf?ua=1

This guideline specifically looks at what we call “free sugars” in our diet. That’s sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides – e.g. glucose syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, rice malt syrup etc..) added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates” (WHO, 2015).

This guideline reviewed all the current evidence (at the time of publication) as to why we should be avoiding sugar and went on to make recommendations as to how much sugar adults and children should be limiting ourselves to. You may be surprised to learn that the evidence for avoiding (or rather limiting) sugar relates primarily to obesity and dental caries. Sugar is often cited as a cause or risk factor for developing a wide range of diseases ranging from Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However the fact of the matter is that that evidence simply doesn’t exist (yet). What we do know is that overweight and obesity are independent risk factors for chronic or non communicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. Going back to the WHO guideline, they found a MODERATE level of evidence that lower intakes of free sugars was associated with lower body weights in both adults and children. Please note that this does not mean that sugar causes you to become overweight or obese either. It simply means that people who consumed a diet higher in sugar, were more likely to have a higher body weight. The development of overweight and obesity is a complex issue and trying to narrow it’s cause down to one single nutrient is misguided, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The WHO guideline specifically recommends trying to reduce the intake of free sugars to 10% or less of your total daily energy intake (this is for both adults and children). There is a further recommendation to reduce it to 5% of total daily energy intake, however, the evidence for this recommendation was stated as WEAK, so for the purposes of this article, we will stick with 10%. I’ve represented this below as the number of teaspoons of sugar an “average” sized child with a light activity level, would need to limit their intake to each day.

So I wondered how I was fairing with my own children in relation to this guideline? I have always been well aware of which foods contain added sugars and done my best to limit their intake. I’m no sugar nazzi though, and my personal opinion is that if sugar is packaged up in a food that also contains many nutrients that are beneficial, then I’m fairly happy to include that food in our diet. We certainly limit our intake of foods that are high in sugar but offer little other nutritional benefit (think lollies, cakes, biscuits etc..). That said, we still enjoy a slice of home made cake, ice cream and chocolate in moderation. But day to day with my children’s typical diet, how was I really doing? Was I anywhere near the guideline, or had I totally blown it without even realising? I have to admit I was a bit nervous to take a closer look. Maybe I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was?

I present to you my 4 yr old’s intake on a typical kindy day. All of the free sugars he consumed are listed in bold.

Breakfast: Rolled oats and 1 tsp of honey with reduced fat milk and a glass of unsweetened orange juice


SUGAR: 4 teaspoons

Lunch box: coco cranberry bliss ball, apple + carrot muffin, wrap with roast chicken, carrots, cucumber, rockmelon, plain milk and an apple (to be shared at fruit time)


SUGAR: 2.5 teaspoons

After kindy snack: Strawberry smoothie (frozen strawberries, strawberry yoghurt, water), he also then asked for another coco cranberry bliss ball

SUGAR: less than 1.5 teaspoon

Dinner:

Spaghetti Bolognese, bread and olive oil spread and a fruit platter (he only ate the watermelon)

SUGAR: none

Total: just under 8 teaspoons

Well I have to say I was pretty relieved to see that I’d just made it under the 10% guideline, but I certainly hadn’t made it any lower! I’d also have to admit they we certainly do have “blow out” days from time to time where my child’s sugar intake would be much higher. For example earlier this week I treated the family to a homemade dessert of chocolate self saucing pudding which I served with 1 scoop of ice cream. A dessert like this would have around 3 teaspoons of sugar in it.
I have to say on the whole I feel pretty happy that I’ve got my child’s typical diet fairly much where I want it to be. Sure, I could improve a little by not offering orange juice at breakfast, but he enjoys this and the vitamin C also helps him absorb the iron from his oats (a serve of whole fruit would offer the same benefit).

Calculating your child’s sugar intake is tricky business. It was difficult for me and I’m a dietitian! That’s primarily because our food labels don’t currently require manufacturers to separately list added or free sugars independent of any naturally occurring sugars. So at home, rather than focus on how much sugar your child is currently consuming I’d focus on just minimising fee sugars where you can.

If you want to try and reduce your child’s sugar intake my top tips would be:

1. Watch your child’s intake of sweetened beverages, don’t offer soft drinks or cordials, keep juice to no more than 1/2 a cup per day (unsweetened at that), alternate offering sweetened milk drinks with plain milk or sweeten with fruit (smoothie style)

2. Reduce your intake of processed/packaged snacks – most store bought snacks have a surprising amount of sugar added. Better to make your own and experiment with reducing the sugar content of some of your go to recipes

3. Avoid sugary breakfast cereals and opt for wholegrain “plain” varieties, rolled oats, weetbix and shredded wheat biscuits are go to’s in our house.

3. Keep occasional food as just that, occasional

4. Read labels on the food you buy. Ingredients have to be listed from most to least, if sugar is high up on the list you probably want to avoid it.

On that note, maple syrup, honey, rice malt syrup, glucose syrup, coconut sugar and rapadura sugar are all sugar. Yes some contain more glucose and others more fructose (or other mono or disaccharides), but they ALL need to be counted as sugar. You may have noticed a surge in popularity of so called natural or less refined sweeteners in the community. I see many recipes labeled as either “sugar free” or “refined sugar free” only to see they contain a LOT of honey or maple syrup. Whilst it’s true that many of these “natural” sweeteners do contain other nutrients (for example 100ml of maple syrup contains 89mg of calcium and 1.6 mg of iron amongst other things) whereas white refined sugar offers nothing beyond its carbohydrate content. The point I’d make, though, is that if we are actively working on trying to reduce our intake of sugars, I wouldn’t be focussing on these products for adding extra nutrients into my diet. They are also very expensive. Whilst I do personally use of these “natural” sweeteners, I do so more out of taste more so than for any nutritional benefits they confer. That said, it you can afford it, there’s no harm using honey or maple syrup as your sweetener of choice at home.

How do you think you’re fairing with your child’s sugar intake?

Julia @Bloom x


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We all know buying fruit and vegetables in season makes good sense. Food is fresher, tastes better, and is more economical. But with so many fruits and vegetables available out of their natural season, it can be confusing to know what to buy right now.

Below is a guide to whats available in the southern states in Autumn for March/April/May.

Autumn fruits –
apples, blackberries, cumquats, figs, feijoas, grapes, honeydew, limes, mandarins, valencia oranges,

passionfruits, pears, persimmon, plums, pomegranates, quinces, raspberries, rhubarb, rockmelons, strawberries, watermelons.

Autumn vegetables –
asian greens, beetroot, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, capsicums, carrots, celeriac, celery, cauliflower, eggplant, jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, parsnip, peas, potato, pumpkin, shallots, silverbeet, spinach, swede, sweet corn, turnip, chicory, zucchini.

Nuts –

chestnuts, pistachios.

(Seasonal Guide with thanks to Adelaide Farmer’s Market)

And what to do with these autumn offerings?

While the weather is still warm in the beginning of autumn, fresh foods served simply, like BBQs, salads and shared platters and outdoor eating remain at the top of the family meal list.

As the weather cools down, consider preserving some of the warmer weather’s fruits and veg for the coming winter. Getting chilly? Start ramping up the roast and soup rotations to help meet the family’s 2 & 5 goals for fruit and veg. Leftovers are great for lunchboxes too!

Remember, if you’ve got a fussy eater in the family, providing both new and familiar options of fruits and vegetables in a buffet or family style offering encourages children to try new foods.

Enjoy!

Angela @ Bloom 🌿