fussy eating

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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! 

Don’t interrogate!

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.

 

Julia Boase

APD


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Feel that sunshine on your skin!

 

Spring has arrived. The sun is in the sky and the trees are in bloom. Sit back and enjoy our Spring Nutrition Newsletter, with lots of great nutrition news, recipes and family eating tips for the season.

 

We break down getting kids into the kitchen, the new American Academy of Paediatrics statement on additives and child health and what it means for food storage, vegan diets for children, and a host of nutrition tips and recipes.

 

Take a look inside!

 

Cheers,

Click here!

x Bloom 🌿


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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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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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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