Toddlers and teens may not have the healthiest eating habits. Help your kids love their fruits and veggies with these tips.
Feeding kids a nutritious diet isn’t rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games either. Although kids don’t come with an instruction manual, here’s a step-by-step guide to the care and feeding of your children.
Joyce Johnson, a naturopathic doctor in Belle River, Ontario, specializes in women’s health, pregnancy, and pediatrics. She suggests that by six to nine months of age, a full-term baby will need iron from sources other than breast milk. At around eight to nine months, calories supplied by breast milk may also become inadequate for your growing child.
Parents will know it’s time to start solid food after a tooth has come in or when the baby shows an interest in eating; at about six months of age, babies may start to reach for food on their parents’ plates. This cue from the baby means it’s time to introduce solid foods.
Due to its nutrient content and fewer chemical residues, Johnson recommends organic, locally grown food when available. The second best choice is fresh produce from the grocery store, washed in a produce wash or diluted vinegar soak to remove pesticide residues.
For the first year of baby’s life, Johnson recommends avoiding high allergy foods including cows’ milk, egg whites, citrus fruits, and honey. Johnson also recommends allowing your baby to learn to appreciate the taste and texture of water—and perhaps establish a lifelong healthy habit—rather than offering juices at this stage.
New feeding guidelines
In spring 2014, new guidelines for feeding healthy term infants from six to 24 months were released jointly by Health Canada, the Dietitians of Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society, and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada.
Some of their recommendations include
- supplementing breastfeeding infants with 400 IU of vitamin D daily
- introducing baby to iron-rich, well-cooked minced, mashed, or shredded meat or meat alternatives (such as eggs and cooked, mashed beans or lentils) and iron-fortified infant cereals at six months of age
- introducing the other food groups next
- not delaying the introduction of allergens such as peanuts, fish, or eggs; research has found that delaying introduction of these foods doesn’t reduce the risk of developing an allergy
- introducing homogenized milk from nine to 12 months of age
- not introducing honey until children are at least one year old
- not using sippy cups at all; parents should introduce babies to open cups with small amounts of water at six months of age to encourage mature feeding skills
Your unpredictable toddler
Toddlers’ appetites may decrease because their rate of physical growth slows down. Pickiness may arrive at the same time your toddler is learning to exert her independence. Johnson says research shows that a child’s food preferences and intake patterns may be shaped largely by the foods that parents choose to make available.
“Offer your toddler and preschool-age child a variety of foods; children are more likely to accept foods they are frequently exposed to,” Johnson says. “This may mean that you have to offer green beans 10 to 15 times before your child will try it. Persevere!”
Avoid getting into a battle of wills, and remember that no child will voluntarily starve. Depending on their age, size, and activity level, toddlers need about 1,100 to 1,500 calories per day, but they may not eat this much every day. Aim for a nutritionally balanced week of food rather than a balanced daily menu. Remember that a child’s stomach is approximately the size of his or her fist, so offer small servings regularly rather than larger meals.
Along with a varied menu, Johnson recommends giving children a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement containing calcium and vitamin D. Choose one that provides a full range of vitamins and minerals but does not contain artificial colours, flavours, or sweeteners. As well, provide your children with daily supplemental omega-3 fatty acids to support their growth and development, and to help stave off future behavioural problems.
As children enter school, they also enter a period of slower physical development, and often a corresponding decrease or unpredictability in appetite. If your child is growing along with his or her peers, is happy, has sufficient energy, and can focus on tasks and learning skills, there’s no cause for alarm. Enjoy the slower pace, because things may change drastically come middle school.
The second half of childhood
Following a period of slower growth through later childhood, teenage growth rate speeds up again, resulting in a “growth spurt” that can last for 24 to 36 months.
Body composition changes and girls’ lean body mass decreases from 80 percent pre-puberty to 75 percent after puberty. During adolescence young men will increase their lean body mass from 80 to 90 percent at maturity as they increase skeletal muscle mass. Teens will attain most of their adult height and weight at the end of adolescence.
Visible changes aren’t the only ones happening, as puberty also involves the maturation of adult reproductive organs and sexual function. Reminiscent of the toddler years, some teenagers may also experience a return of temper tantrums, an insatiable appetite, and an increased need for sleep (that often goes unheeded!). This can be an uncomfortable time for teens, and growing pains can be both physical and emotional.
Be prepared to increase your food budget during this time, especially if you’re raising a boy. Active males who are very involved in sports and physical activity may need 3,300 calories a day!
|Boys||12 to 13||1,900||2,250||2,600|
|14 to 16||2,300||2,700||3,100|
|17 to 18||2,450||2,900||3,300|
|Girls||12 to 13||1,700||2,000||2,250|
|14 to 16||1,750||2,100||2,350|
|17 to 18||1,750||2,100||2,400|
(—Source: Health Canada, 2014)
The trick is to fill teens up with healthy calories so they don’t opt for high-fat, high-sugar junk foods that can create dietary patterns that may lead to weight gain and illness in the long term.
Protein is crucial for muscle development, and since lean muscle helps to burn excess fat, it’s necessary for both sexes. Teens can snack on
- hard-boiled eggs
- Greek yogurt
- nut and seed butters, and hummus dip
Dietary fat is critical at all stages of our lives to support a healthy weight; clear skin; eye, brain, and heart health; and a balanced mood. The key is to avoid deep-fried foods, and instead choose sources of essential fatty acids including
- flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds
- cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
Carbohydrates provide energy, which teens require in spades to fuel their growth. Unfortunately, many kids turn to cakes, pastries, and pizza. Be sure to have on hand plenty of snacks such as
- prepared vegetables (carrot and celery sticks, sliced peppers)
- a variety of nuts and seeds
These foods not only offer a quick energy boost and are packed with nutrients your child requires, but also provide fibre for healthy bowel function and weight maintenance. They also help your teen feel full longer so they stay out of the cupboards. When paired with a protein source (slice of cheese or hummus for dipping), the satiating effect is amplified.
As children grow, little things can have the biggest impact. Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, provide the framework for creating healthy and energetic teens who will flourish as they grow into adulthood.
Calcium + vitamin D + vitamin K2
Because a large proportion of skeletal growth occurs during adolescence, children need ample calcium during the teen years to build strong bone. Dairy foods may not be the best source, particularly for those who are lactose intolerant. Research suggests that milk, in particular, may be linked to acne in some individuals.
Luckily, there is plenty of calcium available in
- green leafy vegetables, including romaine lettuce, spinach, and broccoli
- tofu, soybeans, and soynuts
- yogurt and cheese
To ensure absorption of calcium from foods, kids of all ages require adequate vitamin D. Although our bodies create vitamin D in response to direct skin contact with sunlight, Canadians don’t have access to sufficient sunlight during most of the year. To compound the problem, there are very few natural food sources of this vitamin: supplementation is recommended. Check with your natural health retailer.
Getting calcium into your teen’s bloodstream is only half the battle: now you want to make sure the mineral is pulled into bone where it’s needed. This is where vitamin K2 comes in. This fat-soluble vitamin is available in
- grass-fed meats and grass-fed dairy
- beans and soybeans
- spinach, asparagus, and broccoli
When girls start menstruating, their iron requirement increases. For boys, the increase in muscle mass that happens during adolescence is accompanied by increased blood volume. As a result, adequate iron intake is crucial. You’ll find plenty of iron in
- chickpeas, white beans, and lentils
- spinach and green peas
- fortified cereals
When using plant foods as a source of iron, be sure to include vitamin C with the meal to promote greater absorption; for example, add strawberries to spinach salad.
Children require an ample supply of B vitamins during the teen years to help with energy production. The B vitamins also help teens cope with the effects of stress, which they may experience on a physical and emotional level on a daily basis. Be sure to provide
- whole grains
- nut or seed butters
- sweet potatoes and dark green leafy vegetables
It’s not parents’ imagination. That sweet little bundle of joy has grown into an emotional teen who can be moody and irritable. Fortunately, we can help restore balance in teens by preventing extreme fluctuations in blood sugar. In other words: don’t let teens get too hungry.
Research shows that low blood sugar can trigger aggression and depression, causing teens to become “hangry” (hungry + angry). Since this phenomenon doesn’t go away with age, childhood is a good opportunity to teach children how to handle these emotions.
The remedy is simple: eat a meal or snack containing protein, some healthy fat, and fibre every three hours. If children go straight from school to activities, be sure they have an apple with cheese or yogurt or some healthy homemade trail mix to tide them over until dinner. Everyone will be happier as a result.
Avoid the temptation to nag, forbid food purchases, or say “I told you so” when your kids make unhealthy choices. Just as you did when they were toddlers, keep nutritious options on hand and be a role model of healthy living. They’re still looking to you as an example.
7 tips for picky eaters
Go with it
Have finger foods available and easy to grasp because toddlers are often too busy to stop and eat.
Indulge your toddler’s newfound independence. Let your child spread his own nut butter on celery with a plastic knife, or offer a yogurt dip for the carrot sticks. Yes, it will be messy—and fun.
Hide and seek
Grate and hide veggies in pasta sauce, rice, and pancakes—even cookies and muffins. (This game works for kids of all ages.)
Play with your food
Make pictures on the plate with sliced and diced fruits and veggies, or fill each cube of an ice tray with a different bite-sized snack.
Arrange a play date with a child who you know is a healthy eater or who is slightly older than your child, and lay out the healthy foods. Watch the magic.
The bite rule
Teach your child to take a bite of new foods. Have the rule expand along with his age: at four he must take four bites, et cetera, until children are eating an appropriate portion for their age. Never force the issue or make your child clean his plate, as this will teach him to ignore fullness signals.
Grow your own
Plant a small garden with your child (even a container garden will do) so she will look forward to tasting the fruits of her efforts. Likewise, helping with meal prep encourages eating enthusiasm.
6 health saboteurs
Since 1989, the following foods have consistently been linked to overweight and obese teens:
- sugar-sweetened beverages
- processed desserts
- pasta dishes
- savoury snacks such as potato chips