Picky eaters don’t have to compromise on the nutrients they are consuming. Although many children are fussy about what they eat and limit their choice to a few foods every day it doesn’t mean that they have to be depleted from essential nutrients. Meals don’t have to be big. We might worry they’re just eating snacks and a mouthful here and there is not sufficient but it may be just enough if they provide the nutrients and calories that your child needs. Knowing what nutrients to focus on and offering the same foods in different forms (where you can disguise some of the new flavours that your child may have not tried yet) may be the solution!
Here are a few tips on how to improve your child’s nutrient intake even when there are not so many options available in their culinary arsenal:
Iron – an essential mineral which supports energy, physical growth and helps blood carry oxygen to all cells in the body. Heme iron is the most readily absorbed form of iron, and it’s found in shellfish, red meat, poultry, and fish. You may find that your child struggles with red meat, however blitzing chicken liver into gravy for their Sunday roast may go entirely unnoticed! Liver is a rich source of Iron and can be blitzed and added to soup or stews.
Iron-fortified foods really can help. Iron-fortified cereals–consumed with vitamin C can be an effective way to improve your child’s iron status. So is iron-fortified soy sauce (1).
Cooking with cast iron cookware or adding ‘iron fish’ adds extra iron to their daily food and drinks (2).
Probiotics – picky eaters often struggle with sufficient fibre intake. They tend to avoid a variety of vegetables and fruits. They may also suffer from dysbiosis (alteration in beneficial bacteria) and often experience symptoms of severe constipation and abdominal pain. Supplementing with probiotic, especially containing species of Lactobacillus rhamnosus have shown a variable degree of symptomatic improvement in children suffering with constipation. This strain is also added to dairy products such as yogurts. Offering a yogurt with added probiotic can be a good way to replenish your child’s microbiome. Probiotic supplements can also be added to food and drinks (simply empty the capsule and mix it into their food). There are also some probiotics available in powder form which can be dissolved into flavoured drinks or readily available drinks such as kombucha (fermented tea but is very similar to a fizzy drink) and kefir which also contain Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
Vitamin B1 – known as thiamin, is an essential nutrient and can help to improve your child’s appetite. A small amount of vitamin B-1 is stored in the liver therefore a daily intake of thiamin rich food is recommended. Tiredness, loss of appetite and muscle weakness are just a few symptoms associated with a deficiency of this vitamin. Thiamin plays a vital role in the metabolism of glucose. Ingestion of excessive simple carbohydrates (which is quite common in ‘picky eaters’) automatically increases their need for this vitamin. Certain vitamins and minerals, including zinc and vitamin B-1 (Thiamine), can increase appetite. However, these usually only work if the person has deficiencies in these nutrients.
Other supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may also boost appetite. Vitamin B-1 can be found in nuts, oats, grains and pulses as well as in meat including beef (liver has the highest amount of thiamine). Cooking and boiling at high temperature destroys this vitamin; it is a water soluble vitamin and dissolves into boiling water. If your child is not keen on pulses or whole grains perhaps sneaking them into meat patties (use sausage meat) or blending them into a squash and lentil cream soup could do the trick!
Omega 3 – ‘picky eaters’ can be very reluctant to smells and texture, many of them don’t like the ‘fishy’ smell or taste. The best sources of Omega 3 are found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines however they are also quite strong in smell! Omega 3 essential fatty acid are crucial not only for child’s brain development but they also play a key role in reducing inflammation and support lubrication of the intestinal wall so food can move down the colon reliving constipation. Research also suggests that Omega 3 can help to reduce ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity and hyperactivity in children (3).
If your child refuses to try fish on its own let him/her gradually explore this new flavour. Mash fish (such as poached salmon) into sweet potatoes and other vegetables, add parmesan or other cheese, shape into fishcakes, roll in bread crumbs and gently fry until golden. You can also puree fish (such as sardines or salmon) into tomato sauce and add it to pastas or on a pizza base, puree fish into curry, risottos, soups or cream of lentil, carrots and leeks.
The best absorption of Omega 3 comes from fish however there are also wide range of Omega 3 supplements available in different forms (jellies or chews) which are usually fruit flavoured and don’t taste fishy at all!