February 21, 2017
By Christina Swigart, MS, LN
Adults are not the only people in our nation in a health crisis; children are, too. The statistics tell the story:
- 30% of children ages 6-11 are overweight
- An estimated 32% of boys and 36% of girls born in 2000 will develop diabetes
- Approximately two million children in the United States have ADHD
What is causing all of these health problems?
Unfortunately, many people feel that kids are not really affected by food and that childhood is a time of life when kids can eat what they want. Some parents have the mindset that their kids will “outgrow their baby fat.” What parents need to know is that nutrition matters—even before conception. What toddlers eat affects their health and well-being in the present and the future. More and more, research is showing that what we eat influences us at the deepest levels of our body, even in how our DNA is expressed.
Stick with it and your toddler will come around
The toddler years can be a challenging time for feeding your children because it can seem like their preferences change every day. I encourage parents to take advantage of this time when you have control over the foods your children consume and continue to offer them healthy choices.
Admittedly, it can take diligence on the part of the parents to get toddlers to develop a taste for new foods. I have experienced some of this with my daughter. From the start, she was very sensitive to texture and never liked things mixed together. In her early toddler years, she did not have much variety, but she ate healthy and unprocessed foods. When she was three-years-old, we started telling her that she had to eat dinner the way it was prepared—which meant more variety—and that we were not going to separate things anymore. This made for some emotional dinners! However, as we consistently had her try things, she slowly began to like foods she never would have eaten before. Now she eats almost anything I cook. Our daughter knows that even with the foods she still does not like, she always has to take a couple of bites of whatever I serve for meals.
The bottom line is that most children will eat what they are given when they are really hungry. Research shows it can take trying a food 10-12 times before a child will like it, so stick with it!
Uncover the truth behind clever product marketing
All the convenience foods that are marketed for children make feeding toddlers even more challenging. Next time you are at the grocery store, take a moment and really look at the labels on convenience foods. You will find corn syrup, food colorings, artificial flavors, and often times, hydrogenated oils (this means trans-fats, even when the nutrition facts say zero trans-fats). These ingredients are not really food and can lead to health problems.
Some of the products that contain these harmful ingredients are Pop-Tarts®, cold cereal, crackers (including teething biscuits, Teddy Grahams®, graham crackers, saltines) and cookies, frozen items (dinners, chicken nuggets, etc.), breakfast and granola bars, and many yogurts. The ingredients in these foods are addicting and have a negative impact on your child’s health. They will weaken your child’s immune system, cause cravings, trigger behavior and focus problems, and result in weight gain. If your kitchen contains these types of products, it’s time get rid of them and start replenishing your kitchen with real, whole food.
Real food makes for happy, healthy toddlers
Just like adults, kids need to eat a balance of real proteins, real carbohydrates, and real fats to keep their blood sugar stable and nourish their bodies. A child’s digestive system also handles real foods much better than processed foods. Eating balanced meals and snacks whenever possible is critical.
Healthy meal and snack ideas to try for your toddler:
- Scrambled eggs and a piece of whole grain toast with real butter or nut butter.
- Organic plain, whole-milk yogurt topped with frozen berries and sunflower seeds (snack).
- Homemade soup or chili.
- A sandwich with one slice of whole grain bread, turkey, cheese, tomato slices and real mayo. Serve with a piece of fruit.
- A piece of string cheese or a hard-boiled egg with fruit and olives (snack).
- Meat with vegetables and rice or sweet potato. Put cold-pressed olive oil or butter on the vegetables.
For the EXTREMELY picky eater…
Some toddlers are very picky and will only eat bread and noodles. Often times, this is caused by an imbalanced digestive system. This occurs mostly in children who have been on multiple rounds of antibiotics, especially in their first year. While antibiotics do kill off harmful bacteria that cause health problems, they also kill off the good bacteria necessary for proper digestion. Without sufficient good bacteria, it can be harder for a child to digest meats and vegetables. If this is the case with your child, you need to replenish the good bacteria called bifidobacteria, most likely with a supplement. This bacteria is present in breast milk, so it is safe even for newborns.
Start slow, but stick with it!
If eating this way is new for you, pick just one thing to start with. Try removing all hydrogenated oils from your home and after that has become routine for your family, move on to the next thing. Start with what works best for you, your toddler and family overall. Making changes looks different for every family, but remember that every step makes a difference. It is never too late to start!