The biggest reason picky eating is incredibly stressful for parents is because parents are worried that their child isn’t getting enough nutrition or calories to be healthy and growing well. I have heard the questions hundreds of times: “My son doesn’t eat vegetables, does he need a vitamin?”, “How could they possibly be eating enough to grow?”,or “What if they aren’t getting the nutrients they need?” These are all very legitimate concerns and the answers are a lot more simple than you may think… most of the time. It’s really important that we address these concerns because they cause many parents to make desperate decisions about how they feed their child, which usually only exasperates the picky eating problem.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The very first thing I recommend is that you ask your doctor, and get a straight answer from them, if your child is growing well and if they have any concerns. I’m sure many of you have already done that and know that most of the time the answer is YES. Yes, they are growing well. It can sometimes seem like a mystery for kids that seem to eat so little. But their stomachs are much smaller than we can imagine and their metabolism is unique and could be slower than we think, too. This is one of the biggest reasons I’m a huge proponent of not pressuring your kids to eat. Most kids are born with the ability to self regulate their hunger. If your child is growing well, then let the concern over growth go. To make sure that you are TOTALLY optimizing how much they eat, then I highly suggest having a solid routine in place – which is really pretty simple. It will only make a difference if you’re consistent though. Head over to eating basics for a guide on how to set up a solid routine and see the end of this post for a FREE printable.
BUT, THEY DON’T EAT ANY VEGGIES? ANY PROTEIN?
The next thing you need to know is that the vast majority of kids are getting their daily needs met. I’m not even going to include a nutritional chart here because it just freaks us out. My own kids aren’t eating 1-2 cups of daily vegetables on a regular basis and one of my kids rarely eats any. Of course, we want to strive for veggies, and I want you to offer regularly a wide variety and demonstrate eating them. BUT, the vitamins they get from veggies are made up in other foods they regularly eat like cereal, milk, and other fortified foods. By in large, they are filling in the gaps with the other foods they eat, not to mention fruit, which packs a ton of nutrition, too! I recommend using some sort of milk source daily and including fortified cereals regularly in the diet, as well, for most picky eaters. If they refuse any type of milk (cow, soy, almond, etc.), then first and foremost keep trying. But, also get creative. Think homemade Popsicles, smoothies, and milkshakes!
As far as protein, most kids are okay because they have milk or dairy source, but some kids can have low iron and that often flies under the radar. So, if your kid doesn’t eat a lot of protein or veggies and they seem tired frequently, request blood work. You may have to be a little pushy, but insist for your piece of mind. If anything comes back, this can be fixed with an iron supplement. Other deficiencies, like vitamin D, can also be detected. Vitamin D is usually not a concern unless a child is not consuming milk or cereal regularly (cereal is super fortified with tons of vitamins and nutrients). If you want to read more about possible deficiencies, check out this post from dietitian Maryann Jacobson at Raising Healthy Eaters.
WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS AND VITAMINS?
Again, MOST, and I really mean most, don’t need daily vitamins and supplements. I would talk to your doctor before giving any supplements. If you decide to proceed with a daily vitamin you’ll want to look at the quality of the vitamin. I really like Vitamin Code because it’s made from real food, not synthetic compounds. My kids don’t use this, but I’ve used the prenatal version. Super Healthy Kids has some great recommendations for selecting your own.
If your child is underweight, then you may need a supplement. Most doctors will suggest Pediasure or Carnation instant breakfast. Those are totally fine, but are high in sugar. You have to choose your priorities sometimes when in a desperate situation, but the goal should be to move away from relying on Pediasure. Remember to always serve these with a meal or as a snack, they are super filling and a few sips will totally spoil an appetite. If you don’t need quite as many calories and are looking for more of an all around supplement that is low in sugar, you may want to try Kid Shake.
IF NOTHING ELSE, MAKE THIS CHANGE
I guess I’ve already said this, but I REALLY want to drive this point home because I see so many parents get hung up here. If you are worried about your child’s health and nutrition, take the steps you need to make sure you child is doing well (which they most likely are). If they are not, than with your doctor’s or a dietitian’s help, get the proper supplements in place. Once you have the proper knowledge (that they are okay) or the supplements, then LET IT GO.
If you have put those eating basics steps in place, then you can be totally confident you are on the right track. Grab a copy of those 9 steps in a cheat sheet print out to have as a quick reference right HERE!