A growing child and baby has a large requirement for iron as their blood volume increases so dramatically as they grow. It can be challenging finding foods that a fussy young one will eat, let alone ones that are a good source of nutrition.
My children have been a wonderful learning experience when it comes to feeding toddlers and children. I have helped many patients over the years to overcome fussy eating, and through my work built up a lot of skills, but when it comes to doing it for yourself that’s a whole different ballgame.
Many parents are concerned about their children getting the right balance of nutrients, and if they are a fussy eater, then with each mouthful that doesn’t get eaten or gets thrown on the floor/wall/parent, that lays on a whole new type of stress.
Behavioural vs. Physiological Causes
For some children, there are physiological and/or behavioural reasons why they are fussy about eating. Physiological reasons can include:
- Nutritional deficiencies affecting their sense of taste (namely zinc)
- Digestive disorders, especially if they experience discomfort during or after eating
- Behaviour changes related to the autism spectrum
- Pyrolle disorder
- Swallowing difficulties
For the physiological reasons, correcting deficiencies, reducing inflammation and supporting the nervous system with herbs and nutritional supplements can allow the child to feel more comfortable and willing to try new foods. For some children it is behavioural, and for some children it is a combination. When addressing the behavioural causes, I have found that a lot of it comes down to how you as a parent prepare the food and your actions around meal times.
If you do have a fussy eater, it is natural to be a little worried about whether your child is getting enough nutrients. A common worry parents express to me is whether their child is getting enough iron.
Signs of low iron
Considering most parents are going to be keen to get their child to have a blood test to find out for sure whether they are low in iron, it may be helpful to look for some signs of being low in this mineral.
- Does your child appear to be tired and sleepier than usual?
- Does your child get infections (colds) more than you think they should?
- Does your child appear to be slow in their growth?
- Does the inside of your childs cheeks and eyelids appear pale?
- Does your childs skin appear pale, or have visible dark circles under their eyes?
- Does your child have more temper tantrums than usual?
- Does your child have difficulty concentrating?
How much iron does a child need?
Toddlers (1-3 years old) need 9mg iron daily
Children (4-8 yrs) old need 10mg daily
In the next article I will share some iron rich recipes for toddlers. Below are some tips that I have found have helped me personally with meal times, as well as with my patients.
Tips for reducing fussy eating behaviours
- Make the main meal times a stress free occasion, but with limits. Sit down together to eat (if you’re not eating at the same time then just sit with them) and give them your attention, and while you can chat about the food, don’t try to force them to eat. If you are worried about your child’s weight then it can be very difficult not to try to force food into them, but I believe you need to respect your child’s awareness of whether they are full or not. Having said that, I don’t think meal times should be a game. As a younger child, If Ash was to start to throw the food or play with the food, I would say something like ‘does that mean you’re all done?’ and if he continues to play/throw (I do try to stop his from actually throwing the food before it happens) the food I will then say ‘okay, you’re telling me you’re all done. Let’s clean your hands and you can hop down’. Since early days I have tried to teach Ash to sign ‘all done’ by waving my hands, but it was only after putting it in the context of this that he has started signing it back to me (Lara picked up on signing much more quickly). After a couple of times of doing this, Ash would then tell me if he was done by signing, or if he starts to look like he is losing interest and playing around I say ‘are you all done’ and he will tell me yes he is all done (by signing) or will keep eating.
- Both adults and children can often find new flavours and textures difficult to like. However research has shown that repeated exposure to a food, often in different preparations is required to really be sure if a child doesn’t like the food. I recommend offering a new food to your child at least 10 different times (some of the research said 15 times was needed) before giving up on it.
- Make the food taste good. Overly boiled vegetables are something very few people enjoy so it’s not surprising children won’t enjoy this either. I try to cook Lara and Ash’s food to how I would like it, and have noticed that he eats the best when it is the same thing that I am also eating. Personally I chose to introduce solids to my kids using the Baby Led Weaning technique which advocates letting them eat the same things that you are eating, and at the same time so that you can model eating behaviours. From this I have slowly moved to giving them their own bowl, and it is usually a slightly modified version of my own food – less salt and no chilli.
- Make the food interesting. I found a crinkle cutter was an excellent addition to my kitchen as it made sliced cucumber, carrot and sweet potato much more appealing. For older kids, presenting the food arranged in the shape of a face or the like could be another version of this theme.
- For older children, having the discussion about how that food will make them feel better e.g. happier stomach, more energy for their sport, better concentration at school; is something not to be dismissed.
- Get older children to pick a vegetable from the grocery shop that they would like to try and help them involved in cooking.
- If you have the space try growing some veggies yourself and get your kids involved in the process. If they pick the veggies and eat it before they get cooked, that’s still a win.
- An “Eat A Rainbow” chart where children can tick off their coloured vegetables can be another incentive for older kids to eat a broad range of vegetables.