Ask the experts: How can I help my child eat well?
Feeding a family doesn’t come without its challenges. Whether your little one is having a fussy stage or you’re struggling to find the time to cook – know that you’re not alone.
How to help your child eat well
My child is a fussy eater at the moment. How can I encourage them to try new foods?
Firstly I like to reassure parents that many children go through a phase of fussy eating – usually it’s just something they grow out of. Keep encouraging them to try lots of different healthy foods and make healthy eating the norm in your home. Create buffet style meals so they can pick and choose from healthy options, and always put a variety on their plate, whether they eat it or not.
It depends on their age, but try making a game out of healthy foods – for example, who can eat the most colours of the rainbow every day? Get them cooking with you, so they feel more confident about different foods and encourage them to try what they’ve made. Finally, to keep nutrient levels up, sneak as much goodness as you can into family favourites – hidden grated veggies, whole grain versions of their favourite starchy foods, blended up or stewed fruit into yoghurt.
I’m keen to ensure my child has a healthy and happy relationship with food. How can I help with this?
It’s really important that children learn to take their food and hunger cues from within themselves, rather than external cues from parents or carers about when they should eat or when they are full. Try to take the emotion out of feeding your children, which I know can be hard! If they try something new or refuse food, avoid making any fuss.
Just make healthy eating a normal part of life, not something to be praised. Model healthy eating behaviour yourself and talk about how much you’re enjoying your food, the taste of it and why it might be good for you. Also try to avoid tempting them to eat their savoury food with the lure of a sweet treat, and avoid using “treat” foods as rewards.
I struggle to make time to cook from scratch every night. Do you have any tips for time-strapped parents?
Three top tips here. Firstly, always cook double batches. So if you make a nutritious meal, double it up so you have a second portion to freeze or for lunch the next day. Second, make a list of 10 minute meals you can whip up when you don’t have much time.
My go-tos are breakfast for dinner (eg. eggs, beans, wholemeal toast, and chopped up carrot, cucumber and slices of avo), lentil pasta with a sauce like pesto and some microwaved veggies (using lentil pasta means you have plenty of protein, another option is to stir in some pre-cooked beans or chickpeas); baked potato with various toppings and chopped raw or steamed veggies.
Finally, if it must be an occasional ready meal – then so be it, just add in extra veg which you can pop in the microwave or quickly steam.
How can a nutritionist help with children’s nutrition?
The great thing about working with a registered nutritionist or nutritional therapist is that the support you receive will be tailor made to your specific child and their individual needs. This means that you will receive lots of practical advice and support to make the nutritional recommendations work for you and your family, within your cooking skills, lifestyle, schedule and family’s food preferences.
It may be that your child has a specific health condition, and a nutritional therapist can help you to work on any underlying imbalances which may be contributing to their symptoms. Or you may want to make sure your child is getting all the nutrition they need for optimal health and growth. Each case is different, and a properly qualified therapist can tailor their support to suit you – everything from children’s allergies to digestive issues, neurodiversity to teenage nutrition.
Catherine’s top tips for supporting children’s nutrition
- Never give up. I know life can get busy and it can be hugely frustrating when your hard work with food gets thrown back at you (quite literally when it comes to toddlers at times!) but it’s so vital we carefully consider our children’s nutrition and give them the best start in life, to support optimal development and their future health.
- Focus on what you can change. There’s not a lot you can do when your children are out of the house, so pick your battles. Do your best with the food you make at home.
- Don’t forget the omega 3s. This is an essential nutrient I see so lacking in children’s diets – either from oily fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel two to three times per week, or daily portions of nuts or seeds, especially flaxseed or chia seeds. Omega 3 fats have to be consumed in the diet, and a deficiency is linked to poor cognitive function, mental health problems, poor immunity and hormonal imbalances.