By Nicole Spain, Registered Dietitian
You asked, and she answered! Here, our registered dietitian addresses some of your burning nutrition questions:
Q: “What are some good grab and go snacks for babies/toddlers that are nutritionally dense and do not require refrigeration? I struggle with getting them protein on the go!”
A: Families spend a lot of time on the go now. Keeping kids from getting grouchy is no small feat. If your kiddos get sick of having the same snacks over and over, you may want to consider investing in a small lunch bag and freezer pack to expand your options. However, if you want to “grab and go,” consider some of these ideas to boost your child’s nutrition on the go: bananas, whole grain mini muffins, applesauce pouches (in a variety of fruit and veggie flavors), oatmeal fruit squeeze, YoYo Squeeze Yogurt Pouches, thinly spread nut butter and jelly sandwich, or try making home-made trail mix (cereal, raisins, chopped pitted dates, diced dried apricots, freeze dried strawberries or apples, and small crackers).
Q: “How do I get my toddler/kids to eat veggies?”
A: Rest assured, you are not alone. If you find you truly have a picky kid like me, continue to serve vegetables at every meal but also try to slip some in. For example, when I make sloppy joes I’ll serve a vegetable on the side but I also mix in 8 oz of pureed pumpkin or squash into the sloppy joes. It is completely hidden and I’m happy knowing he is getting a little vitamin boost even if he chooses to not eat the vegetable served at that meal. Here are some fun tips to help you get your kids to not only eat vegetables but to love them! 1. Add veggies to kids’ favorites: mix peas into macaroni and cheese, add carrot shreds to spaghetti sauce, or put cauliflower in mashed potatoes. 2. Spread it! Toddlers love spreading. Show them how to spread pureed vegetables onto crackers or toast. 3. Dip it! Use vegetables (steamed as needed) as finger foods to dip into favorite sauces. 4. Roast Them! Vegetables become slightly sweeter when roasted. Toss broccoli florets, asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, etc. in olive oil and season lightly before roasting. 5. Grow Veggies Together – Most children will eat vegetables they have grown. If you don’t have room for a garden, try container gardening. You can grow anything from radishes to tomatoes indoors. If you’re still struggling to get kids to try veggies, offer more fruit, which is another good source of vitamins and minerals!
Q: “How much protein should vegan children be eating?”
A: Like all growing children, vegan children need two to three servings of protein-rich foods per day. This equates to roughly ½ gram per pound of body weight. For children following a vegan diet, follow these tips: 1. Make legumes a mealtime regular – eat them most days of the week. 2. Learn to use soybean products like tofu, tempeh, textured soy protein in food preparation. 3. Choose calcium-fortified soy based products like milk, yogurt and cheese. Many vegan meals are low in fat and high in fiber, so they fill kids up without supplying enough calories. When this happens, their bodies use protein from food for energy, not for growing new body cells. An energy deficiency can slow their growth and impair brain function. To meet the high demands, include higher calorie foods in your child’s vegan meals and snacks. Provide foods with more fat like nuts, nut butters, seeds and seed spreads.
Q: “How do I know the food portion my 15-month-old daughter should have?”
A: The USDA has developed a meal pattern chart with serving sizes that our schools all follow. This guide can also be used at home to help determine serving sizes for most foods.
Q: “Are balanced meal shakes a good snack for kids after school? How about for toddlers?”
A: Rather than paying high prices for pre-made shakes that may contain a slew of food additives, preservatives, and other ingredients that can be hard to interpret, consider making a healthy smoothie right at home. Homemade smoothies can be a great choice for children of all ages. Start with a base of yogurt or soy yogurt to boost your child’s calcium and protein intake. Add in fresh ingredients such as spinach, kale, pureed pumpkin and fruits. Add a liquid (water, 100% juice, milk or milk alternative) and blend for a super smoothie. Here are some of my favorite combinations:
Q: “My son is almost 8 months old and still does not have any teeth yet. He gets fed formula and Stage 1 and 2 baby food. What else can I feed him? What is baby-led weaning and is that recommended?”
A: Don’t worry that your baby doesn’t have any teeth yet. Infants typically have their first tooth erupt between six and 12 months of age, so there is still plenty of time. There are many foods that infants can “gum” before they have teeth for chewing. Just make sure they are developmentally ready and are able to sit up in a chair with good head control, open mouth for food, and move food from a spoon into their mouth. If you haven’t already, you can offer iron fortified infant cereal such as oats, rice or barley. In addition, you can try some of these foods as well: mashed bananas, scrambled eggs, mashed sweet potatoes, cooked noodles, soft bread, rice, mashed potatoes, peas, yogurt, or tomato soup served lukewarm. Don’t forget that new foods should be introduced one at a time with at least three days in between to determine if a child has a reaction to a certain food.
Baby-led weaning is when you let the child feed themselves from the beginning. You might be used to spoon feeding your infant. Picture Mom or Dad delivering sweet potato puree into baby’s wide-open mouth via that special airplane spoon. But for parents who use baby-led weaning, the scene looks much different. The infant sits in a high chair before a spread of finger foods, attempting to transfer little bits from the tray to tongue by themselves. Baby-led weaning can be great as it helps fine-tune motor development as well as eye hand coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, self-regulation and healthy eating habits. If you choose to try baby-led weaning, you may want to start with some of these foods: Ripe fruits, cooked egg yolk, moist and shredded meats, puffed cereals, cooked pastas, and cooked vegetables. Just make sure everything is diced no larger than ¼” and be prepared for a mess! For the first month or two of self-feeding, expect your baby to do a lot of licking, tasting and exploring but not a lot of eating. If you are still not sure about baby-led weaning, a mixed approach might be best as it helps expose babies to finger foods and also minimizes the risk of nutritional gaps.