Your child's journey of starting solids, then finger foods and then fussy eating can be a tough one. Kim Tikellis is a Simplot nutritionist and she helps parents who might be struggling with their little one's nutrition.
“Don't feel bad and don't feel like you're a failure,” Kim advises when things go sideways. “I think we tend to take it very personally when children won't eat the food that we've prepared out of love and out of concern for their nourishment and their growth.”
Chatting with Kinderling Conversation, Kim shared her top tips to get good food into your kids and minimise meals ending up on the floor.
1. The golden rule is variety
Kim said it’s key to start with the most important dietary guideline – “enjoy a variety of foods.” Therefore, it’s important to offer your child a range of the five food groups each day, including:
- Vegetables and fruit
- Meat and protein, like lean meats, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu and legumes (lentils, peas and beans)
- Dairy, like cheese yoghurt, milk
- Fats and oils – of which we only have a little bit!
- Cereals – whole grain cereals, pasta, rice
2. Starting solids helps develop their speech
There are certain signs that children display around the six-month mark if they’re ready to start eating solids, like reaching for the spoon as you’re feeding them, or even trying to grab at your food.
“It's really important that you do move on to solids when the child is ready because it actually helps develop their later speech,” Kim explains.
Eating will strengthen their jaw muscles, tongue and lips, which we use for both speaking and chewing. Finger foods, which should be introduced around the eight-month mark can also help their dexterity for writing later on, plus their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Watch Kim's advice on Kinderling Conversation:
If you feel like your child is ready for solids and finger foods, sit them up straight in a high chair. If you try it and they’re not quite ready, just wait a couple weeks and give it another go.
Some appropriate finger foods to try around eight months of age:
- Toast fingers
- Soft, seasonal fruits and vegetables (eg. lightly steamed broccoli)
- Soft strips of chicken (without any bones)
3. Babies have their own iron stores until they are six months old
When a bub is born, their mother has given them iron stores during pregnancy. Then with breast milk or infant formula, they’ll also be getting iron with enhanced absorption through the breast milk sugars.
“Often one of those first foods that we tend to introduce is an iron-fortified cereal and that is because those iron stores are starting to naturally run out at about six months,” Kim said. “We're trying to introduce them at about that age and top them up.”
When age appropriate, you can start offering them iron-rich food, like chicken, fish and red meat. Iron-rich veggies like spinach, legumes and beans are best eaten with Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables like tomato, capsicum and broccoli, as this increases the iron absorption.
4. Kids often don’t like the texture of meat
Kim said that parents often ask her how they can encourage their children to eat meat, as they don’t seem to like it.
“It's not usually about the taste, it's usually about the texture,” Kim said. “Quite often, kids will put a spoonful of meat into their mouth and they'll chew and chew and chew and nothing really happens and they spit it out again. It's really around texture and getting that texture right.”
She assured worried parents out there that as long as they’re eating one serve a day (65 grams) from the protein food group, they’re doing okay.
She suggests trying with some soft, poached chicken that you can mince, or cut into little strips. Fish is also soft for littlies and Kim suggested fresh, canned and frozen fish as nutritious alternatives to red meat. It can also be easily sneaked into patties, pasta bakes and yummy tacos.
Lastly, Kim says kids can often return to red meat when they get their secondary molars in primary school.
5. Two-year-olds will start to eat a lot more!
By the time a child is around the age of two, they’re in a high growth phase, so you’ll find they grow out of their clothes before they wear them out. They’re growing exponentially in their mental capacity and they’re more exploratory, so their energy needs are much greater.
Kim says this is when their stomach size will get larger and portion sizes will need to be increased. As this happens, she recommends remembering the golden 'variety' rule above. While they’d probably eat as many pieces of toast as you can possibly give them, instead give them extra fruit and vegetables, proteins and bits of dairy.
6. Legume pastas are a protein-filled alternative
Most kids LOVE pasta, especially those pesky fussy eaters that only go for white carbohydrates. Of course, that doesn’t fit in with a balanced diet, so while they need carbs, there has to be variety.
“Most kids have pasta down pat, that's an easy one,” Kim says. “There's actually some great legume pastas around now too.” Or try adding lentils to your bolognese sauce to boost protein plus fibre too.
Kim’s given them to her own kids, and they rarely notice the difference.
7. High fibre, healthy snacks don’t have to be complex
In a Melbourne study of 450 families, they found that by two-and-a-half the children weren’t meeting their vegetable intake. The culprit? Snacks! So while kids genuinely do get hungry between meals at times, we have to make careful choices about what we’re offering.
“I think one of the great things is that when children are looking for snacks, they're hungry,” Kim said. “That's a great time for you to give them the foods that you actually really need them to eat because they've got an appetite and they're more likely to eat them.”
Some great options include:
- Cooked carrot batons
- Raw vegetables like celery or broccoli ‘trees’ as a snack with hummus dip.
- Vege frittata. Easy to whip up, just take your leftover vegetables, some eggs, bake it up and cut it into slices.
- Vegetable muffins are easy to do with leftover and frozen veggies. Corns, peas and capsicum are a colourful combo. Plus, if you cook ahead and freeze them, they’re ready to go.
- A piece of fruit – which comes in its own packaging!
Kim’s final words of advice? You’re the parent, have faith in yourself that you’re doing the right thing for your child, and seek medical help when you think it’s needed.
This article was brought to you by Birds Eye Australia.
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