Is your preschooler a finicky eater? Does she turn her nose up at any sign of a vegetable? Are macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets staples in her diet?
It’s not uncommon for kids this age to be picky eaters. Many favor a repertoire of 4 or 5 foods they readily accept. It’s a natural part of your child’s development.
The good news is there’s no need to worry as long as she takes a daily multivitamin, right? Wrong.
“Vitamins and other supplements are not a replacement for healthy eating,” said Dr. Amanda Gogol-Tagliaferro, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Fairlawn. “And, don’t expect vitamins to undo any nutritional no-no’s, such as fast food or convenience foods.”
Good nutrition is important for healthy growth and development, and it sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating. That’s why it’s important to teach your child good eating habits at an early age.
Nutrients are the most potent when they come from food. Plus, they are paired with other beneficial nutrients – such as carotenoids, flavonoids and antioxidants – that aren’t found in most vitamin supplements.
“Fruits and veggies give kids fiber and other vital nutrients they can’t get from vitamins in addition to keeping them feeling fuller longer,” Dr. Gogol-Tagliaferro explained. “Food gives kids the feeling of satiety or fullness. So, a child who eats nutritious meals throughout the day is less likely to fill up on snack foods.”
Food also keeps kids hydrated and helps to keep their digestive system healthy.
Not to mention, eating is a cultural experience for families. Shared meals not only provide a valuable opportunity to connect with your kids every day, but they also help encourage healthy eating.
If there are diet restrictions due to allergies, religious beliefs or vegetarian/vegan practices, vitamins and supplements can be an additive to ensure a healthy diet. Otherwise, your child can get all the vitamins and minerals she needs by eating a healthy diet that includes:
- Milk and dairy products (such as low-fat cheese and yogurt)
- A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Proteins from meat, fish and eggs
- Whole grains (such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and bread)
By far, the most vitamins and minerals can be found in fruits and vegetables. In general, the majority of vitamins are found in foods high in carbohydrates and proteins, rather than fats.
“Important nutrients for kids include vitamins A, B, C and D, calcium and iron,” said Dr. Gogol-Tagliaferro. “You don’t have to give kids more food to give them more vitamins. You just have to give them more of the right foods and more variety.”
If you’re struggling to get your child to eat from all of the food groups at one meal, spread nutritious options across small meals and snacks throughout the day. Also, if your child refuses a certain food, keep trying with various preparations.
“Make your kids taste what you put on their plates, even if it’s 3 small bites before they decide they don’t like something,” Dr. Gogol-Tagliaferro suggested. “There has been research published that says kids have to try a food 10 times before they decide they don’t like it.”