Few parents will get through their child’s early years without enduring at least a few stressful mealtimes…
The traditional Western diet revolves around three square meals daily. But should we be concerned if our little ones don’t follow the party line and refuse to do the ‘three a day’? If they prefer to ‘graze’ throughout the day, or pick at small snack-type meals, should we be worried?
The simple truth is that as long as you avoid any potential problems linked to different eating types, your child can still have a healthy, balanced diet.
Grazer are kids, who tend to eat very little at mealtimes, preferring instead to feast on smaller portions and frequent snacks and drinks. Being a grazer isn’t a problem as long as your little one doesn’t eat unhealthy snacks and drinks instead of meals. A child, who has lots of sweets, biscuits and crisps will be too full for their next meal, creating a cycle of poor eating. Also, if she knows these things are available, why would she bother with proper meals?
Until kids reach the age of two, they can’t eat large portions and, unlike adults, they generally can’t manage on three meals a day, so need snacks in between to meet their high energy requirements.
If your child is a grazer, encourage her to get into an eating pattern that’s based on mini meals and snacks from different food groups (see box below). Kids who don’t eat much at mealtimes might miss out on vegetables, so try to include these at some point in the day.
Some kids can’t seem to face food in the morning. We all know adults like this – maybe you are one yourself? – but it seems stranger in kids since it’s usually more than twelve hours since their last meal. Breakfast dodgers generally catch up on calories later in the day, but they may still miss out on some of the vitamins and minerals that breakfast usually provides.
If your child is a breakfast dodger, it’s worth trying different breakfast cereals, or offering an alternative, such as toast with scrambled eggs, or fruit and yogurt. If she really won’t eat, offer a drink such as milk, or perhaps a smoothie or milkshake. At least that way you’ll be able to get her to have the goodness of milk and perhaps a little fruit.
If she won’t eat at all, don’t worry, but make sure that she doesn’t eat any unhealthy snacks mid-morning. Instead, have a healthy alternative, such as a banana, at the ready.
Fortified breakfast cereals are important for the vitamin and mineral intake of many young kids, so, if your child is hungry later, offer her cereal as a snack.
Some kids tend to favour one meal over another. They may, for example, eat very little in the morning, but then have a big lunch, or, alternatively, they may have a big breakfast but virtually nothing at lunchtime.
If your child routinely skips a certain meal, ensure that she doesn’t miss out on particular foods that you usually serve then by giving them to her at another time. You could, for example, offer her a tuna sandwich for lunch and then give her vegetables in the evening.
• Try and get your child to steer clear of biscuits and crisps as they’re high in fat, sugar and salt
• Boost their fruit and veg intake by giving small sticks of carrot, cucumber or green beans. Alternatively, offer segments of orange or Satsuma, slices of pineapple, or a pot of chopped fruit salad.
• Give her extra energy – mini sandwiches (houmous or cream cheese and cucumber are great options), breadsticks, scones or slices of malt loaf will all provide starchy carbohydrate for energy without giving her too much sugar.
• Use dairy products to help build strong bones – little cubes of cheese, pots of full-fat yogurt or fromage frais are all good sources of calcium.