Ways to improve nutrition for picky eaters! Worried that your babe isn’t getting many nutrients in their few bites these days? Ideas for boosting nutrition when kids aren’t eating much.
Phases of selective eating – or picky eating – are normal and common among kids. They can also be frustrating for parents and caregivers, even worrisome when your child isn’t eating much overall.
How do you make sure your child is getting the nutrition they need, but not eating very well?
As we always say, it’s not nutrition unless it’s eaten. So, of course, getting something in those bellies is important.
But we also want to drive home the point that nutrition is a long game.
While what’s most important is helping your child cultivate healthy eating habits and patterns, there are a few things you can do in the meantime to optimize nutrition.
And that doesn’t mean your child has to be eating salads and green smoothies. 😉
Below are 5 ways you can help increase the nutrition of the foods your child is being presented, and encourage them to eat more without actually saying so.
1. Prioritize Nutrient-Dense Foods
Especially when they’re hungry and asking for a snack, be sure to offer your kids foods that pack a lot of nutrition into a small serving in case they don’t eat much of it.
For instance, foods that contain a larger amount of calories and fat in a smaller serving size.
Some ideas include:
- Avocado (like mashed avocado on toast/crackers, guacamole with carrot sticks, avocado as a vegan mayo alternative, or used in chocolate pudding)
- Nut and Seed Butters (smeared onto banana slices, drizzled over thin apple slices like nachos,
- Olive Oil (for kids, adding extra virgin olive oil over roasted vegetables, or as a seasoned dip for breads, is a great way to add calories)
2. Encourage Food Play
Kids thrive on routine and play, so combine these two at mealtimes.
The routine part is offering foods consistently and around the same times each day – even if they’re not interested in trying them at first.
The fun part is the food play piece.
We’ve talked about food play before (see this post), and we’re big advocates as we’ve seen benefits in our own households.
This is a great interactive tool to help encourage kids to eat, while also reducing the pressure to eat.
3. Smoothies, Sauces, and Dips
We don’t recommend relying on shakes and smoothies to meet all of your child’s needs, but they can be a great addition to other healthy meals and snacks.
Blending up things like pitted dates, nut butters, chia or flax seeds, and full-fat fortified soy milk can help pack in the nutrition in a small glass.
Sauces for pasta can be bulked up by mixing in some cooked or canned lentils, or a little bit of olive oil.
Kids also love dips, which are an excellent vehicle for nutrition when you use things like pureed navy beans, chickpeas, cashew cream, silken tofu, or avocado to make them super creamy and yummy.
4. Try Fruits and Veggies in New Ways
Just because your child doesn’t like broccoli florets served raw doesn’t mean they’ll never like them – or that this is the only way you can offer them.
For instance, try broccoli finely chopped and sprinkled over top of a pasta dish, cut into long strips and roasted with potatoes, or blended into a cheesy broccoli soup.
Same thing with fruits. Make peanut butter toast with a smiley face made out of raisins, an apple slice, and some banana wedges.
5. Include Them in Food Prep
Kids are generally more likely to eat when they’re involved in the process of planning and preparing meals and snacks.
This allows them some sense of control and independence.
It also provides an opportunity to ask their opinion and for them to have tasks that are all their own to complete.
You can incorporate this into any of the other tips above, whether it’s having your child put together smoothie or dip ingredients, plate a funny face on their toast, or simply help choose between a few nutrient-dense options (provided by you) to have with their meal.
Supplement Where Needed
We strongly recommend that plant-based children – and all children who may not be getting all their nutrition needs met from diet alone – are provided age-appropriate nutrient supplements to support normal growth and development. One way to improve nutrition for picky eaters is to help bridge any micronutrient gaps with supplements.
Check out some of these links for more info on supplementing kids:
- Supplements for Vegan Kids
- Nutrition for Preschoolers + Supplement Recommendations
- Plant Based Juniors Supplement Guide
Be patient, mama! We know these phases are hard and that you worry about your child not getting enough nutrition. If you’re ever concerned about your child’s diet or growth, it’s always best to speak with their pediatrician and/or a registered dietitian for a tailored assessment and plan.
In the meantime, try some of these ways to improve nutrition for picky eaters and keep offering energy-dense foods.
Chime In: Have you found success in any of these nutrition-boosting tips, or have others to share for periods of picky eating?
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