If your preschooler is a picky eater, first know you’re not alone. Children of this age often are selective about what they eat, so having a child who only wants to eat mac-and-cheese and applesauce is not unusual. Next, consider these tips for expanding your child’s food preferences, along with information about whether vitamin supplements can fill nutritional gaps. Here’s what to know about vitamins and kids.
An article by Inside.AkronChildrens.org shares a technique to double the number of foods your child eats, which will help to increase the amount of iron, vitamin D and zinc (as just three examples) that your child takes in. Food chaining capitalizes on successful eating experiences of your child and then links these positive experiences to new foods you’d like for him or her to eat. As you build these links, your child will become more willing to eat a greater variety of foods because they are connected to a food that is already enjoyed. This strategy can be very effective because it builds on your child’s natural eating preferences.
Here’s an example. Choose one of your child’s favorite foods — but NOT the one with the most nutritional value. That’s because, if this technique doesn’t work right away, you don’t want to eliminate the most nutritional favorite from your child’s diet. Let’s say that your child loves pre-packaged chicken nuggets doused in ketchup but you wish he or she would eat more fish. Serve your child’s favorite brand of chicken nuggets with ketchup. Next time, use a generic brand of nuggets, also with ketchup. Then, when that feels comfortable to your child, transition to grilled chicken with ketchup — and then to grilled fish with ketchup.
As you make these transitions, think about what appeals to your child in the favorite food being transitioned. Is it because it’s hot and crunchy? Sweet? Smooth? Use those qualities consistently as you use the food chain technique. Also, don’t try to trick your child, claiming a food is something it isn’t. You want to keep his or her trust throughout the process. If you’re ready to try food chaining, you can find plenty more suggestions in the article.
More Tips for Picky Eaters
The National Institutes of Health offers more tips for your picky preschooler. They include avoiding too much beverage intake because this can reduce your child’s appetite. Also,watch out for too much snacking between meals as it can have the same effect. Sometimes, refusing to eat certain foods can be a way for your child to gain attention or it can be a reaction to a parent who threatens, bribes or otherwise uses negative reinforcement during meal time. Instead, serve as a positive role model and eat a healthy variety of foods yourself and maintain a positive mealtime atmosphere.
What About Vitamins?
Experts quoted by Inside.AkronChildrens.org point out that vitamin supplements are not a replacement for healthy eating. In other words, “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 vegetables also provide fiber that can’t be gained through vitamins. Food provides a sense of fullness, which helps to prevent unhealthy amounts of snacking, and it also offers hydration.
There are situations, of course, when preschoolers do need supplements, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your child’s specific situation.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following reasons why a multivitamin may be needed, which include if your child:
- Has a delay in physical and developmental growth (failure to thrive)
- Has certain chronic diseases or food allergies
- Has a restrictive diet, such as a strict vegan diet
If your preschooler’s doctor agrees that a multivitamin makes sense, select one specifically intended for your child’s age, one that “doesn't provide more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamins and minerals.” Keep the vitamins out of reach of your child and emphasize that these are not candy.