Fat for fussy eaters
People who think about weight loss often becomes obsessed about fat. However, if we have a fussy eater who is not eating widely and well, fat is rarely on the radar.
Even if our child is in our mind ‘skinny’ or not growing at the rate we expect or we’re just concerned that they are not getting enough nutrients, fat is not top of mind.
However, fat is one of the essential macro-nutrients our body needs. In fact for children it should make up 20 – 35% of total energy intake. Toddlers and infants need even more than that.
Why does our body need fat?
Fat intake is critically important for all of us:
1. Essential fatty acids – essential nutrients are those our body cannot make. We need to consume these to provide the body with what it requires.
2. Energy – fatty acids are converted into energy in our body. If we don’t consume enough fat the body can break down other things like muscle mass to release energy.
3. Cell health – each cell in our body is coated in fat and needs it to function optimally. What we eat helps build cells. We really are what we eat!
4. Brain health – our brain is the fattiest organ in the body. It is 60% fat so needs those fatty acids to build it and keep it functioning optimally. Enough fats also help with cognitive function and mood.
5. Hormones – fats are needed to produce hormones such as serotonin, oestrogen and testosterone.
6. Vitamin absorption – it is needed to absorb fat soluble nutrients like Vit A, D, E, K and antioxidants like lycopene and beta-carotene.
7. Protection – fat helps to protect our organs.
8. Warmth – fat helps to keep the body warm.
9. General health – fat intake is essential to support the immune system, digestive and skin health, the metabolism, and the ability to manage stress.
10. Food flavour – fat gives food flavour and when we remove it food often needs flavour replacers like sugar and salt. A full fat yoghurt is palatable without added sugar. A low-fat version often needs sugar to replace the flavour that is lost.
I frequently use fat to replace sugar in recipes as I find fat really does give flavour, and also mouth feel.
But isn’t fat bad?
The type of fat is important though. As it literally does build our cells and therefore our body, picking the best is important. Luckily this is not necessarily as difficult as you think, even with a picky eater.
There is still quite a debate around fat and what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ so let’s look at the important stuff about which pretty much everyone agrees!
There are 4 major dietary fats found in food:
1. Saturated fats.
3. Monounsaturated fats.
4. Polyunsaturated fats.
These have different physical properties due to their chemical structures.
Despite their differences, however, they all deliver the same calories to the body, 9 calories per gram.
The energy density of fat is important for fussy eaters, especially those who struggle to eat enough volume of food or put on weight. Gram for gram fat delivers far more than carbs or protein, for example.
However, some fats are better than others.
Trans fats are the ones we are best to avoid, and our primary focus is best on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Omega 3’s and 6’s
And to introduce further complication, for optimal health it’s great if we can find a good balance between omega 3’s and omega 6’s.
Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory and multiple studies show how important these are for overall health and particularly brain function.
Ideally the ratio of omega 6 intake to omega 3 is 2:1. However, in a standard western diet it’s more likely to be much higher at approximately 10 or 20:1
What about fussy eaters?
What’s ideal and optimal frequently seems miles away from the ‘average’ diet, never mind that of an extremely picky eater. However, the first step in resolving a problem is always identifying it.
Firstly, knowing that fat is important is good. Looking at our child’s diet and seeing where we can make easy tweaks is the next step. Some of these may not be as difficult as you are anticipating.
My first bit of advice though is do NOT eliminate on a limited diet. Rather than removing things, seek to crowd in extras if possible. Or, where swaps are possible then that’s a great policy.
Which fats do we aim for?
If possible we are looking to increase our intake of omega 3’s as these are the ones we generally don’t get enough of.
Foods that contain omega 3’s are:
– Small fish – sardines, mackerel, and anchovies. Not admittedly popular foods for picky eaters. However, I use ground up anchovies to add salt and flavour to sauces. You can use them – without them being bang in your face – surprisingly easily.
Many fussy eaters enjoy salty flavours so it’s worth a whirl. Grind some up and add to a bolognaise, burgers or pizza sauce.
– Salmon & tuna – there are children who enjoy one or both of these fish so having them as a weekly addition to the diet is excellent.
– Flaxseeds, hemp & chia seeds – flaxseeds/linseeds and hemp or their oils are good to add to the diet. The problem is that their oils have quite a strong taste so it’s not something easy to add to a dish without changing the flavour.
You can however, grind the seeds (or buy in powdered form) and use them in baking, cooking or dishes:
i) I sprinkle ground linseeds on muesli.
ii) Ground linseeds are an egg substitute in baking.
iii) I use ground linseeds/chia seeds as thickeners. You can add to everything from puddings to sauces to meatballs as they also help bind.
iv) Use in foods like chia-seed puddings.
– Walnuts – nuts may be accepted by fussy eaters as they are dry and crunchy so make good snacks. You can always dip in chocolate!
Alternatively, nuts can be ground and added to baking, cereal or bliss balls, for example.
– Free-range eggs – eggs – particularly omega 3 enriched ones are often a relatively easy addition to the diet. If eggs are not accepted solo they are easily added to baking, pancakes and even as binders in burger patties etc.
– Meat & dairy from grass-fed animals – what the animal eats is important as that does determine what the output is.
We can get small amounts of omega 3’s from other foods, for example, spinach.
Foods that contain omega 6:
This is not an exhaustive list, but I will focus on the ones that are generally more readily accepted:
1. Peanuts – peanuts, peanut oil, and of course peanut butter. Peanut or other nut butters like almond or cashew are a great addition either to toast, for example, or into baking.
The nuts themselves are a crunchy, dry snack or can be added into cereal, crackers, or desserts. Other nuts like hazelnuts (home-made Nutella?), brazils and walnuts are also good sources.
2. Avocado – and it’s oil. It’s a great oil for cooking as it can be used for high heats. Use for sauteing or roasting. A generous use of oil is a good way to add additional fats to a diet.
Fresh avocado can be used in guacamole, other dips or into baking.
3. Seeds – sunflower, pumpkin and sesame are a good source of omega’s and other trace nutrients. I often swap a percentage of the flour for some ground seeds in baking. Start with tiny amounts and gradually increase!
4. Olive/safflower/sunflower oils – again, adding some additional oil when cooking is a good way to add fats. Popcorn for example!
5. Poultry/fish/eggs – the more free-ranging the better!
Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding and some inspiration about how to add in more nutrient boosting fats.
Judith, MA Cantab (Cambridge University), Post Grad Dip Psychology (Massey University), is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/