Nutrients for fussy eaters
Parents of picky eaters are often really concerned about what their child eats from a nutritional standpoint. They are worried that a limited diet means their child is missing out on essential nutrients that could affect growth, development, and energy levels.
It is true that children have a greater demand for nutrients than parents, as they are still growing and unfortunately, many of the foods preferred by fussy eaters are refined carbohydrates and processed foods, and these often contain few nutrients.
Existing on a narrow diet for a long time may also mean deficiencies in essential nutrients and these can also make picky eating worse. For example, being low in zinc can affect appetite and make foods taste unpleasant.
What can we do to increase nutrients for fussy eaters?
We can supplement with vitamins, if a child is able to eat them. Not all vitamins are created equally though, so it is great to do a little research first. I’m testing some dissolvable ones at the moment which could be a win as we can add to milk, cereal, smoothies etc.
Or we may look at some of the powdered fruit and vegetables that can be added to favourite foods, providing a nutrient boost.
Probiotics can be a great addition to the diet. We can get them through good quality yoghurt, for example. Milk kefir is another way to do this for children who like milk. It’s easily added in small amounts but packs a pretty big punch.
Vitamin fortified foods
Vitamins may not be a go and in which case looking for fortified foods may be a good way to increase the nutrient quota.
Many foods are fortified. Anything from bread, flour, cereal, milk, pasta, and orange juice can have additional vitamins added.
There is some debate as to how much we actually gain from fortified foods, but even a small increase in a narrow diet is valuable.
Nutrient boosting foods
We can also, of course get nutrients through food, and this long-term is the best solution.
If your child has a very limited diet – less than 15 foods – it is worth considering support to help increase the number of foods eaten.
However, even if your child eats a limited range of foods, there are still ways we may be able to add in some additional nutrients.
1. Bread – bread or bread-type options are frequently accepted by picky eaters.
Upgrading the quality of the bread can be a simple but good step in boosting nutrients.
If your child is stuck on white bread at the moment, then high fibre options are a good start. You could also swap for white spelt or sourdough which have a better nutrient profile and are more easily digested.
If wholegrain or wholemeal options are accepted these provide a better nutrient profile. Rotating between different types can help deliver different nutrients too.
2. Spreads – what we add to bread or toast can be a good nutrient boost. Nut or seed butters deliver protein, healthy fats, and minerals.
Some of the better quality jams are primarily fruit. Or, home-made jam from pureed fruit, some sweetener and chia seeds can be a great option.
Marmite or Vegemite has a good dose of B vitamins.
Honey, especially raw honey is a good source of nutrients.
3. Toppings – whether your child prefers cereal, pancakes, yoghurt or toast, there are many toppings we can use to boost nutrients. Many fussy eaters find mixing foods challenging though. Although this is the case, it is an important skill to learn, and we do this by gradually supporting a child to do it more often.
Frequently, starting with easier foods, for example, ice cream and chocolate sauce may be a win.
Grinding nuts and seeds and sprinkling a little on food can boost those good fats and minerals. As nuts and seeds are dry and crunchy, sometimes this is easier than we expect.
Chia seeds may also be a win. I know several parents who have introduced this as a crunch factor on top of spreads on toast introducing fibre and healthy fats.
Perhaps mixing ground nuts or seeds with cocoa powder helps as it introduces a chocolate flavour. Cocoa is a good source of zinc. However, cacao is more nutrient-rich if that’s okay for your child.
Any time we can add more fruit we are adding additional nutrients, fibre, and often anti-oxidants. We can do this in the form of sliced or grated fruit added to foods. Sometimes, tinned fruit is preferred. Or we can use fruit purees or mashed fruit like banana on toast.
4. Fruit – we can add to other foods or just serve as is at the table. The best way to increase the amount of fruit eaten, is to serve it more often. If fruit is not a feature of breakfast at the moment, it’s not too late to start!
Dried fruit may be easier for some children and this a great source of nutrients. It’s also perfect to have at breakfast as we can ensure our child brushes their teeth afterwards to get rid of sticky, sugary residue.
Fruit puree. Many children prefer fruit in a more liquid form and if so, there is no problem serving like this.
Fruit juice. I know this gets a lot of negative advertising, however, if our child is reluctant to eat whole fruits, fruit juice can be a positive. It enables a child to become comfortable with the taste of fruit and delivers much of the same nutrients, just without the same fibre.
I have spoken to quite a few parents recently who have found V8 juice to be a win. There are both vegetable juices and fruit/veg mixes that may be worth a whirl.
5. Cereal – adding additional toppings or fruit as discussed can be great.
We can also use something like milk kefir to add additional probiotics. Mixing a little in with regular milk doesn’t necessarily change the flavour.
6. Pancakes – are often seen as a more treaty option, however, in in their traditional form with flour, egg and milk, they are a good protein fix first thing in the morning.
We can also make many different variations of pancakes. Egg plus banana. Different flours like oat or buckwheat. Wholemeal, or partial wholemeal, can often be easier than in breads.
We can even make chicken pancakes blending it into the batter.
Snacks can be a great place to add in some slightly new foods as children are often more relaxed at snack-time.
Serving fruit and vegetables at snacks, even if not eaten provides a good learning experience.
1. Smoothies – many fussy eaters find drinking easier than eating, so smoothies can be a good option.
Adding yoghurt, or kefir introduces probiotics, essential for a healthy gut.
There are also dissolvable vitamins or fruit and veggie powders that can into the smoothie.
Smoothies are often pretty forgiving in terms of adding extras.
Many children are okay with fruit added to smoothies.
Adding vegetables can be simpler than we expect, especially if adding neutral flavoured and coloured ones, like cooked cauliflower. Other vegetables that work well in smoothies are zucchini (which can be peeled if the green is a problem), avocado and spinach. Or we can add cocoa so the colour and overriding flavour is chocolaty.
Dates or honey both have nutrients so are a better sweetener option from that point of view than sugar.
2. Baked goods – some children are fine with fruit or veggies added to muffins, cakes, or brownies. This is not a push to hide. I am anti-hiding for many reasons, however, if adding things to a food is an easier way to eat it than in its original form, that’s fine!
3. Nuts and seeds – these can make a great snack on their own as they are crunchy and dry – the usual wins for most picky eaters. They are also packed with good fats and minerals. If they don’t rock on their own, how about toasted or choc-dipped?
4. Dips – hummus is one of our 5 a day. Yoghurt makes a great dip, as does softened peanut butter or tahini.
5. Frozen fruit or vegetables – either whole, like peas, or pureed, like berries or banana can be a different but accepted snack.
There are many ways we can boost the nutrient quota in our child’s food but often dinner is a little more challenging so care should be taken to not make this a negative experience!
1. Adding veggies – doing this, for example, to tomato-based sauces or meatballs can again make it easier for a child to accept.
2. Liver – soaking in milk or vinegar can remove the distinctive taste of liver. We can then freeze and grate a little into foods like burgers or meatballs without noticing the flavour. Liver packs a big nutrient punch.
3. Linseeds – ground linseeds provide a boost of omega 3. I use them in meatballs, sauces, and burgers as a binder/thickener. They disappear nicely into the food and don’t create an unpleasant taste or texture.
4. Broth – broth again packs a huge nutritional punch. I know many parents who are able to cook rice, for example, in broth, or use as the liquid for 2 minute noodles, boosting the nutrient quantity. If you are making sauces for bolognaise, for example, adding some broth as the liquid is also a positive.
5. Herbs and spices – the herbs and spices add a good boost in a little package. Any we can add to foods are a bonus.
6. Lentils and beans – these can be a challenge for fussy eaters. They can also, often be added in small amounts without a drama. For example, I frequently add a small quantity of lentils to a bolognaise, giving a flavour boost as well.
7. Pesto – combining green herbs can be a win flavour wise for a surprising number of picky eaters and obviously is a nutrient packed offering as well.
8. Changing up veggies – frequently serving in the traditional way makes veggies less appealing for children. However, frying broccoli or roasting green beans or cauliflower, makes them far more palatable.
9. Wholegrains – upgrading rice or pasta, for example, to wholemeal rather than white is a plus. Some versions are far better than others though so please don’t road test one and gauge all the others by that. Wholemeal spelt pasta is our favourite pasta and wholemeal basmati the choice for rice.
10. Potato skins – there are more nutrients in the skins of many foods than in the filling. Scooping the flesh out of potatoes and then roasting until crispy and/or adding cheese is ideal.
I hope this has provided some inspiration and a few ideas for boosting nutrition, even in a limited diet.
If you’d like more support in getting foods eaten, please feel free to contact me.
Judith 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/