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What you need to know about your kid’s nutrition

Parents might be done with packing school lunches for the summer, but that doesn’t mean concerns about their child’s nutrition isn’t top of mind. It’s also really easy for parents to put their own dietary choices onto their children, which sometimes has a negative impact on their nutrition.

Registered dietitian Nishta Saxena answers some common nutrition questions to clear it all up.


Should kids eat everything on their plate?
Many parents feel they have failed when their kids’ plates are not cleared, but the best way to encourage healthy eating habits is to focus on what you’re offering. Make sure you are putting a wide variety of nutritious whole foods in front of your little ones. What they put in their mouth is ultimately up to them; autonomy in feeding children is crucial to avoiding battles, power struggles, anxiety and frustration around food. Kids will follow their appetites and letting your child be in charge of their food intake will teach them to be in touch with their appetites, hunger cues, and will ultimately lead to healthier habits in the long run.


Should kids try allergy-prone foods?
Children are resilient and we want them to be exposed to as many foods as possible as part of building a healthy immune system. The foods that are thought of as those that people develop allergies to (i.e. soy, wheat, dairy, egg, shellfish, peanut and tree nuts) are also the foods we want to give early and often. This is so the body recognizes these proteins and can think of them as friends vs. foes. In general, they are very nutritious and full of proteins, calcium, healthy fats, and fibre. Some of the foods, such as nuts and whole wheat, are great for stimulating and supporting the growth of healthy gut bacteria and for regulating gut function.


Should kids get multivitamins if they aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies?
A Health Canada report, published in 2012, found that the diets of Canadian children do contain adequate amounts of most vitamins and minerals, with the notable exception of vitamin D and calcium.

Multivitamins can supplement nutrients in your child’s diet, but shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute.

It’s important to remember  that kids can change on a daily basis. You should try and offer your little one a new food about 20 different times before you blacklist it. Even preparing food differently (i.e. cooked versus raw) can make it seem like a whole new food to your kid, and it may take a whole bunch of attempts to get them munching the newer format.

The most important thing to do is be a role model; eat the foods you want your kids to eat, sit with them, and focus on the positive. Repeat exposure and withhold judgement, anger and frustration. Change your perspective and know your child is growing and changing daily; there are many opportunities to widen their palate, so don’t give up.


Should parents feed kids low-fat foods to avoid obesity?
Kids need fats in their diets for growth, energy and brain development. Removing healthy fats from your child’s diet is not only unnecessary, but can be dangerous. Fat soluble vitamins and cognitive and nerve function are all affected by dietary fat, so including fatty fish, healthy oils, nuts, nut butters, fatty fruits (i.e. olives and avocados), and full-fat dairy are all important and nutrient-dense foods for growth and development.

Basically, there is no single food category, like fat or carbs, that affects a child’s weight. The total picture of how, when, where and with whom your child is eating impacts obesity. See a professional to have a review of how to help an obese child and use the correct non-harmful language when speaking to a child who is at risk of obesity.


Should kids be gluten-free?
A gluten-free diet may not give your child the nutrition they need. Unless your child has been diagnosed with intolerance like celiac disease, there is no need to cut gluten out of their diet. Some whole foods, such as 100% rye bread, spelt, barley, and 100% whole wheat products are excellent pre-biotic foods, and they don’t need fillers, binders, and emulsifiers that many non-gluten containing products require to make.


Is it OK to remove milk from a child’s diet?
Your child can be healthy with or without dairy. The key myth here is that only the animal the milk comes from needs to consume it. There are many foods in a modern diet that can be included or removed, and you can still be healthy. Milk products can be a great source of phosphorous, protein, CLA, calcium, and vitamin D for kids, and many children love the flavour, texture and taste. However, some may have allergies to the proteins in milk products or severe intolerances. In this case, parents should look at non-dairy sources and foods rich in the same nutrients, such as canned salmon, white beans, certain cooked leafy greens, tofu, etc…

Removing dairy or any other food from a children’s diet should only be done after consulting a health professional.