How to Raise a Healthy Eater

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By Melanie Stewart

Melanie Stewart

First of all, I appreciate the questions you’ve been sending in and will do my best to cover your areas of interest. This month’s question has to do with how to raise a healthy eater. I’ve heard many parents describe their children as picky eaters who will only tolerate a very limited menu of foods.  While I understand there are some kids who suffer from texture issues, I would challenge that children eat what they are allowed to eat. When we offer children options, they choose options!

Consider the different cultures and the kids who live within those environments.  Kids in Japan typically eat vegetables, fish and seaweed; kids in India eat vegetables and lentils; in Korea, kimchi (pickled vegetables); children in Africa eat local fruits and vegetables, cassava and millet; Middle Eastern children are raised eating local fruits and vegetables, hummus and barley.  By contrast, many American kids are sustained on sugar laden cereals, pb&j, chicken nuggets, mac n’ cheese, pizza and hot dogs.

Now consider this:  A study revealed that beggars in India showed less nutritional deficiency than our American teens because despite the fact that they may not get a lot of food, the food they eat is real while our children are consuming an abundance of garbage. Among our children and adolescents, 33% are overweight and a staggering 75% meet the definition of malnourished.

When it’s time to introduce solid foods, make it easy! Babies don’t demand variety so you don’t need to plan elaborate menus.  A perfect first food is avocado.  This incredibly nutritious fruit contains 20 vitamins and minerals, heart healthy fat, powerful antioxidants and has a mild and soft flavor and texture that babies love.  With the exception of cereal (rice or wheat), which I would not introduce until 12 months or later, there is no evidence to support a specific order for introducing new foods. However, it is important to introduce only one new food every 2 – 7 days so that you can determine if your child has a reaction to it.

For my weaning menu, I began with avocado followed by other soft fruits like bananas or cooked apples. Blending sweet fruits with avocado can help maintain better blood sugar balance and discourage developing a sweet tooth. Next I introduced soft-cooked vegetables like steamed broccoli and carrots, followed by healthy starches like baked yams or potatoes and finally easy proteins (eggs, fish, yogurt, or cottage cheese).  As they got teeth, I introduced thinly sliced meat or meatballs made from ground beef, chicken, or turkey.

As the baby transitions to toddler, again keep it simple, nutritious and easy to digest. I suggest limiting meals to only 2 categories and pairing them as follows:

  • When consuming fruit, the companion food is either a specific healthy fat (avocado, coconut milk/cream or nut butter) or fermented protein (kefir, yogurt or cottage cheese).
  • When consuming starch (pasta, potato, rice or bread), the companion food is a specific healthy fat (avocado, butter or olive oil) and vegetables.
  • When consuming animal protein the companion food is always vegetables.
  • When consuming legumes (beans, lentils, peas), the companion food is whole grains (quinoa, sprouted grain toast, rice), healthy fat (butter or olive oil) and vegetables. Fun fact: combining legumes with whole grains creates a complete protein.

Avoid, reject or, at the very least, delay the introduction of refined foods particularly foods high in sugar. Remember, no baby is born knowing all that’s available to eat! They know only what their parents provide and, more importantly, they notice what you model. So make sure you’re eating healthy too!

Melanie Stewart has written 2 books for children (Yum Tum, Good Food is Fun! and Yum Tum, We Get it Done!) and one for adults (Yum Tum For Everyone!) all available on Amazon or at: https://www.yumtumnutrition.com/ All content is commentary or opinion and is protected under Free Speech laws. It’s not meant to give individual medical advice or to make any health claims on the prevention or curing of diseases.