My 12 year old daughter doesn’t care for meat. She isn’t a vegetarian on principle or anything and she will eat some meat, but how many ways can one busy working mom come up with to cook chicken and ham? How can I keep her diet balanced and get her the nutrients she is lacking by not eating meats?
Every parent wants their child to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Unfortunately, many adults don’t eat balanced and nutritious meals themselves, so they don’t often serve nutritious foods to their children. Most children are capable of eating and enjoying nutritious foods — if only their parents would serve them. And even if they refuse the good foods that parents offer, studies show that eventually (perhaps after as many as 15 attempts), children’s taste buds will develop and mature, and they will accept and even enjoy them.
Think of “balanced” as eating a little bit from each important food group, providing healthy carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; proteins in meats, legumes, nuts and nut butters, eggs, and dairy; and fats in dairy, lean meats, nuts, eggs, and some plant oils. Keep all foods as real and unprocessed as possible; nature provides us with all we need to live and thrive healthfully. Food “products” (i.e. not real foods) come in packages (usually made from plastic) with lists of ingredients that belong in your child’s chemistry lab, not in their body. While it’s practically impossible in our society to only eat real foods, we all should do our best to do so.
I know that you serve your daughter mostly real foods. I also know that your daughter has been growing beautifully since she was a baby — the progress on her growth chart has been stellar! I would suggest serving her lean meats you can identify easily as real. (I know where steak comes from, but a hot dog? Salami and pepperoni? Some chicken nuggets? These meat products are heavily processed and should be eaten sparingly.) If your daughter eats good quality meats, then great. If she doesn’t, then great too! There are other sources of healthy protein she enjoys and gets plenty of, and other sources of the same vitamins and minerals she can receive from other foods. For very picky eaters, pediatricians may recommend a multivitamin supplement to complete a limited diet and reassure parents. Of course, the consensus is that practically all of us living in northern climates should be taking a daily vitamin D supplement, since we don’t get enough natural sunlight on our skin every day of the year.
It’s easy to think that all children in the United States have the same access to a balanced and nutritious diet. But good, real food costs money — often more than the processed food products packaged and often marketed to kids. And sometimes children and their families find themselves trapped in food deserts where nutritious foods can be hard to find. We’ll explore that tomorrow.
***Do you have a non-urgent, clinical or otherwise (but nothing personal!) question for your Pediatric Alliance doctor or provider? Send an email with your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer them and post them on The PediaBlog. You don’t have to include your child’s name, but an idea of their age is helpful. Also, please include the name of the division you go to and your doctor’s or provider’s name.
Ask us anything! (But, please, no urgent or semi-urgent questions — we may not get to your question right away. If your child is sick, or you have acute concerns, please call our offices and speak with our triage staff.)