Ask Dr. Marla - How can I help my toddler eat better?

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on June 03, 2014

Question

How can I help my 27-month-old grandson eat better? He eats fresh fruits and most vegetables and French fries. He does not eat chicken, beef, pork or fish. His mother (my daughter) thought that by cutting down his milk he would eat more, which never worked. Any thoughts?

Answer

First, let me say how impressed I am that your grandson eats such a healthy array of fruits and vegetables (minus the French fries)! Essentially what you are concerned about is the lack of animal protein and fish. At some point, your grandson may expand his palate, so don’t be afraid to continue to offer these food groups. 

I imagine your daughter thought that limiting the milk would allow room, so to speak, for a greater variety of foods. It is true that children gain weight more slowly as they get older and can eat less, but milk is an important part of a toddler's diet. A serving of milk has eight grams of protein! 

Protein can also be obtained from a variety of sources other than animals and fish, such as:

  • Beans and lentils. One cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein. A similar size serving of chickpeas has 15 grams of protein.
  • Greek yogurt. A six-ounce serving has as much protein as a three-ounce serving of lean meat!
  • Tofu is also an excellent source of protein.
  • Eggs are another great alternative and can be disguised in myriad ways. Plus, each egg has six grams of protein. 
  • The vegetables that your grandson is eating also can be a source of protein. One cup of spinach, for example, has seven grams.
  • Almond butter is another great alternative source of protein.

Try not to pressure your grandson to eat different foods, as most experts encourage riding out food resistance. 

In researching your question, I came across some valuable tips about so-called picky eaters. One is to allow your child to become active in food preparation. 

If your grandchild likes to eat pizza, let him get involved in the preparation. You might be successful in disguising chicken along with the rest of the ingredients! 

Toddlers like to dip and spread. Offer hummus or spreadable cheese as additional protein sources. Another way to disguise protein is in a shake or smoothie where you can add peanut butter or whey protein. 

Try to offer smaller portions of chicken and fish. If your grandchild likes pasta, add small pieces to the pasta. They might go unnoticed. 

The bottom line is that your grandson has a great basis to his diet and I would encourage you to relax. Toddlers often go through different phases of food rejection and acceptance.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2014.


By Dr. Marla Shapiro| June 03, 2014

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