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Ask an Expert: A Pediatric Dietitian Dishes on Easier Mealtimes and the Benefits of Eggs

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Parents are always looking for ways to make mealtimes more enjoyable, so we asked pediatric dietitian Bhavin Mistry for his favourite tips for families. Plus, he tells us why eggs are an excellent addition to any diet.

Family mealtimes can be some of the most joyful moments of the day for both parents and kids—but they can also be some of the most stressful. Parents often wonder how they can make things easier, whether they need to shortcut mealtime prep or adjust habits at the dinner table. They also wonder about introducing new foods, changing up the regular recipe rotation and how to manage meals for a family member with particular needs or habits. With this in mind, we spoke to Bhavin Mistry, a private home and community care pediatric dietitian, for some of his best tips and tricks for feeding your fam, including one of his most favourite sources of protein (eggs!).

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ParentsCanada: What is a pediatric dietitian?

Bhavin Mistry: A pediatric dietitian is a regulated healthcare professional who specializes in providing support for nutrition, health and well-being for children (zero to 18 years old). Pediatric dietitians are one of the most trustworthy sources of nutrition information for babies, kids and families. “Registered dietitian” is a protected title in Canada, and all dietitians must undergo vigorous education and training to be able to provide evidence-based nutrition information to the public.

PC: What is your favourite tip to give parents about feeding their families?

BM: My favourite tip to give parents/caregivers is to let kids take the driver’s seat regarding their behaviours with food and ease the pressures associated with mealtimes—keep the feeding experience positive!

PC: What kinds of concerns do you come across with clients and how do you support them?

BM: Some of the most common issues/concerns I see include children who have selective eating behaviours, challenges with establishing mealtime routines and/or schedules, guidance regarding infant nutrition and introduction to solids, supporting families with optimizing their child’s diet and addressing nutrient deficiencies, assisting with poor weight issues and ensuring adequate growth and development. I typically use a very holistic and “big picture” approach when working with clients. I like to understand all aspects of the client, including family dynamics, lifestyle habits, eating behaviours, cultural practices, etc. to ensure I provide recommendations that are realistic for my clients. I am also a client-centred practitioner, which means I work with clients to establish goals that are suitable to them and fit well into their current lifestyle. Empowering families and developing that rapport is so important for the therapeutic relationship.

PC: Parents often worry about how much their children eat. What advice can you give parents about the quantity of food their kids are eating each day?

BM: As I mentioned above, children have a certain level of control around food. The Division of Responsibility by Ellyn Satter is a useful framework that many professionals use when addressing the feeding environment at home. One major responsibility that children have is dictating the amount of food that they consume. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the job of the parents/caregivers to determine this, and doing so can cause children to experience anxiety around food and develop poor relationships with food in general. Although a child may not be consuming enough, they should always have the ability decide how much they can eat at a given moment. It is important to teach children to listen to their bodies and understand their hunger and fullness cues. This will help foster a positive relationship with food and set them up for success as they get older.

PC: It can be a challenge to get kids to try new foods. Some kids only want to eat the same things day after day. How can parents approach this issue?

BM: The number one thing that parents/caregivers should practice is a “no-pressure eating environment.” Fostering a positive eating experience that is free from pressure, guilt, chaos and negativity can have very positive, long-lasting benefits for children and their relationships with food. Allow children to explore new foods in a neutral and relaxed manner. Using this approach can ease any anxiety and stress associated with food and the overall feeding atmosphere. It is important for parents to offer new foods and allow children to decide if they want to try it or not. Developing their sense of autonomy will provide significantly more positive influences on food, feeding experiences, their overall well-being. Children should be encouraged to use their senses to investigate new foods that are offered. This opportunity allows the child to build trust with food and the individuals who prepare their food (i.e. parents/caregivers).

Another helpful strategy is to involve children in the cooking process and/or preparation of meals and recipes. Educating children about different ingredients, their purpose and how they are prepared can reduce the likelihood of them declining to try the food or recipe when it is time to eat. When they get to see how the recipe is prepared firsthand, it might ease any uncertainties children may experience about trying a new food. Kitchen and food skills are important aspects of life for every individual, so allowing children to participate in this process will further perpetuate positive relationships with food. After all, eating is a lifelong daily activity necessary for survival!

PC: Let’s talk specific ingredients. Eggs have numerous health benefits. What are some overall benefits of eggs for kids/families? When can parents introduce them to their children? What is the science behind eggs and allergies?

BM: Eggs are an excellent source of protein, which is essential for growth, development and overall functioning of the body. In addition, eggs are a fantastic source of choline which is an essential nutrient responsible for metabolism and brain development. Some other key nutrients found in eggs are vitamins A, D, E, B12, B2 (riboflavin) and folate. One egg typically has 6.5 grams of protein, so it is an easy way to add protein into your child’s diet.

Infant feeding guidelines developed by Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada recommend introducing whole eggs starting at six months of age, or as soon as your child starts eating solids. Yes, eggs are a common food allergen, however research suggests that exposing infants to eggs early on in the stages of introducing solid foods may significantly reduce the risk of an allergy developing later in life.

PC: What strategies do you suggest for introducing eggs?

BM: Since eggs are a common food allergen, I would recommend offering plain eggs without any additional ingredients added to them. That way, if you notice signs of a possible allergic reaction, you won’t be confused about which ingredients caused it. I would introduce plain eggs once, without any other foods, and monitor for any possible signs of reaction. Waiting at least 24 hours is key before offering eggs again. In addition, ensuring the eggs are fully cooked when offering to baby for the first time is crucial in order to prevent any potential food-borne illnesses.

Eggs are a very versatile food and can be prepared and served in several different ways. Eggs can be introduced in scrambled form (i.e. small and lumpy chunks), hardboiled and sliced, baked into muffin cups or cut into long, thick strips. Although pureed versions of eggs are not always palatable for babies, eggs can be offered in this form by adding formula or breastmilk and blending if desired. It is important to ensure the pieces of egg offered are the appropriate size for your baby to swallow safely. As infants mature and grow, they will develop teeth and further develop their oral-motor skills (i.e. chewing and swallowing). At this point, your child can have eggs the way you would prepare them for yourself.

PC: What are some of your favourite family-friendly egg dishes?

BM: Some of my favourite family-friendly egg dishes are as follows:

Efc - ask an expert: a pediatric dietitian dishes on easier mealtimes and the benefits of eggs

For more information and for delicious egg recipes, visit eggs.ca. 

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Bhavin Mistry, MAN, RD, is a registered dietitian based in Ontario. Bhavin graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Guelph where he majored in Child, Youth & Family. He then went off to complete an additional Bachelor of Applied Science degree, majoring in Nutrition and Food from Toronto Metropolitan University. Finally, he circled back and completed his educational journey at the University of Guelph, where he completed the Master of Applied Nutrition program in addition to his accredited dietetic practical training. Bhavin is passionate about providing the best nutrition care to children and youth and watching them grow and thrive into happy, healthy human beings!

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