Helping your preschooler to get enough vitamins and minerals

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A quick look at any kids’ menu at your local family restaurant reveals the usual suspects: pizza, grilled cheese sandwich, pasta, breaded chicken fingers or nuggets (just what part of the chicken do those come from?), all with a side order of fries.

“We have to learn to be at least as smart as fast food restaurants,” says Dr. Glenn Berall, chief of paediatrics at North York General Hospital and assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. Restaurants have figured out that little kids balk at strange textures and prefer food that is easier to chew. As parents, we look to introduce our children to quality foods, but we’re thinking like adults, says Dr. Berall. “We have to remember, for example, that lean, white chicken breast meat is great for heart-healthy adults, but children need softer, fattier meat. Dark meat, for example, is much easier to chew. Just because they have teeth doesn’t mean they’re ready for tougher foods.” Add some bread crumbs to puréed ground beef and you’ve got a much softer meatball, which is more appropriate for the one- to two-year-old.

Dr. Berall says he sees 300 to 400 new patients each year who have issues around feeding. “About 50 to 60 percent of parents feel their child is a picky eater.” While some children may not be getting enough meat and alternative sources of protein, the bigger problem is achieving a balanced diet that includes all four food groups: meat and alternatives, dairy, fruit/vegetables and grains/cereals. A child who is not eating from all food groups can become deficient in iron, calcium and Vitamin D, to name three biggies.

Signs of vitamin deficiency

What does your child eat or not eat? If you know he or she is not getting the recommended amounts of dairy or vegetables, for example, speak to your doctor. By the time symptoms of a deficiency are visible, the case would be extreme. “Doctors can confirm conditionssuch as iron deficiency with a blood test, but parents’ knowledge of their child’s eating habits is the first indicator,” says Dr. Berall. Dr. Berall is a strong advocate of Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating, which in recent years has undergone a couple of makeovers. While most of us grew up with cereals and grains as the anchor to our diets, fruits and vegetables now make up the largest arc of the rainbow. That’s because we are no longer active enough to burn off all the calories gained through grains and cereals. The guide has also been updated to include more diverse and vegetarian offerings, reflecting Canada’s changing population. For instance, the grain section now specifies tortillas, bulgur and couscous, while meat and alternatives includes legumes and tofu.

Nutrition tips

  • If your child is not meeting the recommended levels of the four food groups, consider a multivitamin, but be sure to tell your child’s doctor.
  • Lock up multivitamins as you would any kind of medicine. “Children’s vitamins tend to be tasty and attractive to kids and they will eat them like candy,” says Dr. Berall. “A multivitamin overdose can require a visit or admission to the hospital.”
  • Aim for balancing your child’s diet across the course of the day. The body more efficiently absorbs nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin D in several smaller doses throughout the day.
  • A child who eats only two vegetables is still getting a balanced diet, even with a limited repertoire. “But slowly work on exposing them to other options,” says Dr. Berall.

Published in October 2010.

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