Play With Your Food

Written by Dr. Susanne Booth for the Brattleboro Reformer October 24, 2014.

Children's brains are learning things incredibly fast and need the best nutrition to work properly; yet children are often the most likely to eat a nutrient poor diet. They become very picky eaters, mostly wanting simple carbohydrates and sugary foods. They bypass colorful vegetables that provide necessary vitamins and minerals for brain development.

One reason that children might become picky eaters is that most infants first get exposure to simple carbohydrates and fruit. Rice cereal and bananas are often first foods for babies, and often make up a large portion of their diet. They do get vegetables but these may be overcooked in order to be soft to mash up.

I believe that if instead of simple carbohydrates and lots of fruit, lightly steamed vegetables and egg yolks were the first tastes babies experienced, they might grow up to like a larger variety of food. These could even be prepared with some olive oil and seasonings to provide a wider variety of flavors.

As toddlers grow and start to learn to have some independence, they often will stop eating certain foods. This can add stress to a parent's life as they start making different meals for different people in the family. Ellen Satter, a registered nutritionist and family therapist, has a great website, www.ellensatterinstitute.org, where she describes the division of responsibility that could wisely occur when feeding infants, children, and teens.

Parents are responsible for what an infant eats in that they provide healthy choices. The infant is responsible for how much and when. As the infant grows and begins eating more, it is still the responsibility of the parent to provide the nutrient-rich food and the child's choice on how much and whether or not they eat.

If children are given varied, healthy food choices, they will eat; children will not go hungry. However, they may hold out for a while trying to get something they think tastes better, like simple carbohydrates. The parents' job is to keep providing nutrient rich foods.

This is when getting children to help in the kitchen, garden, or at the grocery store or farmer's market may be helpful. They learn to take some ownership of what they eat. Parents can try to make food more fun by encouraging children to play with their food and use the various colors of vegetables to make fun meals.

Children who have autism, attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder, and learning disabilities may benefit from high nutrient food to help detox various toxins from their developing brains. However these children are often the ones that are most likely to select to eat very limited diets. Allowing them to play with their food and slowly introducing more vegetables may improve their overall eating patterns. It may take many months to get change to occur but it can potentially contribute to important positive changes in their development.

Susanne Booth is a naturopathic physician, physical therapist, and certified professional midwife. For more information, contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic at 802-722-4023; 4923 U.S. Route 5, Westminster, VT.

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