Q: We are very concerned over our 6-year-old grandson’s eating habits. He only eats fish sticks, chicken nuggets or pizza. We have never seen him eat a vegetable. He doesn’t take vitamins, but I don’t see how vitamins could replace real vegetables. We are concerned that even though he is a child this could affect his cholesterol in the future. Can you share your medical advice?
A: In a time where processed food is fast, easy and cheap, many children are missing out on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. While fruits are more naturally sweet, and most kids like some fruits, we are not so lucky with vegetables.
If he is not eating veggies now, try for one taste of vegetable a day for a few weeks, then two and slowly increase until he is eating five full servings per day. Right now, five full servings may seem impossible, but one taste a day is an obstacle that is easier to clear. If you start trying to achieve five vegetable servings per day with a kid who does not eat veggies, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Be creative and try making cauliflower mash instead of mashed potatoes. Yes, this actually tastes good. If he will drink fresh fruit smoothies (without sugar), try blending in a vegetable. Carrots usually mix quite easily, and small amounts of spinach can be hidden in a berry smoothie. Sweet potato mash or baked sweet potato fries are other good ideas. Cut up broccoli into small pieces, or slice the corn kernels off the cob and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Basically, do anything to make the veggies less boring to a picky eater.
Also, do not cook the veggies until they are too mushy. While some adults can like this texture, kids will likely run. If your grandson’s parents seem overwhelmed with the idea of making the veggies, try out recipes yourself and give them the recipes that taste good. To decrease fat, start by baking chicken nuggets and fish sticks rather than frying. For rushed parents, this has the added benefit of being easier to clean up. After he is OK with the baking aspect, try baked fresh chicken strips or pieces of tilapia with panko crumbs or parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. It will still be crunchy but have less salt.
Vitamins are a good idea, especially for a picky eater, though you are correct that they do not take the place of fresh fruits and vegetables. As for his cholesterol, that can be a quick finger check at the pediatrician’s office, or possibly an arm blood draw. If he has not had a screening test yet, it is not a bad idea anyway.
In the end, the eating habits children pick up now affect both their present and their future. By changing their eating habits now, you are protecting their future health.
Have a question for Dr. Blythe? Write to her at AskThePediatrician@tribune.com
Dr. Diana Blythe, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician with Pediatric Associates in Plantation. A South Florida native, Dr. Blythe was raised in Coral Gables. When she isn’t seeing patients, Dr. Blythe enjoys diving, spearfishing and cheering on the Miami Dolphins.