Have you ever thought about if your kids are getting enough nutrition in their diets? You know, the good stuff like leafy greens and quality fruits, vegetables, meats and nuts? I’m always thinking about this. My son has always been a bit on the skinny side for his age so nutrition is at the forefront of my mind.
And of course, when you enter the “I will only eat tan colored food phase,” life tends to get a little interesting. He’s not going to starve if he only eats milk and cheese and crackers and bread, but his nutrition won’t be all the optimal either.
Funny thing is that when kids become nutrient deficient, you can start to see some behavioral issues creep into play. This is especially daunting when you are parenting through the toddler years. There is simply no need to exacerbate unruly behavior with poor nutrition.
If your kids refuse green vegetables, here are a few ways to nip bad nutrition in the bud:
Cut back on the cow’s milk.
Kids toddler-aged and above can run into problems if they drink too much cow’s milk (more than 24 ounces a day) and eat fewer iron-rich foods, like red meat and green leafy vegetables.
It’s common for toddlers to fill up on milk (which has no iron) and then not have an appetite for any other nutrient-rich foods. The problem is that if your toddler overdoes it on milk (or eats too much of any one food), she may end up missing out on iron. Cow’s milk is a very poor source of iron. Truth be told, cow’s milk actually makes it harder for the body to absorb iron.
Make an iron-rich smoothie.
Leafy greens are a great source of iron (spinach and kale are my favorites). Combine a source of iron with Vitamin C and you increase the likelihood of absorption! We started offering spinach smoothies several times a week for our toddler. It’s not the only way to help kids get enough vegetables, but if you are struggling, there is nothing wrong with using a back door option.
I like to keep things very simple for sanity’s sake. Truth: Busy moms don’t have a lot of time to spend making a complicated concoction in the kitchen with ingredients only found at obscure grocery stores.
Here is my favorite go-to Fruit N’ Spinach smoothie:
- 2 cups leaf spinach
- 1 cup frozen fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)
- 2 ounces 100% juice of choice
- 1/2 cup water
Blend in a blender until smooth. Piece of cake! This usually makes enough for two smoothies.
Try your darndest to include other iron-rich foods at mealtime.
Preventing iron-deficiency is so important when it comes to avoiding long-term behavioral and learning issues related to nutrition. Iron deficiency has been found to lead to lower IQ and poor thinking and problem-solving abilities in children. Even iron deficiency less severe than anemia has been associated with poorer memory and thinking skills. (Source)
So while I’m a big fan of the spinach smoothie, it’s still important to offer quality nutritional foods at meals. You may only get a “one try bite” but we must take baby-steps. Right?
Good sources of iron include:
- Prunes and prune juice
- Peanut butter
- Beans (black, kidney, lime, pinto)
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens, kale, and broccoli
- Oatmeal or cream of wheat
- Enriched breads, pastas, and cereals
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
Serve these alongside foods or drinks rich in vitamin C (tomatoes, broccoli, orange juice, strawberries, etc.), which improves the body’s absorption of iron.
Wrapping it up.
Keeping our kids eating healthy amounts of iron-rich foods can have a lasting effect on behavior and development. So whether you have to use the back-door method and try a spinach smoothie or you can incorporate more iron-rich foods in your diet, every bit is worth your while. It will help keep you sane as a parent and help keep your kids growing up strong and healthy, just as nature intended.
Want more on toddlers?
- Teaching Toddlers to Love Healthy Eating
- 9 Phrases That Change Life with a Toddler
- Toddler Anxiety? 3 Strategies That Really Work
What do you do if your kids refuse green vegetables? Let’s chat in the comments!
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