Protein is made up of different kinds of amino acids, and is a vital element for your child’s growth. It builds a good portion of muscles, body tissue, organs, hair and skin. We constantly hear parents complain about preschool, and sometimes school-aged children, refusing to eat meat and chicken, while others won’t eat them unless chopped up into tiny pieces and hidden in their food.
The most common reasons are:
1) The child was not gradually introduced to chunkier food after their first smoothly mashed baby food.
2) The child suffers from a certain medical ailment or digestive problem, such as food intolerance towards meat or chicken.
To overcome this:
1) First, check with your child’s doctor that there is no medical reason behind it.
2) Chewing and swallowing are skills that have to be learned and practiced for the tongue, jaws and pharynx muscles to get stronger. Like any other muscle in your body, they need practice to be strong. It is never too late to start. If you make food blended smoothly in a processor, start offering the same food with bits of chunks in it. The best way to start this is by mashing it with a fork instead. Bit by bit, make it chunkier until it doesn’t have to be mashed anymore.
3) Protein comes in so many varieties, not just meat and chicken. It is very important to vary the kinds of protein you serve your child. Some examples are:
- Poultry (including turkey, pigeon, or quail)
- Nuts and nut butter
- Broccoli, corn, mushrooms, and olives
Be open to different protein ideas such as lentil soup, chickpea dip with cucumber sticks, Egyptian besaara, a peanut butter sandwich, French toast or cheese and sweet corn on a pizza. It is important to eat different kinds as well, to get both essential and non-essential intakes of ‘complete’ protein.
4) Never give up on your child. Studies suggest trying the same food 20 times in different forms and spaced out intervals. For example, broccoli can be prepared so many ways, and paired with different food and spices. Try steamed or sautéed broccoli with your child’s favorite seasoning, or add it to pasta or soup.
5) Eat together as a family and make it an enjoyable experience. Meal times should be a pleasant social gathering, not a mission or a battlefield, and the more often you do it the easier it will become. This will also give you the chance to model healthy eating habits for your children. Your healthy habits will stick in your child’s mind long after their picky eating and fussy attitude subsides.
6) Beware of the destruction in comparing. Don’t compare your children to each other, or even yourself, when it comes to protein intake. Have you ever noticed that we usually divide the chicken into 4 quarters and give a quarter to each family member whether they’re 2 or 50? We all get the same portion and are expected to lick our plate clean! Keep in mind that each individual needs a certain portion size depending on factors like age, weight and activity level.
7) Protein is only one of the food groups that should exist on your child’s plate, so try to avoid offering too much at the expense of the other equally important items, like veggies and complex carbohydrates. Beware of giving your child too much protein as it strains immature kidneys. A rough guide to a portion of protein your child’s body needs is an average of 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per 1 kg of your child’s weight twice a day.
- One cup of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein, while one cup of milk has about 8 grams.
- One cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein, while 85 grams of meat also has 16 grams.
- A large egg contains around 6 grams of protein.
Don’t worry if a day passes without them having protein. As long as your child has no specific deficiency, they can balance their intake from one day to the next.
8) The key to all this is patience. You don’t want to force your child into eating at the expense of him eventually hating food and mealtime! Focus on winning in the long run, instead of in short term solutions. Threatening, scolding, lying, bribing, hitting or shoving would only create a short term result and isn’t the way to go. Relax and take baby steps towards a healthier life together.