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Feeding the picky eater


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Hi all,


I am looking for suggestions for getting protein and iron into my picky eater. She would prefer to be a vegetarian but will eat some chicken and fish. That helps with the protein but not so much the iron. She does like raw spinach but can only eat so much of that. She is game to try new things in theory, but it is challenging to find new foods that she actually likes--for example she knows that if she's not eating meats it would be good to incorporate legumes into her diet, but she hates the texture.


We are pretty healthy eaters and my dd (11) is conscientious about eating well. She happily eats most fruits, quite a few veggies, and cheese. But I'm feeling severely limited by her current food preferences. She seems especially open at the moment to trying some new things, so I'd appreciate any suggestions.


Of course, with her dance schedule, we do a lot of eating on the go, so packable options are especially appreciated.



Edited by threegirlpileup
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My dd will only eat a bit of white meat chicken... so she drinks a TON of milk, yogurt. I also pack peanuts for snacks. Some of the granola bars have added protein, that might be a good option for one the go.

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Both my DD (9) and myself are vegetarian. I'm no expert, of course, but I've done some homework over the years. Most dark, leafy greens are good iron sources and can be easily mixed in with other foods (think Florentine style frittata). Some beans and legumes are as well, such as lentils, chick peas, and black beans. If your DD doesn't like the texture of beans, try a different preparation. Chick peas can be roasted and get a nice, crunchy texture, similar to soy nuts. One of our favorite lunch meals is chick pea salad, made with mashed beans, a dollop of yogurt, lemon juice, a bit of minced garlic, minced celery, and shredded carrots, served just like you would tuna salad. Falafel is another good use of mashed chick peas (great served with a tzazikistyle sauce and flatbread, and/or tabbouleh, or on top of a green salad). Lentils make wonderful croquettes or faux meatloaf when mashed, and of course lentil stew is nice in cold weather. Black beans are quite versatile, as a soup, burger, or refried beans. For an iron rich breakfast, there are plenty of fortified cereals available, but a bowl of oatmeal with chopped dried fruit is a nice change. To boost absorption of plant based iron sources, try to incorporate vitamin C in the meals.


Protein is rarely the problem that most people assume it is when you don't eat meat. Protein is in a lot of the foods we eat - every glass of milk has about 8 grams, around 20% the RDA for the average person. Even a potato has about 4-5 grams of protein.

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My dd will make smoothies and put her spinach in there. You can't even taste it. Another great source for protein and iron is quinoa. My dd really enjoys that for a lot of her meals. Other great options for protein are greek yogurt (14g/container), nut butters, and of course beans...

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Just a side note, raw spinach (and dark green leafy high in oxalic acid) effectively blocks the absorption of calcium. And dairy in larger quantities (milk with every meal) blocks the absorption of iron. I personally suffered from milk induced anemia as an adolescent because I drank milk (two glasses) with every meal. I second the quinoa! I have one that does not like meat and one that does not like veg and they both love quinoa!


Broccoli has lots of calcium! We eat lots of that instead of milk.

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I will weigh in here since my DD and I have been to a nutritionist, specifically for dancers. First, I highly recommend going to one to find out your daughters' specific needs, as everyone is an individual and should seek a professional before changing things. One of the best things we ever did. But I will say that the nutritionist said you could eat lots of spinach, since it is so healthy and so low in calories. She did not mention that spinach blocked that absorption of calcium that I can remember, but perhaps like everything else, moderation is key.


I love the ideas that tldx gave -in fact - I have never roasted chick peas, but just may try that!

My DD was a very picky eater when she was younger, and still is to an extent to this day. One thing the nutritionist did say is to find those healthy items that you do like and stick with them. She also said you do not have to eat meat to get protein. My daughter very seldom eats meat and never eats fish, and my husband has been a vegetarian for over 20 years. We do eat a lot of tofu - my husband has become an excellent cook and prepares it wonderfully, so it has a crispy texture. She also said to stay away from processed foods, which of course can be difficult on the go, but really not that hard if you are disciplined. So instead of the bars, you can grab a portion of natural granola for a snack and add the raisins, fruit, or nuts yourself.


She emphasized you can never have too much fruit and vegetables! Baby carrots, celery, any snack sized portions are great on the go. Grapes, strawberries, blueberries also easy. Greek yogurt was our nutritionists' preference. Not telling you anything you don't already know. These are things my picky daughter loves. So this was an easy add to her daily intake. Also, grains! You need 5 servings a day of grains, and that is the hardest thing to get! Whole wheat pasta (which is just like regular really), quinoa, brown rice, - all very bland, and great sources of grains.


One of the nutritionists' favorite items is kale. This is the hardest thing to put in a diet as far as I'm concerned, but it is essential. 2 recommendations: chop it up very fine, or blanch it very slightly in your recipe. This will help reduce the bitterness and chewiness or lack thereof. I will tell you (although I am not a professional and don't really want to advise) that the nutritionist said it is important what and when you eat prior to class to fuel your body, and just as important what and when you eat after a class. Since your daughter is only 11, again, I would seek one out with experience with dancers to get the proper balance for your child. Remember, it's not a 'diet' at all, it is a lifestyle and way of eating that is important.

I feel like this was sort of a ramble, so I apologize. But I hope I have offered some help -even a little!

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If you have dance friends who also have the same problem, you can work with them to share a meal every now and again before they go away. I've found that over time, children have not been taught the same manners we were years ago, that if you go to someone else's home for dinner you don't spend your time discussing what you won't eat but instead enjoy the meal prepared for you as best you can. Anything else would insult the cook. I'm amazed at the number of my kids friends we have over who will say "I don't eat that" and then look at you as if you are to prepare a brand new meal for them or expect you to then go order them pizza or such. My kids know that if you don't like it, you make yourself something from the pantry.


Sometimes a picky eater is picky for mom but then when someone else cooks, they put their guard down and try things they would never try at home. Case in point, children who told me they didn't like mayonnaise or anything that looked like mayonnaise until they went to spend the weekend with a dance teacher who prepared Chicken Salad. (exactly same recipe as I make mind you) Same with the dance teacher who made Seafood Gumbo for the picky eater who doesn't like things with tomatoes in them. But, Ms. Susie made the best Shrimp Gumbo (yep, okra, tomatoes were in that empty bowl). It then became, I don't like mayonnaise "on" things but it's okay "in" things.


We are doing something right now with DD3 who is pretty picky. We are finding a new recipe to try on Pinterest each weekend or so. She helps me with the preparations. And the weekend meal must have at least one "new" item in it that is new to at least one of us. She doesn't have to eat it all, but she must at least try it without that 5 minute long "ick" session it normally took for her to try it. So far, we've figured out she LOVES Kale, Bok Choy and Tofu as long as it's in something with a strong flavor. She figured out that she like Lentils in a soup but not alone. But Brussel Sprouts had a resounding NO! And I don't have to eat the same old same old every week any longer. I was sick of Broccoli and Steamed Green Beans, her only vegie loves until then. This has helped her and it's helped me too.


*roasted, seasoned Chick peas were a hit at our house also.

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One of our members who is not a parent so can't write on this thread mentioned to me:


"If there is a good South Asian grocery store nearby, you can get roasted chickpeas with a bit of seasoning on them. Just ask for Roasted Chana. It's good."

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