Help! My toddler won’t eat meat
If your little kids won’t eat meat, you might be worried they’re not getting enough protein.
The truth is, it’s actually the other nutrients that you need to consider.
Recent research by Deakin University showed Melbourne infants were consuming twice the recommended intake of protein. This study focused on 9 month olds, but previous research, from the same team, showed 18 month-olds to 5 year-olds were also getting 2 to 3 times more protein than they needed.
So, if protein is not the problem, what else could they be missing out on if they are refusing to eat meat? The main nutrient is iron.
Why does your child need iron? Iron is an essential mineral involved in several bodily functions, including oxygen transport in the blood. It is really important for growth and development, which your little one does a lot of! It’s also a key player in maintaining the strength of their immune system and helps ensure their defences are ready to fight off any nasties.
How can you raise your child’s iron levels? Generally, there’s no need to rush-off to grab an iron supplement. Most little ones can get enough iron from their food. Iron is not only found in meat. It’s also abundant in plant foods.
People are often surprised to hear that my 19-month-old daughter eats very little red meat. It’s just not top-of-mind for either my wife or me as we are both non-meat-eaters. That’s not to say that my child’s diet is lacking in iron or other vital nutrients. She eats a diverse range of foods and is thriving in every possible way.
So, how do I meet my little one’s iron needs without a lot of meat? Here are my top iron-containing plant foods.
Wholegrains – Consider beefing up your meals (pun intended) with the addition of delicious wholegrains – whole wheat, spelt, oats, amaranth, quinoa and teff. These grains offer a wide range of essential nutrients, including iron. Berry muffins made with spelt flour and oats can be a tasty iron-rich snack to give your tot after a long day at childcare. Alternatively, choosing whole wheat pasta over more refined varieties is a great choice. Plus, wholegrain cereal foods are a nutritious choice as they’re also higher in protein and dietary fibre than other options.
Iron-fortified cereal – Look for cereals that are fortified with iron and contain wholegrains. The newest edition on the shelves is Weet-Bix Little Kids Essentials, which is high in iron. It has been created especially for little ones and contains nine essential vitamins and minerals. So, you can rest assured that your tot is getting a good whack of iron, as well as other vitamins, before they leave home in the morning for a busy and active day ahead.
Legumes – Peas, beans of all varieties, lentils and chickpeas are excellent sources of iron as well as protein. Try adding to their favourite pasta sauces, soups, homemade baked beans, mashed or even using in dips like hummus. The choices are endless. And most importantly, your toddlers are bound to enjoy them!
Nuts and seeds – They may be small in size, but they punch well above their weight in the nutrition stakes. Nuts and seeds are a rich source of iron and protein, manganese, vitamin E, phosphorous, calcium, folate and fibre. For little ones its best to start them on seed and nut butters and pastes. Choose those without added salt and try stirring into their brekkie cereal, adding to smoothies, spreading on apple slices, or adding to muffins.
Other notable mentions include tofu, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and tempeh.
Dietitian’s Tip: Pair iron-rich plant foods with foods that contain vitamin C to absorb more iron. That’s as easy as adding berries (vitamin C) to a bowl of cereal (iron), red capsicum (vitamin C) to a tofu stir fry (iron), lentils (iron) to a tomato pasta sauce (vitamin C).
Meeting your little ones’ iron requirements without needing to rely on much meat is achievable and easy with the abundance of iron-rich plant-based foods. With iron-rich foods like cereal among the mix, there’s sure to be a meal even the fussiest toddler will devour.
So, you can have confidence that your toddler is still getting what they need even when meat is not a regular mealtime feature.