Sometimes children rarely eat meat or refuse animal foods altogether. What should parents do in this situation? Pediatrician Elena Motova tells about it.
Children’s dislike of meat is an omen of our days. I do not remember that in my childhood someone had an aversion to it. Meat was then terribly scarce, so the product is expensive and coveted. Now the situation has changed: more and more parents are complaining that children refuse it or eat it very reluctantly …
The child does not like meat
I quote one of the moms, who consulted with me on this burning question: “Do children have to eat meat? Can it be replaced by something? What to do if the child categorically refuses to eat meat dishes?” And another: “My junior in high school – an active and active child, the results of a recent medical examination showed that she is healthy, height and weight also consistent with age. She eats only fruits and vegetables, white bread, macaroni, chocolate, cookies, and nuts. Everything else from under the stick or occasionally, i.e. there are times when she can eat for a week and ask for fish, chicken, etc. But it’s so rare!”
Let’s listen to the children’s motivation: “When I was little, I refused to eat meat because I was too lazy to chew it for so long.” The girl is not alone in this; often children dislike the form rather than the content of the food.
The benefits of animal food
Meat contains complete protein, which is well digested and is the basic building material of cells, iron in optimal form for digestion and zinc. It is with proteins that growth and development are associated, they work enzymes and hormones, special proteins – immunoglobulins – provide an immune response, i.e. recognize and neutralize foreign objects for us. Iron is necessary for hematopoiesis, it is an essential part of hemoglobin (the carrier of oxygen to the cells), zinc is necessary for the formation and development of intellectual abilities.
Many of us know about these beneficial properties of animal food, so the main reason for parents whose children rarely or little, in their opinion, eat meat, is that the child will not get something valuable and important.
I always say that if a child doesn’t eat something, don’t force it, don’t coax it, don’t cram it in. And especially don’t replace meat with surrogates, just so that the child would eat something. I remember one mother of a one and a half year old boy, who complained with tears in her eyes that her son ate only sausages from meat, and only for TV. It is amazing that such a little person not only knows how to turn on the TV, but also that he buys sausages in the store himself.
A child who is reluctant to eat meat may like other animal products, such as milk and its derivatives, eggs, and occasionally consume meat, poultry or fish in small amounts. There should be no problems with protein and iron. Even if a child eats meat (fish, poultry) not every day, but only occasionally or periodically, it does not mean that there is anything wrong with it. Iron in the body is stored in a depot, and it takes a few months for these reserves to be depleted. If your child is healthy and active, there is nothing to worry about.
Children who give up meat, fish, and poultry completely should be offered other foods to make their diet more balanced:
milk, dairy products and eggs;
a wide choice of vegetable proteins from legumes, nuts and cereal products, their combinations and combinations as part of one meal or one meal, as is customary in traditional cuisines that do without meat;
Plant sources of iron (those same grains, legumes, and nuts) should be eaten along with foods containing vitamin C for better iron absorption.
When supplemental iron is needed
Iron absorption, like other nutrients, is an individual thing. Some children, especially elementary school students, teenagers in a period of intense growth, girls with heavy menstruation, children-athletes, it is better to have a blood test and consult a doctor for additional iron in the form of preparations.
Parents should be alert if the child looks pale, lethargic, fatigued quickly, often catches cold, he had a desire to eat something poorly edible, his skin looks dry and flaky, deteriorating condition of the nails and hair. Go to the doctor right away! A blood test will show if the child has anemia. There are also indicators of iron transport, which reveals a hidden deficit, i.e. depleted depot reserves.
Here, nothing can be done, the child will have to take iron supplements, since you cannot restore it to normal with food alone.
In the practice of pediatricians in Western countries, where children from an early age are brought up in accordance with vegetarianism and even veganism (strict vegetarianism, which excludes all animal products), iron, vitamin and trace element deficiencies are compensated by their preparations.
Possible problem areas in strict vegetarianism:
Low intake of iron and zinc;
insufficient amounts of certain essential (not synthesized in the body) amino acids;
calcium deficiency due to exclusion of dairy products;
lack of vitamin B12, which is found only in animal products;
vitamin D deficiency due to insufficient insolation (lack of sunlight).
A doctor cannot recommend a vegan diet to a child, because excluding one or more food groups from the diet is fraught with deficiencies in a number of important nutrients. However, if a family chooses to eat this way, the child needs to be monitored by a pediatric nutritionist, special meal planning, and usually vitamins and minerals added to the food.