If you're unhappy with your children's eating habits, you're not alone. Whether they're turning up their noses at the peas on their high chairs or sucking down Slurpees at the mall instead of eating the school lunches you packed for them, most kids are downright defiant when it comes to food.
To make up for your little ones' preferences for cookies over cauliflower, you may be relying on multivitamins and fortified cereals. That way, picky eaters can still get most of the nutrients they need without your having to force-feed them, says Jennifer Collins, a registered dietitian and owner of Leading Lady Fitness in Pompano Beach.
And that means fewer children in the United States are clinically deficient in the recommended nutrients, with the exception of iron. Yet the National Cancer Institute reports that only 1 percent of children between ages 2 and 19 get the intake of grains, vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy that the USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommends.
Although it's a good idea to give kids the nutritional safety net that multivitamin supplements and enriched foods provide, Collins, the mom of Delaney, 2, and Donovan, 5, says that vitamins and minerals found naturally in foods are more readily absorbed and used by the body.
To find out which nutrients our kids are most likely to be lacking in their diets, we consult with Josee Derrien, a registered dietitian in Boca Raton. She says the usual suspects are calcium, iron, fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamin E.
There is no need to screen your child's blood for nutrient deficiencies unless a doctor or registered dietitian recommends it, Collins says. But you can do some simple meal planning and add new recipes to your repertoire to ensure your child gets them.
Here we offer a guide to each of these nutrients. Then we tell you which food sources are best and offer nutrient-rich recipes. These are for dishes you can tuck into your child's school lunch.
Don't expect changes overnight. What your child eats over the course of a week matters more than his or her day-to-day consumption. Most kids need to try a new food at least 10 times before they acquire a taste for it.
Why kids need it: Calcium helps build strong, healthy bones; assists in nerve transmission; facilitates muscle contraction; and aids in hormone release.
Why they may lack it: Your child may need more calcium if he or she chooses sodas, sports drinks and other beverages instead of calcium-rich milk. These not only lack calcium, but phosphoric acid found in soda can actually limit calcium absorption. Some teenagers who avoid milk fat due to weight concerns are more prone to osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis (teenage girls in particular) and are often low in calcium intake. And children who follow a vegan diet tend to be low in this nutrient.
Recommended daily intake: 800 milligrams for kids ages 4 to 8; 1,300 milligrams, ages 9 to 18.
Sources: Milk (300 milligrams per 8-ounce glass); yogurt (225 milligrams per 6-ounce serving); cheese (300 milligrams per 1.5-ounce slice); and fortified soy milk (80 to 500 milligrams per 8-ounce glass).
Our lunch box suggestion: Bone-Building Lasagna contains plenty of calcium in the tofu, cheeses and whole-wheat noodles. A serving of it contains 181 milligrams calcium, or 18 percent of the daily value.
Pack a slice of the lasagna in a small, reuseable container with carrot sticks, your child's favorite dip and an insulated container of unsweetened herbal ice tea. This is a particularly good for kids who don't like milk.
Why kids need it: Iron makes up hemoglobin in the blood, which carries oxygen to all of the body's cells.
Why they may lack it: If he or she avoids red meat; has been diagnosed with anemia or consumes too much calcium, which can block iron absorption.
Recommended daily intake: 10 milligrams for kids ages 4 to 8; 8 milligrams, ages 9 to 13; 11 milligrams for boys ages 14 to 18; and 15 milligrams for girls ages 14 to 18.
Sources: Lean beef (2.5 milligrams in 3 ounces), canned tuna (1.3 milligrams in 3 ounces); edamame (9 milligrams per cup), cooked dried beans (4.4 milligrams per cup) and spinach (3.2 milligrams per ½ cup cooked spinach).
Our lunch box suggestion: A serving of Not Your Ordinary Spinach Salad contains 5.5 milligrams iron, or 30 percent of the daily value. We suggest you pack it in the lunch box with an 8-ounce container of orange juice. The vitamin C from the juice will aid absorption of the iron. Also pack a slice of whole-grain bread and pat of butter. This lunch is particularly good for children who don't eat meat.
Why kids need it: Those who don't consume enough fiber increase their risks of developing certain cancers, diabetes, digestive disorders and heart disease.
Why they may lack it: If he/she allows fruits, vegetables and whole-grains to take a back seat to chips, cookies and other simple carbohydrates or is routinely constipated.
Recommended daily intake: Children ages 4 to 18 should get 5 more grams fiber than their age.
Sources: Cauliflower (3.5 grams per cup); raspberries (8.5 grams per cup); sweet potato with skin (3 grams); broccoli (4.5 grams per cup); and whole-grain oats (4 grams per cup cooked oats).
Our lunch box suggestions: A Fiber-tastic Burger, which contains 4.5 grams fiber, or 18 percent of the daily value. Pack it with bread or roll (preferably whole grain, which will add about 3.2 grams fiber), a bag of baked sweet potato chips and a container of cold, low-fat soy milk. The burger can be put on the roll and eaten as is or microwaved for 10 to 15 seconds.
Why kids need it: Potassium is essential for proper kidney function, for regulating blood pressure and for muscle contraction.
Why they may lack it: If his or her vegetable and fruit intake consists predominantly of fries or salt consumption is very high.
Recommended daily intake: 1,600 milligrams for kids ages 4 to 8; 2,000 milligrams for kids ages 9-18.
souRces: A banana (500 milligrams); baked potato with skin (700 milligrams); and broccoli (500 milligrams).
Our lunch box suggestion: A serving of Peanut Butter Banana Dogs packs 613 milligrams potassium or 18 percent of the daily value. Pack them with, low-fat milk and baked soy chips.
Why kids need it: Magnesium is important role in the production and transportation of energy and the contraction/relaxation of muscles.
Why they may lack it: If he or she avoids green vegetables, nuts, fish and other magnesium-rich fare.
Recommended daily intake: 130 milligrams for kids ages 4 to 8; 240 milligrams, ages 9 to 13; 360 milligrams for girls ages 14 to 18; and 420 milligrams for boys ages 14 to 18.
Sources: Spinach (150 milligrams per cup cooked spinach); almonds (80 milligrams per ounce); raw pumpkin seeds (180 milligrams per ¼ cup) and halibut (120 milligrams per 4 ounces).
Our lunch box suggestion: Add a serving of this heavy-on-magnesium Energy-Boosting Trail Mix to any lunch and you add 62 milligrams magnesium or 15.5 percent of the Daily Value. We recommend you include it in a lunch box with a roast turkey sandwich, an apple and a sport-top bottle of water.
Why kids need it: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.
Why they may lack it: If he or she eats a very low-fat diet due to weight concerns.
Recommended daily intake: 7 milligrams for kids ages 4 to 8; 11 milligrams, ages 8 to 13, and 15 milligrams, ages 14 to 18.
Sources: Sunflower seeds (6 milligrams per ounce), peanut butter (3 milligrams per 2 tablespoons) and almonds (7 milligrams per ounce).
Our lunch box suggestion: This E-xcellent Sandwich will help your child fulfill his or her dietary needs for vitamin E by adding 5.4 milligrams vitamin E (8 IU) or 27 percent of the daily value. Pack it with a banana and water flavored with fresh lemon. This is a great way to get vitamin E without getting a lot of fat.