We’ve reached out to Lorrie Chow, a Registered Dietitian who works at BC Children's Provincial Mental Health Metabolic Program, to answer a few questions about healthy eating.
It’s easy to feel stressed out when your children won’t eat their vegetables. But children often go through stages in taste preferences as they grow.
For now, make vegetables a regular part of your eating routine as a family. Model enjoyment of eating vegetables and eventually they’ll come around.
Read more tips about introducing new foods.
Current evidence does not yet support the use of special diets as a treatment of mental health challenges. Often diets restrict nutrients for growing children. This can make feeding difficult, especially for children with limited food preferences who may already be at a higher risk for nutrient shortages.
Here is what we know about the current evidence to help inform your choices:
- Gluten-free, casein-free diets are not recommended for treatment of autism spectrum disorder (Pediatric guidelines 2020).
- Elimination diets are not recommended in ADHD. The research continues!
If you are considering a special diet, speak with a dietitian to ensure nutritional needs are met.
Vitamins are important for your body to work well. If your child is eating a healthy diet with a variety of foods based on Canada's Food Guide, they likely won't need a supplement (aside from vitamin D through the winter).
There are some common findings of low vitamins and minerals in children with specific mental health concerns (e.g. because of medications or picky eating). It's important for a doctor or dietitian to monitor if there are concerns of major food deficiencies.
- Frequently, children are low in iron (autism spectrum disorder, ADHD) - talk to your doctor about checking, especially if your child does not eat meat products.
- Often, children are not getting enough calcium in their diet. This is especially true if dairy has been cut from the diet. See here for alternatives to dairy to keep bones strong, if your child does not take dairy products.
At the moment the evidence is not strong regarding the benefits of nutritional supplements, but if you decide to try them consider:
- Giving your child a daily multivitamin if your child is not eating a balanced diet (e.g. missing an entire food group like fruit or veggies).
- If your child is taking multiple supplements, check to make sure they aren't getting more than the recommended upper limits (UIs).
- Reminder: sometimes supplements can interact with medications, check with your physician or pharmacist.
If we're starting to work towards healthier food consumption, the place I like to start is the sugary beverages. So if they're having Frappuccinos, finding an alternative drink they enjoy that doesn't have the load of sugar that those have. Reducing juice and pop.
After that, we start getting into trying to find higher fibre grains that they might enjoy. This may be just by mixing grains. So not only whole wheat pasta, but mixing white and whole wheat pasta together so you're increasing your fibre slowly.