Mealtimes for our preemies. I already feel myself taking a deep breath. Such a sensitive topic. Not much puts me on the defense faster than talking about my child and how or what he eats. For many, meal time isn’t easy. You may have a child who is a picky eater, a child who doesn’t eat, a child with texture preferences, a child who eats tiny amounts at each meal, a child who is never hungry, a child who cries through every meal, vomits following every meal, or, insert your struggle here. There is an endless list of feeding related difficulties, and no two struggles are the same. One of the fastest ways to feel isolated as a preemie parent is to discuss food and eating habits with people who don’t get it. I get it, and I will still attempt to tread lightly.
We know that good nutrition is important for everyone, especially for our preemies. We get lots of advice about breastfeeding if possible, and what formulas to use if they’re needed. Pediatricians often give clear guidelines about when to begin pureed foods and which ones to start with. But when it comes to nutrition as our little ones grow, we are often left to figure it out on our own. Choosing nutritionally sound foods is vital early on. The first years provide the foundation for overall development. The brain is developing at it’s most rapid rate during the third trimester (severely shortened for many preemies) and the first two years of life. This is time you cannot get back or make up for later. Studies show that permanent cognitive delays can result when nutrition deficiencies occur early in life.
How do you meet your child’s nutritional needs while ensuring mealtime doesn’t turn into a painful experience for everyone? First, please don’t stress. Truly. Please don’t stress at meal times. Your child feels that stress and that pressure. I’ve been there. I know it is a difficult spot to be in, but I promise, worry and stress are not going to change a thing. Second, find a way to focus on what you can do, and on each little success. I like the idea of adopting a mealtime mantra. Something to think about as you prepare meals and feed your little one. This one from Marc Chernoff spoke to me: “Think big. Start Small. One bite of the elephant at a time.” You could even shorten it to, “One bite at a time.” Do the best you can in this moment. If your child eats a bite or two at each meal, make it the best bite or two you can.
We get the most out of each bite by choosing the right foods. Healthy foods. Fresh foods. Foods needed for development. Foods for strong bodies and strong brains. Foods that boost immune systems. Foods that promote healthy weight gain. Figuring out where to start can be overwhelming, so let’s make it simple. Here are five foods most grocery stores will have, that will help meet the nutritional needs of your child for both brain development and healthy weight gain, and contribute to a healthy immune system. Most can be mixed with other foods and hidden if need be. Start with one, and add on as you can. That’s what I will be doing. *I am not a nutritionist or a dietician. I have researched and found this information as we’ve worked through nutrition concerns with my son. Always first seek the advice of a medical professional when making changes to your child’s diet.
Five Healthy, Brain Building, Nutritionally Dense Foods:
Avocados are one of nature’s most nutrient-rich foods.
They contain the good fats needed for healthy brain development.
They are high in fiber, promoting good digestive health.
Serve avocados fresh or mash with a favorite fruit, such as bananas, peaches, or pears.
Blueberries are high in antioxidants, health enhancing vitamins and minerals.
They are a good source of vitamin C, needed to boost the immune system and keep infections at bay.
Blueberries are also a good source of fiber, needed for good digestive health.
Serve blueberries pureed with applesauce, pears, or yogurt, add to a smoothie, or make blueberry pancakes.
Sweet potatoes are easily digested, making them a good early food for babies.
They are a good source of iron, needed for proper brain development.
They are a good source of vitamin C, needed for healthy immune systems.
Sweet potatoes are full of carotenoids, an antioxidant that helps prevent cells from being damaged and promotes good eye health.
Serve sweet potatoes pureed with cinnamon, mashed with carrots or bananas, or make sweet potato pancakes.
Nuts and nut butters are high in omega 3 fatty acids that help fight illness and promote good brain development.
They are an excellent source of protein needed for healthy weight gain.
Nuts and nut butters are a good source of fiber, needed for good digestive health.
Sprinkle ground nuts on mashed veggies, spread nut butters on pancakes, mash with bananas, make a smoothie, or stir into warm oatmeal.
Yogurt contains probiotics that help your body fight illness.
Whole fat yogurt contains good fats for brain development.
They are a good source of protein, needed for healthy weight gain.
They are a good source of calcium, needed for healthy teeth and bones.
Plain yogurt contains less sugar and you can add your own fruit for taste. Eat on its own, or use yogurt to help thin out foods such as mashed pancakes or oatmeal, or make a yogurt smoothie.
Many other foods could go on this list. Consider it a place to start; a nudge to begin thinking about how to make nutrition at mealtimes a priority. I recognize that it isn’t easy. Not all children can or will eat these foods. There are allergies to consider, food intolerances, texture issues, and simple food preferences. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to feeding our little ones. The best we can do is take it one meal at a time, one bite at a time, and make each bite count.
What ways have you found to make sure your child is getting the essential nutrients needed for good development and overall health? Any tips to share?