Our nutritionist Jane answers some frequently asked questions from parents regarding allergies, nutrition and mealtimes.
1. My child is allergic to cow’s milk, can you recommend foods which are high in calcium or good alternatives to cow’s milk?
Although dairy produce is the main source of calcium in low of children’s’ diets, it is not the only source. Tinned fish, dark green leafy vegetables, sesames seeds, tahini and some nuts like hazelnuts, almonds and brazil nuts are also a good source. Lots of breads and cereals are now fortified with calcium, but take care that they are not loaded with sugar.
For children with a cow’s milk allergy, there are plenty of alternatives available. Look out for rice milk, almond milk or coconut milk.
2. Salt content is my child’s food is a major concern for me. What should I be looking out for and is a little salt ok or is all salt bad for children?
Children only need a little salt. Once they get past weaning and onto the stage of eating what the rest of the family are having, their salt intake tends to increase. Homemade food tends to have less salt than processed and packaged food, healthy snacks like carrot sticks and houmous are preferable to crisps and keep the salt cellar off the dinner table. The recommended salt intake varies by age:
1 to 3 years – 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
Check all food labels, and given the choice, choose the lower salt option.
3. I like to give my child lots of fruit at snack times however I have heard that this can be bad for a child due to high sugar content, can you advise fruits to stay away from or limit and fruits which are lower in sugar
Look for fruit that grows in a temperate climate like we have here in the UK. So think apples, pears, plums, berries, cherries, kiwi, rather than tropical fruit or dried fruit, which tends to be higher in sugar. Of course, it is important to keep a perspective on this – if your child is eating fruit rather than biscuits and sweets, that is much better. Aim for a maximum of 2-3 portions of fruit a day and get them to chomp on carrot sticks, red pepper sticks or sugar snap peas as an alternative snack.
4. I find it very hard to get my toddler to eat regular meals, do you have any tips for encouraging them to eat more regularly rather than little and often?
It is likely that your child is not hungry at mealtimes if they have been filling up on snacks throughout the day. Regular mealtimes are important for developing good habits, like sitting at a table, using a knife and fork and social skills as well as good nutrition.
Make sure your child’s portions are right for them as snacking could be a sign of hunger. Offer healthy snacks, or smaller portions of meals like soups, porridge and leftovers for snacks to ensure they are getting good nutrition.
5. My baby has eczema on her elbows and knees, can you recommended any foods which might be good for helping to keep this at bay and not irritate it?
Good fats from oily fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines, nuts and seeds, avocado and olive oil could be helpful. Some people find using a good probiotic helps with children’s eczema, so have a chat with staff in your local health food shop and they can recommend an appropriate one for her.