Nutrition Spotlight: Omega-3’s and DHA

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Image source: india.com

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient in the body. They are used by the body in the brain and eyes and are thought to have many disease-preventing benefits. It’s important that everyone consumes enough of them, but it is even more so for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their toddlers as they develop – especially if they are eating a vegetarian diet.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

All three of these play crucial roles in the body and can only be obtained from food. DHA is considered to be one of the most important fatty acids in the brain development of infants and toddlers. In fact, DHA is the most abundant building blocks of brain and retina tissue and adequate DHA levels have been associated with intelligence and happiness later in life. Because of this, breast milk is extremely high in DHA. But what about after breastfeeding?

The most plentiful sources of DHA are cold water fatty fish, like salmon and tuna. This can leave those wanting to raise their child on a vegetarian diet (or those who have a toddler who just doesn’t like fish!) in a tough place. Fortunately for vegetarian families, there are plenty of ways to ensure your toddler’s brain health if you prefer not to eat fish or use fish oil supplements.

While there are no common vegetarian sources of DHA, it is made in the body in small amounts during the breakdown of ALA, along with EPA. Many oils and seeds are plentiful in ALA – chia seed, flax, hempseed, walnuts, pecans, olive oil, and more. Because of this, most adult vegetarians and vegans have a low but steady level of DHA in their body.

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Image source: flickr user

For infants and toddlers with growing brains, they may need a little more. There is no established dietary reference intake for DHA specifically, but the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids suggests a total intake of 15 milligrams of DHA per pound of body weight in children over the age of 1. Many pediatricians recommend a DHA supplement for omnivorous and vegetarian children alike, as well as their pregnant and nursing mothers.

Vegetarians can take comfort in knowing that there are kid-friendly supplement options. Since fish get their DHA from algae, it is only natural that DHA supplements derived from algae have hit the market. Algal oil DHA has been found to be as effective as DHA from fish and is available in liquid and capsule form for kids of all ages.

All in all, for a healthy growing brain, make sure your toddler is getting at least one serving a day of oil or seeds high in omega-3s along with an appropriate algal oil supplement. Vegetarian moms-to-be and breastfeeding moms should also supplement with DHA for baby’s best start!

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Omega 3 Banana Avacado “Ice Cream” Recipe (Vegan)

Ingredients:

2 ripe frozen bananas
½ avocado
¼ cup pistachios
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Chop bananas into pieces a day or two ahead of time and place into freezer
2. If pistachios are still in shells, remove them
3. Place ingredients into a blender or food processor; blend until thick and creamy
4. Spoon mixture into bowl! If you would like it thicker, place it into the freezer for a couple hours after making
5. Top with well-ground up pistachios or flax seed for an extra boost of omega-3

Tip: This recipe can be modified to create a puree for little ones transitioning to solid foods, using just half a banana and half an avocado!

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:
Omega-3 fatty acids: considering microalgae as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA
Harvard Ask-the-Expert
Divine Glowing Health blog

A Wholesome Start: Vegetarian Toddler Nutrition

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A vegetarian diet can support the healthy growth of toddlers and preschoolers – if it is done right. Since these years are key when establishing eating habits for life, it’s important to give your toddler a solid foundation, especially if you choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Kids who can learn to appreciate and enjoy greens, fruit, and grains at a young age are going to be set up for a lifetime of solid eating choices.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,

Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. It is much easier to build a nutritious diet from plant foods than from animal products […] As for essential nutrients, plant foods are preferred sources because they provide sufficient energy and protein packaged with other health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Below are some helpful tips and information of key nutrients that are important to remember when feeding your budding vegetarian.

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Key Nutrients in a Vegetarian Diet:

Protein – found in beans and legumes, grains, tofu, tempeh and other fermented soy products, nuts and nut butters, dairy, eggs

As long as he is eating a good mix of greens, beans, and veggies, your toddler’s protein intake should be sufficient.

Vitamin D – fifteen minutes of playtime in the sun every day; also found in milk and fortified milk replacements

Calcium – found in green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, almonds and almond butter, milk and yogurt, calcium-set tofu, fortified milk substitutes (soy, coconut, almond), fortified orange juice

Iron – found in whole grains and cereals, dried fruits, beans and legumes, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals

Try to pair plant-based foods containing iron with foods containing vitamin C (citrus, tomatoes, fruit, and more) as it promotes iron absorption!

Zinc – found in whole grains, nuts, beans, hard cheeses, tofu, fermented soy products

Vitamin B12 – eggs, dairy products, B12-fortified nutritional yeast, fortified milk replacements, fortified cereals

B12 is one of the few nutrients that isn’t easily found in a varied, wholesome plant-based diet, but is crucial for growth and development. If your toddler loves dairy, her B12 intake should be fine – if not, consider fortified foods or a supplement.

Fiber – found in whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, fruit, vegetables

We all know a diet high in fiber is good for adults, but it fills up small toddler tummies quickly and may cause children to feel full before eating enough. High fiber foods should also be high in calories, or try lower fiber foods like fruit.

Fats – found in nuts and nut butters, avocados, tofu, hummus, oils

Healthy fats are important for growth and brain development. Aim to provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocado, nut butters, tofu) and linoleic oil (canola, flaxseed, soy products).

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Helpful Tips:

The key to success with a vegetarian diet is mindfulness and planning!

Make every bite count – pack in plenty of protein, vitamins, and good fats.

Keep things fun by offering a variety of foods and introducing new ones frequently.

Toddlers are experts at mimicking. Make sure you’re eating your greens, too!

A well-balanced vegetarian diet contains things like nuts and fruit. Be sure to limit choking risk for toddlers by grinding nuts, halving or quartering grapes small fruits, and finely cutting vegetables and fruits – and of course, always supervise consumption of these foods!

Be sure to maintain regular checkups with your pediatrician, and listen to their recommendations.

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Vegan Society

Vegetarian Nutrition

Modern Mom

Sources of Plant Based Protein for Toddlers

Kenny Louie at flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_kennymatic
Photo credit: Kenny Louie

As young eaters begin their transition from milk and smooth textures to a variety of finger foods, it doesn’t take long to notice a toddler’s preferences in terms of taste, temperature, and texture. During this transitional phase when many toddlers may only accept certain foods (don’t give up!), many parents worry about whether or not their child is getting enough nutrients. One common area of concern is protein.

Studies have shown that babies between 12 and 24 months of age typically consume about 14-19 ounces of breast milk or formula per day, accounting for about 50% of the baby’s nutritional needs. The amount of protein typically found per ounce of breast milk is almost 0.4 grams, meaning the amount found in those 14-19 ounces usually ranges between 5.3 grams and 7.3 grams. Children between the ages of one and three years old need 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. So what do all these numbers and measurements come down to? Basically, if the average 28 pound toddler needs 16 grams of protein every day, he or she is getting just under half that amount from milk or formula, leaving the other half to solid foods.

So where can toddlers fulfill the rest of their protein needs? Meat or dairy aren’t the only sources of protein available for this job. Here are five plant-based, high-protein foods with a variety of flavors and textures for new eaters to choose from!

1. Green Peas
In only half a cup, green peas provide 4 grams of protein, plus lots of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. Peas are a fun finger food and easy to serve cooked whole or mashed and added to other soft foods such as mashed potatoes.

2. Cooked Oatmeal
Each half-cup of cooked oatmeal provides about 3 grams of protein, as well as plenty of carbohydrates. Many parents begin with warm cereal like oatmeal to introduce babies to semi-solid foods, but one important tip to keep in mind is to avoid offering sweetened oatmeal initially. This will help prevent a “sweet tooth” from emerging early on, and will help baby try a wider range of foods before craving the sweet stuff.

3. Brown Rice
Brown rice provides about 2.5 grams of protein for every half-cup, making it a great source for toddlers who may love eating the fluffy or sticky grains off their fingers. It may get a bit messy, but brown rice can be a tasty complement to nearly anything!

4. Avocado
Every half-cup of avocado holds about 1.5 grams of protein, in addition to plenty of the healthy fats they’re famous for. Avocado is also quite versatile–it can be served in slices, mashed in a bowl, or blended with many other foods, including baked goods! (Just swap some or all of the butter in a recipe for avocado!) The slight sweetness and soft texture appeal to many first-time eaters.

5. Hummus
One little tablespoon of hummus provides 1.2 grams of protein, making it the most protein-packed contender per serving size on this list! To avoid potentially irritating baby’s system with pre-made hummus that typically includes garlic (which some gassy babies may be sensitive to), tahini (a sesame product that toddlers at risk for a sesame allergy should avoid), and spices, make your own at home by blending cooked chickpeas, a little olive oil, and any other veggie you like that baby can eat. Show your toddler how to dip crackers or other finger foods in, and he or she will be thrilled to imitate!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Baylor College of Medicine
KellyMom
Parenting Science

Serving Tips For Homemade Purees

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Are you starting to make your own purees for the little one?  If so, here are a few tips on serving and preparation to help you out!

  • Serve the food no warmer than body temperature.
  • Use caution if you heat meals in the microwave. Microwaves heat unevenly and can create “hot spots”, so be sure to stir microwaved food well and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.
  • Only dish out the amount of food you think your baby will eat at that feeding. You’ll need to toss what’s left over because your baby’s saliva will get into the mixture and make it easy for bacteria to grow in the food.
  • Don’t sweeten your baby’s food. Babies don’t need any extra sugar. Never use honey or corn syrup, which can cause botulism, which is a potentially fatal food poisoning found in infants.
  • Use seasonings, as they are able to tolerate and enjoy a variety of flavors.
  • Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and use them up within 2-3 days. You can also freeze leftovers in ice cube trays or similar devices. After the cubes are frozen solid, remove them and store in plastic freezer bags. Fruits and vegetables frozen this way will last six to eight months. Meat will last one to two months.

Source: Baby Center

How To Introduce Solids To Picky Eaters

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Introducing solids into your toddler’s diet can be both frustrating as they tend to be fussy and resistant to trying new foods whether it is due to flavor, color, or texture.  Here are a few tips to help things run smoothly during this transition!

  • Structure your child’s eating so that they have three regular meals a day and two healthy snacks in between meals.  Making sure your child has set meal and snack times will help ensure they are eating when hungry while also avoiding grazing, which can cause children not to eat at meals times.
  • Serve a variety of good foods for your toddler to eat at each meal. When you offer a new food, simply place it on your child’s highchair tray without making a big deal about it. 
  • Introduce new foods one at a time and in small amounts. Instead of an entire meal of unfamiliar foods, offer a few of their favorite items with one new item. 
  • Try to schedule a new food when you know your child is hungry.
  • Use toddler-size portions. A serving size for a toddler is about 1/4 of a single portion for an adult. A serving of meat for a 1-year-old is about the size of the palm of their hand, and a serving of vegetables is only about 1 or 2 tablespoons.
  • Understand that some children’s palates are more sensitive than others. Some simply won’t like the texture, color, or taste of certain foods. That’s why a child might claim to dislike a food she has never even tried. Some children may reject a food because it reminds them of a time when they were sick or because they have some other negative association with it.
  • Resist the urge to offer sugary foods in an effort to get your toddler to eat more. You want to develop their sense of culinary adventure, not their sweet tooth!
  • Minimize distractions at the table. If a sibling is running around nearby or a cartoon beckons from across the room, your toddler may lose interest in the food being served. Try to make meals relaxed and quiet.

When To Switch To Solid Foods

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Are you at that stage where you are starting to question when/if you should begin the transition to solid foods with your little one?  If so, here are a few tips!

  • Can your infant hold their head up? Your baby should be able to sit in a high chair, feeding seat, or infant seat with good head control.
  • Does he open his mouth when food comes his way? Babies may be ready if they watch you eating, reach for your food, and seem eager to be fed.
  • Can she move food from a spoon into her throat? If you offer a spoon of rice cereal and she pushes it out of her mouth and it dribbles onto her chin, she may not have the ability to move it to the back of her mouth to swallow it. It’s normal.
  • Remember, she’s never had anything thicker than breast milk or formula before, and this may take some getting used to. Try diluting it the first few times, then gradually thicken the texture. You may also want to wait a week or two and try again.
  • Is he big enough? Generally, when infants double their birth weight (typically at about 4 months) and weigh about 13 pounds or more, they may be ready for solid foods.
  • Once your baby learns to eat one food, gradually give him other foods. Give your baby one new food at a time, and wait at least 2 to 3 days before starting another. After each new food, watch for any allergic reactions such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting. If any of these occur, stop using the new food and consult with your child’s doctor.
  • Generally, meats and vegetables contain more nutrients per serving than fruits or cereals. Many pediatricians recommend against giving eggs and fish in the first year of life because of allergic reactions, but there is no evidence that introducing these nutrient-dense foods after 4 to 6 months of age determines whether your baby will be allergic to them.

Source: http://www.healthychildren.org

Looking For A Great First Time Veggie? Try Sweet Potatoes!!

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Are you slowly trying to introduce solids into your little ones diet?  If so, sweet potatoes are great to try since they are easy to digest, have a mild flavor, and are easy to prepare!

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 deg F or 190 deg C.
  2. Simply take one large sweet potato. Scrub it and prick it with a fork.
  3. Bake for about 45 mins or until it feels soft.
  4. Once cooked, all you need to do is split the potato and scrape out the flesh with a spoon. Most sweet potatoes do not even require the additional step of pureeing as they can easily be mashed!
  5. One large potato will give you about 3 or 4 portions at this early stage. Bake a few at a time and you’ve got a fortnight’s supply!

Alternatively… you could peel the potato, then boil or steam it in cubes if you prefer to do so as well!

Looking for some combos?  Why not try mixing sweet potatoes with carrots or squash for a new flavor and even more nutrients!