By Simone Emery
As a children’s nutritionist, Simone Emery works with parents to navigate the infamous fussy eating years of childhood. Today, she shares her best tips on how to wean your child off their dependence on milk and increase family foods.
Evening routines with young children often include having milk just before going to bed or first thing in the morning. And sometimes we have milk as a comforting after lunch drink to signal winding down for a nap with younger children. Milk is, therefore, a large part of their daily sustenance. And when children are food fussy, it is a comfort to parents too that they are having calories in their day. With TV advertising promoting formulas for ages well beyond recommended dependency on milk, it is easy to see how a milk reliance starts to impact on appetite and habit within the family food dynamic.
For some fussy eaters, milk turns into a negotiating tool. It may become a reason for kids not to eat dinner and subsequently hold out for milk. So, what is the best way to get out of a milk reliance with a fussy child and have them venture into trying more family foods to get their sustenance and dietary requirements?
Often parents come to me saying that their older fussy eater won’t “give up” their milk, especially at night. They may have also received advice from their GP (or other health professional) to wean the child away from milk. This advice is given with the best intention of removing the bargaining tool and leaving the child with an appetite for foods from other food groups. Yet, I know this advice is exasperating! It feels like you have just been asked to purposely instigate World War Three at your house. Every. Single. Night. As a parent myself, I have to say – who really wants that argument?
As much as it is possibly an overwhelming task, working on your child’s team to move away from milk as a major part of their diet is a great idea. In Australia, our guidelines include 500mg of calcium for toddlers which is in about 250ml of milk + 1 cheese slice. Yet, going cold turkey on it is not the only way reduce a reliance on milk towards those guidelines.
Here are a few fuss-free strategies for you to ponder whilst considering your family’s situation. Before making any routine changes, always be prepared. Making a snap decision on your own can be difficult to maintain. Get your support crew on board early and let your child know what will be happening … because guess what? They don’t like being blindsided with routine changes.
Do a sense check on how much they are relying on milk
Do a little food diary (for yourself – don’t record it in front of the kids) and have a look at what sources of calcium they have and if they are getting enough across the day.
Other sources of calcium include cheeses, tinned salmon with bones, green leafy vegetables, ice cream, custard, non-dairy milks/creams and nuts. If your child’s eating fluctuates day by day (which is normal), look broadly across the week.
Once you have this information, you can then ascertain what sort of habits you need to tweak pertaining to your situation.
Introduce a small amount of milk to the mealtime in an open cup
One thing that works for a happy mealtime with fussy kids is to have something they may like to eat or drink. When a child has a food/drink they know at the meal, they don’t have to do as much work with that food. So, having milk alongside a new pasta sauce means that they can attempt the milk whilst learning about the pasta sauce. Easing their way into the “work” of learning the new food.
As a starting point, offer 50ml of milk at the mealtime in an open cup and reduce the quantity offered in another milk-mealtime opportunity by 50ml. The mindset shift to realising a bottle of milk is another mealtime opportunity, helps us realise how often we are offering our kids meals. Although, in our mind, we are thinking that dinner, lunch and breakfast are the only meals we have. The incidental snack offered here and there turns into many meals a day or something like a constant 10 hour degustation menu. Working towards a 2 hour gap between meal offerings, helps children get full and empty. They are in tune with their body more.
After a meal, allow time before milk is offered. This reduces the appeal of leaving all of their meal behind because they know milk time is just around the corner. Slowly stretch out this time or re-gig your meal routine slowly to allow for these gaps.
Introduce teeth cleaning in between the final milk drink and falling asleep
This is very important for dental hygiene and it also helps reduce your child’s dependency on milk to fall asleep. This change in routine can be a disruptive one, yet, it is working towards independently settling to sleep.
Start with the end in mind
Your aim with this step-wise progression, is to move milk to the family meal, reduce it to an overall volume in alignment with your child’s dietary requirements, for them to have a positive experience with other foods at the same time and to subsequently increase the proportion of other food groups in the diet alongside the milk.
Final words of wisdom
From my own experience and within the clinic, appetite doesn’t always pick up immediately after weaning away from milk. So, be prepared to stick to your choices for a few weeks. They need lots of exposures to the other food groups to start eating them with confidence. Their appetite will pick up and if you are still worried, make sure you consult a health professional, bearing in mind that this is general advice
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