Daughter Won't Eat Meat

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Find out how you can make sure that a child who won't eat meat gets enough protein.
Q
No matter how I try to disguise it, my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter will not eat any mea t -- no chicken, hamburger, pork, etc. Her last complete blood work showed she was anemic, but the physician did not offer any suggestions on how to resolve the issue, other than forcing her to eat meat. She's a smart little girl who understands that good nutrition is part of being healthy. I'm at a loss on what else (and how much) I can serve her to satisfy her iron/protein requirements.
A
It can be very frustrating when your child is a picky eater. At this age (actually at any age), you cannot force her to eat -- you'll just be setting yourself up for future problems if you force her. Children can still maintain good nutrition without eating any meat. You do need to pay a bit more attention than usual to making sure she gets enough protein, calories, iron, and vitamin B12. Protein and calories can come from grains, nuts (including peanut butter), and soy products. Vegetables have a variety of proteins as well. Foods with good amounts of iron include Cream of Wheat, spinach, potatoes, navy beans, soybeans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, raisins, prunes and prune juice, avocados, and whole eggs.

Vitamin C helps the intestine absorb iron better, so drinking orange juice(or other citrus foods) along with iron containing foods is a good idea. Vitamin B12 is naturally found only in animal products, however most of the bread and cereal products that we eat are fortified with B12, and children almost always get enough. If you feel that you child will not eat the variety mentioned above, it would not be unreasonable to have her take a children's vitamin and iron supplement once a day, until she gets out of this picky phase. The chewable ones are usually agreeable to children, though you will need to make sure they are kept out of reach, since they can be toxic if a large quantity is taken at once. Have her take it with some orange juice -- not milk.

Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.

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