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Protein is a vital fuel for child development

As a nutritionist, mother of three, chief cook and married to an Italian man with a huge extended family, my entire world revolves around eating. Every day from morning to night, food occupies my mind, from what is in the fridge to what we are going to eat for meals and snacks, plus the questions, “Will they eat it, and will they like it?”

Today, I have more time, and my kitchen is manageable; however, it was not always this easy. As a new mother 16 years ago, I remember feeling overwhelmed with meal preparation, which surprised me as I am a dietitian and I love to eat. So, I asked myself, how could food possibly be a source of stress?

Admittedly, feeding my family in those early years was no small feat. As my firstborn, Luca, grew and our family expanded with Matteo and Capri, I needed to devise a healthy strategy to survive. I decided to make a plan that my family could grow with for the long term, including how to deal with the challenges of mealtime battles, which were sure to be expected.

My plan progressed into a 256-page cookbook for busy mothers called “This Kitchen Is for Dancing,” filled with over 100 healthy recipes, with chapters on how to plan meals, shop and stock a pantry. Not every day is a win, but I am fortunate to have children who love and appreciate good, healthy whole foods.

Expand your child’s palette.

Helping to expand food choices for a child, who only wants to eat curly macaroni with butter, is daunting. Did you know that over 50% of parents classify their children as picky eaters? It can be difficult and worrisome for a parent, but you are in the driver’s seat because you buy the food that comes into the home. So, it’s your role to create a positive eating environment that encourages your children to explore new food.

Get enough nutrition.

Mealtime battles and endless negotiations over food often leave you questioning if your child is getting the nutrition they need. Ensuring your child’s health and well-being is a top priority, and one crucial element to focus on is protein intake. Protein is an essential nutrient vital to a child’s growth and development. Getting enough protein can become a concern when your kids push food around the plate and rarely eat. However, there are many ways to ensure your child receives adequate protein even when their food preferences and consumption are limited.

Add variety and boost protein intake.

Start early and keep trying.

Be patient and persistent and never force children to eat. Begin by offering your child a variety of food. A toddler, for instance, can take up to 15-20 attempts to eat certain food. Since my children were toddlers, they have eaten what the adults eat. I never made separate meals. They have also never been “kids’ menu eaters,” and I credit that to giving them adult-like food, cooking with various spices and eating exotic cuisines.

Make it educational.

As a nutritionist, I teach my children the “why.” I have always believed that positive change and healthy habits are easier to understand and build when you know why.

Ask them to help.

When children have a hand in making a meal, they will be more inclined to try it. I have found this to be especially important with school lunches – I give options and let them choose, so it is not a big surprise when you pack the lunch.

Variety is the spice of life.

Rotate protein sources to include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts/seeds and other whole grains rich in protein like oats and quinoa and use nutritious flours, like almond when baking. Protein shakes are a fabulous way to sneak in more protein, and the flavor options are endless. First, you will need a high-quality protein powder. My children like Whey Factors protein in vanilla flavor. You can add healthy ingredients like nut butter and cacao, or make a fruit smoothie with fresh berries or other fruit. Busy children love a quick smoothie snack.

Try small portions.

Offer smaller amounts to prevent your child from feeling overwhelmed. You can always give more if they ask for it. And then wait until they grow up and you have teenagers to feed.

Model healthy eating behavior and attitudes.

Children often mimic their parents’ eating habits. If they see you enjoying various foods, they might also be more open to trying them.

Mealtime should feel relaxed, joyful and focused on time with loved ones. Give thanks and show gratitude for the nourishment that food provides our minds and bodies.

Most of all, take the time to help your children count their blessings. Children worldwide would be eager to have more than one choice when they eat. Involve your children in shopping and meal planning. Take them to help at a food pantry or in a community food drive, and always ask them to share recipes they want to try. Before you know it, your children will prepare meals for you.

My Children’s Favorite Blueberry Power Smoothie


1 cup of your choice of milk or water

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1 banana

1 Tbsp hemp seeds

1 scoop of whey protein powder, vanilla flavor

Optional: Drizzle of honey


In a blender, add the ingredients and puree until smooth.

Karlene Karst holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and is an expert in natural health and wellness. She is the author of several books, and is an upbeat, knowledgeable TV personality and spokesperson appearing on the cover of magazines and TV shows in Canada including “The Marilyn Denis Show,” “CTV Morning Live,” “Global Morning News” and “Breakfast TV.”


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