Does variety in my child’s diet matter?

Does variety in my child’s diet matter? Feed to Succeed Registered Dietitians answer why variety matters and their tips to increasing variety in the diet.

Supplements Do Not Replace What Can Come from Food: 

“While it can be easy to only offer favorite or safe foods, variety increases the amount of nutrients a child receives as well as their overall eating experience. Giving a supplement to fill in the gaps doesn’t replace what can come from food. My top tip is to keep trying with food over and over again. Sometimes it can take dozens of tries before a food is accepted, but it is worth it in the end.” -Abby Olcott, MS, RD, LDN

Each Fruit and Vegetable Has A Unique Nutrient Profile: 

“I highly encourage adolescent athletes to include a variety of foods into their day, and this is especially true for fruits and vegetables.   Each fruit and vegetable has a unique nutrient profile, and by including a variety of options throughout the week you can help ensure appropriate intake of essential vitamins and minerals.  If you or your child tend to struggle with increasing variety, then I suggest the three following tips:

  • Select produce that is in season.  Not only will it be ripe and generally taste better, but it also tends to be more affordable.
  • Start small, and aim to add 1-2 new fruits or vegetables a week.  This is a realistic goal and over time it can help develop a life-long love of being adventurous with foods.
  • Re-introduce foods over time.  Most of us won’t like every single new food that we try, but keep in mind that taste and food preferences develop over time – so even if we don’t like a specific food the first time around, it doesn’t mean we won’t like it later on.” -Bailey MS, RDN, LDN, CSSD

Variety Supports Optimal Health and Intake of a Wide Variety of Nutrients:

“Variety in any person’s daily intake helps people to get a wide variety of nutrients that are needed to support optimal health. It wouldn’t be possible for one person to get every healthy food into their body daily, in an amount that would promote good intake! With kids sometimes it’s hard. I know my own kids get into routines and food preferences – particularly at breakfast and lunch when they are making more independent food choices. In order to keep them eating a variety of healthy foods, I rotate the fruits and veggies we keep around according to seasonal availability. I also try to rotate variety of other healthy foods such as types of yogurt, sandwich fillings, breakfast cereal, and even snacks. At this time of year, we tend to get into the winter doldrums with the fruits. It’s currently citrus season. But we can only eat so many oranges, Clementines and grapefruits. So I try to keep bananas, apples and pears around in the winter because they are also easily available; and we also have frozen berries on hand to make smoothies, to get a little variety that way.” -Betsy Hjelmgren, MS, RDN, CSP, LDN

Nutrient Needs Change Through Childhood and Adolescence:

“Nutrient needs change throughout childhood and adolescence.  Eating a variety of foods helps to ensure that children are meeting these nutrients needs to support growth and development.
For example, I work with many of our youngest clients.  Parents are often surprised to learn that a toddler’s calcium needs increase significantly when they turn one year’s old.  Including a variety of different foods such as milk, some plant-based milks, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach, soybean, tofu and calcium-enriched grains (like oatmeal) can help children meet their calcium needs.” -Amanda Gordon, MS, RDN, LDN, IBCLC

Variety Keeps Food Interesting and Introduces Children to Lots of New Flavors and Textures:

“It is important for a child to have variety in their diet because it keeps food interesting and introduces them to lots of new flavors and textures. Each food has a mix of nutrients that is important to help a child grow.
Some tips for increasing variety in the diet are:
-Have a child fill their plate with various colors of vegetables and fruits
-Offer a child plant-based protein options i.e bean, nuts, and seeds as well as fish, chicken, and red meats
-If possible, sit together as a family at the table and enjoy your meals together, showing your child that you enjoy a wide variety of foods in your meals might encourage them to try a little more.” Nicole, MS, RDN, LDN, CNSC