Picky Eaters: When they eat nothing but meat

My presently healthy, highly active, enthusiastic, athletically inclined ten-year-old boy eats almost nothing but meat, and virtually no vegetables. I seek advice regarding the type health problems we might anticipate in the future if he is permitted to persist with his present dietary habits?


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Although you are rightfully worried about the long-term effects of a diet consisting mainly of meat, my guess is that you will be more successful in helping your son change his eating habits if you stress the effects that he will have right now. He sounds like a typical ten-year-old, who is motivated by a love of sports and play.

For that reason I suggest you purchase a book to read together. It is called "Play Hard, Eat Right: A Parent's Guide to Sports Nutrition for Children", by Debbi Sowell Jennings, M.S., R.D. and Suzanne Nelson Steen, D. Sc., R.D. It is from The American Dietetic Association. You will want to pay particular attention to the chapter on protein. It talks about specific protein requirements of a young athlete, using a 70 pound soccer player as an example. The book also discusses the importance of a balanced diet, the need for fluid and pre and post event eating. There is a lot there to interest a young athlete who wants to help get an edge on their performance. It is a book that stresses moderation and balance, has no magic formulas, and discourages the use of such hyped commodities as amino acid supplements.

Unfortunately many athletes overdose on protein, thinking they need it for muscle building. What the excess protein does is cause an imbalance in their diet. Too much protein will cause the following:

• Fill up your stomach so you have no room for carbohydrates, which is the fuel for muscles.

• May cause excessive urination due to the formation of urea (a waste product of protein digestion), this can lead to dehydration (not to mention the inconvenience!)

• Will most likely increase the fat level of your diet since most meat is also high in fat, this can lead to heart disease and has been implicated in the etiology of various cancers.

• Excess protein is stored as fat.

Eating meat to the exclusion of other foods may lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and their resulting health problem e. g., little or no vitamin C from lack of fruits and vegetables can reduce immunity and lead to more colds, and other illnesses, too much protein can draw calcium out of the body, and coupled with a low calcium intake from lack of milk or other dairy and vegetable products, can cause suboptimal bone strength and perhaps lead to osteoporosis.

In your attempts to change your son's eating habits I will stress two words, "positive" and "slow". It is important that you play up the good points of switching to a diet higher in carbos and fruits and vegetables, and down play the negatives of too much meat or protein. Secondly, I know of no 10 year old who has changed eating habits overnight. Make the changes gradually, allowing him to play a role in the rate at which it happens. You can also make the change easier by what you offer at mealtime, and the foods that you keep in the house.

Do not cater to the high meat intake, but do offer some tasty alternatives that he likes, even if it means the same vegetable several times a week. If he doesn't care for what is being served, offer one alternative that encourages the reduction of meat in his diet. For example, if you have offered a chicken and vegetable casserole, which he refuses, allow him to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or have a bowl of cereal with milk.

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