When it comes to kid food, you can’t get more classic than a chicken nugget. And as a parent, you’re probably serving them up almost on a daily basis — or hitting up the drive-thru to buy them. But at some point, your child might put two and two together, and realize that when they’re saying that they want chicken nuggets, the word “chicken” is in there. So how do you explain to your kid where chicken nuggets really come from? It doesn’t have to be a cringeworthy conversation with your cute little carnivore.
Tell Your Child The Truth About Where Chicken Nuggets Come From
It can be hard to explain to your child realize that the Chickaletta character they know and love from PAW Patrol is the same animal they’re eating when they’re chowing down on a chicken nugget. But even though it might make you feel uncomfortable, you should always tell your kiddo the truth, Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist tells Celebrity Parents. “One of the most important parts of your feeding relationship with your child is honesty,” says Barnes. “If they find out you were lying when you said there was NOT spinach in their smoothie, they will be more hesitant to eat the foods you make going forward.” Because your child needs to trust you, that means if they ask if their food is meat-based, it’s up to you to say that it is.
Offer Age-Appropriate Information
Just because you’re explaining to your child that they are eating meat doesn’t mean that you have to give very specific details. “Children will tend to ask follow up questions that are developmentally appropriate, or none at all,” Sarah Skovran, RDN LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Maine tells Celebrity Parents. “The best move is to answer those the same way you would answer any question your child asks about the world: honestly, but simplified as necessary for the age and maturity of your own child.”
Don’t Explain Too Much About The Nutritional Component
Kids eat based on one factor — and one factor only: does it taste good? And if it does, they’re down for eating more of it. Concepts like protein and antioxidants don’t really mean much to a 4 year-old. “. Children are served best by following their instincts when it comes to eating, while their parents are in charge of providing nutritious meals,” says Skovran. “Young children don’t need to know why protein is important, or even which foods are protein foods.” So while eating red meat is a pivotal part of a person’s diet, (per a PubMed study), research won’t convince your preschooler to eat (or not eat) their nuggs.
If your child is a little older, you can talk to them about how eating meat impacts their health. “For children around ages 5-7, you can tell them chicken is a type of protein, which can help you have strong bones, skin, and muscles,” says Barnes. “Older children can learn even more, like how some proteins perform their jobs better in the body than others. Meat and fish proteins do these jobs better than non-animal proteins like milk, beans, and tofu, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be healthy with only non-animal proteins.”
Don’t Force Your Child To Eat Meat If They Don’t Want To
You’ll get one of two responses when you explain to your kid where chicken nuggets really come from: they’ll either say, “Okay,” and continue eating…or they might cry. For kids who feel the latter, don’t push the issue if they suddenly want to become vegetarian. “It’s okay to give your children a choice when they are old enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want to eat meat, as long as they are getting the nutrition they need elsewhere,” says Heather Hanks, a nutritionist with USA Rx.
While it’s okay for your child to stop eating meat if they are getting those essential nutrients (such as minerals, B vitamins, protein, amino acids, healthy fats, and even antioxidants) from other plant-based sources, keep in mind that it’s still important to ensure that your child’s diet is well-balanced. “If your child is below high school age, it is your job to research the nutrient needs if you plan to feed them completely vegetarian or vegan,” recommends Barnes. “If they are in high school, you should go through this process together, so they learn how to meet their nutrition needs, too.” It might not be a bad idea to work with your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist to ensure that your child is still getting the essential nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong.
For some kids, the choice to stop eating meat might be temporary, while others adopt a vegetarian lifestyle permanently. No matter what your kid chooses to consume, be sure that you’re on board with it. “If your child is distressed by the thought of eating an animal, or even outright refuses to eat meat, my best suggestion is to go with it,” says Skovran. “For some children this will be a short phase. For others, vegetarian eating may turn out to be something important to them and their values, and you can deal with that if it happens.”
When your child asks you where chicken nuggets really come from, it’s best to be honest. It helps to establish trust and also allows for open conversation between you and your child. They can express how they feel about eating meat, and know that, together, you can both decide what gets put on their plate. Whether they’ll eat it or not is an entirely different story.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Wyness, L. “The role of red meat in the diet: nutrition and health benefits” 2015.
Sarah Skovran, RDN LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist
Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist
Heather Hanks, a nutritionist with USA Rx