Back to Basics: What Should My Kid Eat?

Cut out carrots and corn, they are full of sugar!  Eating a grapefruit with every meal has amazing fat burning powers!  If I eat celery, will this be considered a negative calorie food?  Are French fries a vegetable?

We are all constantly bombarded with nutrition information from the media, books, health care providers, family, and friends.  Problem is, who do you believe?  And how in world can you even begin to follow a healthy diet, when at some point you find out that everything is bad for you?   Nutrition information is especially important for kids and adolescents, as they are in that crucial period of growth and development, and the last thing they need to be doing is falling into the trends of yo-yo dieting.

Moms and dads beware….just like your daughter likes to try on that brand new pair of earrings, and your son will jump at the first chance to hit the street with dad’s letter jacket, they will try on your diet as well.  So set a good example and practice the following nutrition basics for good health:

A majority of your diet should come from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. This is a tough one for most kids, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables.  They will all go through a point in their lives where fruits and vegetables become the enemy, and sugary processed foods become the main staple.

  • Tip 1: Encourage your kids to constantly keep an open mind when it comes to fruits and vegetables.  It can take up to 15 tries before actually liking some thing, so don’t allow your kids one choice day in and day out.  Don’t give up!  Keep offering that broccoli!
  • Tip 2: Eat the Rainbow. Tell your kids, “a rainbow a day keeps the doctor away”.  Consume many colors of fresh and frozen fruits and veggies weekly.  The USDA Dietary guidelines now recommend 2 ½ cups of vegetables, and 1½ cups of fruit every day.   Make each plate colorful by filling half of it with multiple vegetables and/or fruits.  Remember that French fries are not considered a vegetable, sorry!
  • Tip 3: Make half of your kids’ grains whole.  The USDA recommends consuming at least 3-4 high fiber grains on a daily basis.  Whole grains provide long-lasting energy and keep kids fuller longer.  Examples of whole grains include 100% whole wheat bread, whole grain cereals, oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, etc.  So instead of offering a bowl of sugar-sweetened cereal, try a whole grain cereal with fresh fruit for sweetness.  Look for the first ingredient of any grain product to say “whole” and look for cereals with 3 grams of fiber or more per serving.

Consume at least 2-4 servings of low fat dairy daily.  In this time of growth, calcium is important for kids.  The best sources of calcium include low fat milk and yogurt. If your child is lactose intolerant, soy milk is a good alternative, just be sure to shake before every use, as the calcium tends to settle to the bottom.

  • Tip 1: After the age of 2, all kids and teens should make the switch to a low fat choice- 1% or skim; 2% is still a high fat choice and does not offer more calcium as some may think.
  • Tip 2: Try this quick breakfast or use as an after school snack to add in a serving of dairy.  Yogurt Parfait:  Layer 8 oz. of a  low fat yogurt of your choice with berries or an assortment of fruit, then top with a sprinkle of granola.

Choose lean meats a majority of the week, and watch those portion sizes!  Choosing leans meats throughout the week (chicken, turkey, fish, etc), cuts down on the consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol.  These two heart-stopping fats are found in anything that comes from an animal, and can easily be limited when cutting back on red or processed meats such as bacon or sausage.

  • Tip 1: Choose lean by removing skin from poultry and choosing leaner cuts of beef and pork.  Look for loin or round cuts. For ground meats, choose 90% lean or better
  • Tip 2: Portion size counts! Younger children (2-3yo) only need 2oz of protein/day and kids up to 18 need ~6-6.5oz/day.  Think of a deck of cards as ~3oz.  Is your child getting too much?
  • Tip 3: Go meatless. A couple of meals per week try using non-animal proteins like beans, quinoa, tofu, or nuts/nut butters.  Have your kids choose which they would like to try first!

Build a healthy plate at each meal:

  • Fill ½ of the plate with fruits and vegetables
  • Fill ¼ of the plate with whole grains and the last ¼ with a lean meat

These simple guidelines are the key to a healthy diet for both kids and adults.  Moms and dads, if you are trying to incorporate good habits, you must set the right example.  Make healthier options “the norm” at your house.

For more tips and tricks on getting your kids to eat right visit Kids Eat Right or My Plate.

By Lauren Scott, MS, RD, LD

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