Pediatrics Articles

Food Guidelines for Children

by Dr. Randy

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Healthy options #1

 

Nutrition is a cornerstone of disease prevention and maintenance of good health in children. Here are some guidelines for children’s diets. Choose the most nutritious foods you can. Focus on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and protein sources. Avoid toxic exposure and highly sweetened foods. Maintain a variety.

Children may thwart these well-designed principles. They will gravitate to the sweetest foods possible. Our culture seems bent on subverting your best intentions, bombarding children with advertisements for various sugar products that masquerade as a wholesome breakfast, and tempting them with candy tie-ins to their favorite cartoon characters. Unfortunately, our culture is a modern, western model that includes fast foods, inordinate amounts of sugar, indiscriminate use of pesticides, and a commitment to excessive carbohydrate consumption.

Rules of the house

Here are some suggestions for rules of the house. Do not keep candy in the house. If it is not there, children will only eat it on very unusual occasions. Your children may not ever develop a taste for sugar and chocolate if their exposure in early childhood is minimal. Buy packaged foods carefully, and read ingredient lists. Avoid foods with added sugar, corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated fats. Bake your own cookies. Use fruit as dessert.  Be a nutritional role model for your children. If you eat well, if you base your diet on healthy principles, rather than cravings and addictions, then so will your children.

Offer your children a variety of healthy, nutritious foods. Tell children that it’s best to eat foods the way they grow in nature, not from packages and boxes. Keep fresh fruit readily available at all times. Provide choices at mealtime and do not be deterred by petulant refusals. Continue to offer foods even if your child has refused them in the past. Children will often become accustomed to a new food or taste only after repeated exposure.

What to eat

Children require a diet with a large percentage of calories coming from fats. Children also need the energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals derived from whole grains. Most children need a higher percentage of calories from carbohydrates than adults, although some children clearly do not respond well to gluten products and thrive on gluten-free diets.

Proteins in grain, especially gluten, are difficult to digest. Soaking grains will partially break down gluten and other proteins into simpler components that children can absorb more safely. Soaking grains also allows enzymes and helpful bacteria to neutralize phytic acid. All grains contain phytic acid bound to phosphorus in the outer layer or bran. Untreated phytic acid combines with minerals including calcium and magnesium, blocking their absorption.

Children also need the vitamins and antioxidants they derive from fruits and vegetables. And of course children need protein and calcium sources.

The food group portions table provides general guidelines for feeding children based on the Rule of 3. This includes three daily portions from the groups whole grains, vegetables, dairy, and meat/eggs, 3-6 fruit portions each day, and some nuts or beans.

Food group portions  –  The Rule of 3

Fruits: 3-6 per day

Vegetables: 3 per day

Whole grains: bread, pasta, cereal  2-3 per day

Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese  2-3 per day

Animal products: Chicken, turkey, beef, eggs 2-3 per day

Nuts and beans: 1-2 per day

 

These general rules will need to be adjusted for specific circumstances. Many children do not digest and process grains or dairy. Children with developmental problems or food sensitivities may require restrictions and elimination diets. A holistic practitioner can provide guidance in these areas.

As children grow into the teen years they express their food preferences more vigorously, and they make make choices that are not always ideal. However, they will still look to parents for guidance around weight concerns and help with growth and athletic prowess. Take these opportunities to  reinforce the principles of healthy eating.

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