Written by Peg Moline
As a responsible adult—parent, grandparent, relative or caregiver—you
know, deep down, that children are not just smaller replicas of us. Especially
when it comes to food. And for the most part, they are completely reliant
on the grownups in their lives for nourishment.
We might be willing to neglect our own bodies when it comes to getting
the nutrients we need for health (nearly 70% of American adults don’t
get enough vitamin D, even with supplements), but we do want to make sure
our kids have the necessary building blocks to grow strong and healthy.
These include: protein from lean meat, fish, eggs, beans and dairy; iron
from whole grains, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and shellfish; healthy
fats from nuts/nut butters, seeds, avocados, oils—especially olive,
canola and peanut—and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna; carbohydrates
that also contain fiber, such as whole-grain bread and crackers, rice,
cereal and potatoes; calcium from dairy, sardines, canned salmon, broccoli
and leafy greens; folate from beans, lentils and chickpeas, as well as
whole-grain cereal, asparagus, spinach and Brussels sprouts; fiber found
in whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and colorful fruit and vegetables,
with many also packed with vitamins A and C. (Best food sources for vitamin
D are salmon, sardines and eggs; also make sure kids get enough outdoor play.)
What can be trickier than providing what kids should eat is limiting those
foods they should not eat. “Snacking can be healthful, and it should
be fun,” says dietician Allan Rutenberg, RDN, who is in Torrance
Memorial's Nutrition Services department. “And the best snacks
can tide kids over until the next meal.”
But quick, packaged snacks can be a minefield of chemicals, artificial
flavors/colors with lots of salt, added sugars and empty calories, he
says. Sugary drinks and highly processed foods have been blamed for increasing
rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, ADD and other chronic conditions.
Here’s a checklist of foods Rutenberg recommends you never give kids:
In general, the more color on the plate, the more nutrients (for both adults
and children). Many “kids meals” consist of things such as
a hamburger/fries, chicken fingers, mac ‘n’ cheese and a soda
or juice, which generally have too much fat, sodium and sugar, and not
enough vitamins and minerals. Stick to healthier options like apple slices
with (natural) peanut butter plus low-fat milk or baked chicken “nuggets”
you bread yourself, along with carrot or celery sticks. Don’t feed
your child anything you would never eat.
Kids breakfast cereals
“Most kids breakfast cereals and toaster pastries are like eating
dessert,” Rutenberg warns. Tons of sugar and empty calories take
the place of the whole grains, fiber and protein young bodies and brains
need for a good start to the day. Look for the word “whole”
near the top in the list of ingredients, along with at least three grams
of fiber and protein per serving. Buy low-sugar/high-fiber cereals and
add fruit, like bananas or strawberries to sweeten.
Those super-convenient packaged lunches filled with deli meat, cheese,
crackers and a dessert are highly processed and high in sodium, simple
carbs and unhealthy fats. “Try packing whole-grain crackers, cheese
cubes, tuna pouches or other minimally processed luncheon meat (no nitrates
or nitrites), baby carrots and grapes from home,” Rutenberg advises.
“You might even give a California roll or simple caprese sandwich
a try. With your help, kids can develop adventurous tastes.”
It’s very tempting to give these fruit strips to kids; they have
“fruit” in them, right? But often they just are loaded with
sugar, fruit juice, artificial colors and preservatives, and don’t
actually have any fruit in them at all. They can cause cavities and are
no better for you than candy. If you must, look for brands with no added
sugar. But best to stock up on the real thing: fresh fruit and even frozen
(tastes great mixed into some hot cereal or in a yogurt parfait).
“First of all, babies younger than 1 should be drinking mostly breastmilk;
between 1 and 2, they may also have regular or reduced fat (2%) unflavored
milk, which will aid in their brain development,” says Rutenberg.
Low-fat (1%) and non-fat (“skim”) are not recommended. “With
older children, water is always the preferred drink.* However, if they’re
like me at that age (sugar-crazed), occasionally having a sports drink
or 100% juice that has been diluted with (at least) 50% water may help
quench the craving without loading them up with a bunch of sugar. If you
help your kids develop a habit of drinking lots of water (try the naturally
flavored fizzy kind or add a squeeze of lemon), you are giving them a
gift for life,” Rutenberg concludes. •
*Note: Milk is still OK and absolutely recommended after age 2; however,
serving your children milk with every meal may lead to iron-deficient anemia.