Hey, What’s to Eat?
Unless you’ve been totally out of the loop, it’s likely you’ve heard about the childhood obesity epidemic. Nearly 1 in 3 children in America is overweight or obese. It’s talked about on television, radio, the Internet, and in books, newspapers, and magazines. Yet, with all this focus on kids being overweight and obese, many parents are still confused, especially when it comes to what kids eat. How much does your child need? Is he getting enough calcium? Enough iron? Too much fat?
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, what he eats is important to both his physical and mental development. Here’s what children need — no matter what the age.
During this stage of life, it’s almost all about the milk — whether it’s breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two. Breast milk or formula will provide practically every nutrient a baby needs for the first year of life, says Jennifer Shu, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Group in Atlanta and co-author Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insights, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
At about six months most babies are ready to start solid foods like iron-fortified infant cereal and strained fruits, vegetables, and pureed meats, Dr. Shu says. Because breast milk may not provide enough iron and zinc when babies are around six to nine months, fortified cereals and meats can help breastfed babies in particular, she explains.
Once you do start adding foods, don’t go low-fat crazy. Although the AAP recently released updated guidelines stating fat restriction in some babies is appropriate, in general, “you don’t want to restrict fats under age two because a healthy amount of fat is important for babies’ brain and nerve development,” says Dr. Shu.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
“Toddlers and preschoolers grow in spurts and their appetites come and go in spurts, so they may eat a whole lot one day and then hardly anything the next,” says Loraine Stern, M.D., FAAP, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine. It’s normal, and as long as you offer them a healthful selection, they will get what they need, she says.
One area parents should probably keep under watch is calcium. Calcium, the body’s building block, is needed to develop strong, healthy bones and teeth. Children may not believe or care that milk “does a body good,” but it is the best source of much-needed calcium.
Still, there’s hope for the milk-allergic, lactose-intolerant, or those who are just impartial to milk. Lactose-free milk, soy milk, tofu, sardines, and calcium-fortified orange juices, cereals, waffles, and oatmeal are some calcium-filled options. In some cases the doctor may recommend calcium supplements.
Fiber is another important focus. Toddlers start to say “no” more and preschoolers can be especially opinionated about what they eat. The kids may want to stick to the bland, beige, starchy diet (think chicken nuggets, fries, macaroni), but this is really the time to encourage fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, which all provide fiber, Dr. Shu says. Not only does fiber prevent heart disease and other conditions, but it also helps aid digestion and prevents constipation, something you and your child will be thankful for.
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