Although most kids get too much fat in their diets, there is one age group of kids for which you shouldn’t limit fat intake — infants and toddlers under age two years.
These children are still growing and need more fat in their diet than older kids. That doesn’t mean that you have to go out of your way to give your 18 month old French fries or have to avoid naturally low-fat foods, including most fruits and vegetables, but they shouldn’t drink low-fat milk, eat commercially made fat-free foods, or be put on a low-fat diet.
The only exception is toddlers who are already overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, who can switch to low fat milk before age two years.
Finding Low Fat Foods
As you learn to avoid high-fat foods for your children, it is just as important to learn to choose low-fat foods as part of your family’s healthy diet.
It is often easy to choose low-fat foods, as many clues are on the food label when a food is low, including nutrition claims that the food is:
- fat free (less than 0.5g of fat per serving)
- low fat (less than 3g of fat per serving)
- extra lean (less than 5g of fat per serving and 2g of saturated fat)
- lean (less than 10g of fat per serving and 4.5g of saturated fat)
Nutrition claims that are less helpful when choosing low-fat foods include the terms reduced, less, and light, since they only mean that the food has fewer calories or grams of fat than the regular version of the food.
For example, consider these chips:
- DORITOS Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 8g of fat and 140 calories per serving
- DORITOS Reduced Fat Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 5g of fat and 120 calories per
- DORITOS Light Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips = 2g of fat and 100 calories per serving
If you thought that the reduced fat chips were low fat, you would have been mistaken. They are not a bad choice, since they are not high in fat. You can find “potato chips” with even less fat though, including BAKED! LAY’S Original Potato Crisps, with only 1.5g of fat, and TOSTITOS Light Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips, which has only 1g of fat per serving.
Unfortunately, just because something is low in fat doesn’t meant that it is low in calories. So while you want to avoid high-fat foods, you also want to avoid foods that are high in sugar and calories. For example, most of the foods that rank at the top of the list for being low in fat in the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference include candy, soda, and fruit drinks.
“Fat Matters, But Calories Count”
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Healthy low-fat foods can include:
- Egg whites
- Baked potatoes
- Oatmeal cookies
- Breakfast cereals (most brands, although some are high in sugar)
- Air-popped popcorn (without added butter)*
- Light tuna fish (canned in water)
- Green peas
- Wheat bread
- Vegetable soup
- Chicken soup with rice
- Milk – 1% reduced fat and skim milk
In addition to the fruits and vegetables listed above, keep in mind that most raw fruits and vegetables, except for avocados and olives, are naturally low in fat.
What’s missing from the list of low-fat foods? Hot dogs, cheese burgers, French fries, milk shakes, chicken nuggets, tacos, and many other high-fat kids’ favorites.
Hidden Fats in Foods
Many low-fat foods become high-fat foods when parents unknowingly add high-fat or hidden fat ingredients to them, including:
- oils, which are 100% fat and should only be used in limited amounts, with an emphasis on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils
- butter and margarine
- non low-fat cheese
- mayonnaise (1 tablespoon = 10g of fat and 90 calories)
- ranch dressing (2 tablespoons = 15g of fat and 140 calories)
Other foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, palm kernel oil, or coconut oil, are likely also high in fat.
What To Know About Low Fat Foods for Kids
While it is important to learn to identify low-fat foods and high-fat foods so you know what your kids are eating, your overall focus should be on helping your family eat healthy foods every day.
For More Information On Low-Fat Foods for Kids
- Forget Low-Fat and Low-Sugar, Concentrate on a Healthy Eating Pattern
- Tips to help you make wise choices from the Protein Foods Group
- Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans Fats
- Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight
- AAP – Fat , Salt and Sugar: Not All Bad
- Kids’ Diets Shouldn’t Be Fat-Free
- Limit Fat and Sugar, Eat Right
- Low-Calorie, Lower Fat Alternative Foods
- Fat-Free Versus Regular Calorie Comparison
Last Updated on December 4, 2016 by Vincent Iannelli, MD