Tag: fiber

What Are the Best Foods for Kids?

What are the best foods for kids?

No, they aren’t brain foods, super foods, or clean foods…

Best Foods for Kids

Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are eating healthy foods.
Follow the My Plate guidelines to make sure your kids are eating healthy foods.

In general,  the best foods are healthy foods packed with the nutrients that your kids need, including foods that are high in fiber, low in fat, and good sources of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and iron, etc.

And they are foods that make it easy to avoid things your kids don’t need, like trans fats and too much extra salt, added sugar and calories.

That’s why many of the best foods include things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat milk. Eat enough of them and you won’t have to worry about giving your kids vitamins.

High Fiber Foods

Do your kids get enough fiber in their diet?

According to the latest recommendations, based on their age, the average child needs:

  • 1-3 years old – 19g fiber/day
  • 4-8 years old – 25g fiber/day
  • 9-13 years old (female) – 26g / (male) – 31g fiber/day
  • 14-18 years old (female) – 26g / (male) – 38g fiber/day
Some snack bars have up to 9g of fiber per serving!
Some snack bars have up to 9g of fiber per serving!

Is 19 or 21g of fiber a lot? What about 38g?

When you consider that a high fiber food has 5g per serving and one that is a good source of fiber only has 2.5g per serving, then it might be hard for some kids to reach recommended levels each day.

To help make sure that they do, look for:

  • high fiber foods – beans, broccoli, peas, lentils, pears, prunes, raspberries, shredded wheat cereal, spinach, whole wheat pasta, snack bars
  • foods that are good sources of fiber – air popped popcorn, nuts, apples (with the skin on), bananas, brown rice, carrots, celery, corn, figs, oatmeal, raisins, strawberries, whole wheat bread

And compare food labels, looking for foods with high amounts of fiber.

Iron-Rich Foods

Since many kid-friendly foods have plenty of iron, getting kids to eat iron-rich foods isn’t as big an issue as some parents imagine.

It can be a problem if your exclusively breastfed infant isn’t eating much baby food, your toddler or preschooler drinks too much milk and doesn’t eat much food, or when a kid on a specialized diet doesn’t eat meat or other iron-rich food (vegans and vegetarians).

Fortunately, there are plenty of iron-rich foods, even if your kids don’t eat red meat, including:

  • most types of beans
  • iron fortified bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, including those made with whole grains
  • collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens
  • broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus, parsley, watercress, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables
  • raisins, prunes, dates, apricots and some other dried fruits
  • tofu
  • egg yolks
  • blackstrap molassses
  • nuts

Seafood and poultry are also good sources of iron.

And while the iron in non-meat sources isn’t as easily absorbed by our bodies as the iron from meat, fish, and poultry, you can boost that absorption by pairing those iron rich foods with some vitamin C, such as drinking orange juice or eating citrus fruits.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Many kids don’t drink enough milk. That’s not necessarily a problem, as some kids actually drink too much milk, but it can be if they don’t make up for it with other foods to get calcium and vitamin D in their diets.

Some brands of American singles have more vitamin D than a glass of milk!
Some brands of American singles have more vitamin D than a glass of milk!

How much calcium do kids need?

  • 700 mg a day for kids who are 1 to 3 years old
  • 1,000 mg a day for kids who are 4 to 8 years old
  • 1,300 mg a day for kids who are 9 to 18 years old

And when you consider that 1/2 cup of broccoli only has 21mg of calcium, you are probably going to want to turn to milk, cheese and yogurt and calcium fortified orange juice, cereal and bread to make sure your kids are getting enough calcium.

Other foods that are good sources of calcium include tofu, sardines, and salmon.

Foods with Vitamin D

Like calcium, good sources of vitamin D can include milk, cheese, and yogurt, but only because many of these foods are fortified. That’s why ice cream, even though it is made with milk, isn’t usually a good source of vitamin D! Neither is raw milk.

Some non-dairy foods that do contain vitamin D include:

  • fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel (just don’t overdo it on the fish because of the risks from mercury)
  • beef liver and egg yolks
  • some mushrooms

And of course, many foods are fortified with vitamin D, including breakfast cereal and orange juice.

Are your kids getting at least 600 IU/d of vitamin D?

Protein-Rich Foods

Believe it or not, your child likely gets enough protein in their diet.

Kids should eat a variety of protein rich foods though, including lean meats, seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products.

“Strategies to increase the variety of protein foods include incorporating seafood as the protein foods choice in meals twice per week in place of meat, poultry, or eggs, and using legumes or nuts and seeds in mixed dishes instead of some meat or poultry. For example, choosing a salmon steak, a tuna sandwich, bean chili, or almonds on a main-dish salad could all increase protein variety.”

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

For most kids, it is the variety of protein that’s the problem, not the overall amounts, as most of their protein likely comes from red meat and dairy products.

What to Know About the Best Foods for Kids

Are you worried that your kids are too picky? Are they overweight, with portion sizes that are too big?

Learn to make healthy food choices and help avoid kid-friendly junk foods, but still make sure your growing kids are getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need.

A registered dietician can be especially helpful in planning a healthy eating plan for your kids if you are still having trouble.

More on the Best Foods for Kids

Treating Hard To Control Constipation in Kids

Constipation is very common for kids.

Since your kids will almost certainly become constipated, at least briefly, at some point in their lives, it is important to understand how to recognize the symptoms of constipation.

Symptoms of Constipation

How do you know if your child is constipated?

In addition to grunting and stomach pain, more traditional signs and symptoms of constipation include having:

  • fewer than two bowel movements in a week
  • bowel movements that are small, hard, and like little balls
  • bowel movements that are very big and hard and which may frequently clog the toilet

Most importantly, your constipated child will have bowel movements that are painful and difficult to pass. Very big bowel movements might also lead to small rectal tears and bleeding (usually some bright red blood on the toilet paper when wiping, not blood that fills the toilet bowl).

Not surprisingly, large painful bowel movements commonly lead kids to avoid going to the bathroom, creating a viscous cycle of worsening constipation that can become chronic. Your child with chronic constipation may eventually develop encopresis, having soiling accidents that you mistake for diarrhea. Or because they are holding their stool, they might also hold their urine and develop multiple urinary tract infections or just have urine accidents.

What about grunting and straining? If your baby grunts, strains and even cries briefly, but then passes a soft bowel movement each day, then she probably isn’t constipated (Infant Dyschezia).

Young Children with Constipation

It is often most obvious when young children get constipated, as you are still changing diapers or helping them use the potty.

Keep in mind that:

  • you should talk to your pediatrician if you think that your newborn baby is constipated (not pooping can be a sign that newborn babies aren’t eating enough) or if your child has had constipation problems since he was born (sign of Hirschsprung disease) or is constipated and isn’t gaining weight (Celiac disease)
  • exclusively breastfeeding infants, especially before they start solid foods, once they are gaining weight well, are unlikely to get constipated, but they may only have their soft bowel movements every few days or weeks
  • infants sometimes get constipated when they start rice cereal or other baby foods
  • toddlers sometimes get constipated when they start potty training – this is an especially important time to make sure your child doesn’t get or stay constipated, or it will interfere with potty training

Again, be aggressive if your child becomes constipated when potty training. It is easy to imagine that your toddler is not going to want to have regular bowel movements on the potty if he associated them with pain.

Children with Constipation

Although it is typically harder to recognize, because you likely don’t know how often they are going to the bathroom, constipation is common in older children too.

Common times to develop constipation might include:

  • when they start kindergarten, especially if they don’t feel comfortable going to the bathroom at school
  • after going to camp, on a trip, or any other situation where their diet and routine might have changed
  • after a brief illness, especially if they took or are taking a medication that might have constipation as a side effect
  • during a period of stress, such as starting a new school, moving to a new house, bullying, or social changes (divorce, death in the family, etc.) at home

It is so common, you might even want to watch for constipation at those times, especially if your child has had issues with constipation in the past.

Hard To Control Constipation

Most parents know how to treat simple constipation – more fluids, more fiber, stool softeners, and the occasional glycerin suppository or pediatric enema (the last treatments should likely only be used when nothing else is working and your child is uncomfortable).

But what do you do when that’s not enough?

To help treat kids with hard to control constipation, it usually helps to:

  • make long term changes to your child’s diet, including more fluids (especially water), less fat,  and more fiber, as kids with constipation may have a diet high in fat and low in fluids and fiber
  • make long term changes to your child’s behavior, encouraging him to sit and try to go to the bathroom after breakfast and dinner, but not making him sit until he goes
  • encourage your child to be physically active
  • continue your child’s daily maintenance constipation medicine (usually polyethylene glycol (PEG), lactulose, Milk of Magnesia (magnesium hydroxide), or mineral oil) until he is having a soft stool each day for several months and continues having a daily soft stool as you gradually decrease (over several months) and then stop the medicine (stopping a laxative as soon as kids begin having regular bowel movements is the biggest mistake that parents typically make when their kids are constipated)
  • consider a clean out regimen over a few days if your child is very constipated, using high dose polyethylene glycol or magnesium citrate, which unfortunately might cause some diarrhea as a side effect of getting a lot of hard stool out

What do you do if your child relapses? You usually just start over, especially if the relapse is because you stopped one or more of your child’s constipation treatments.

If your child relapses even though you had been consistent and had been continuing all of his previous treatments that had been working well, you might consider:

  • switching to an alternative to cow’s milk, like almond or soy milk, as some people think constipation can be due to a cow’s milk protein allergy, plus they will likely be lower in fat than cow’s milk
  • increasing the dose of stool softeners and make sure that you don’t stop them too soon
  • avoiding treatments that have not been found to be helpful, including very high fiber diets, prebiotics or probiotics, biofeedback and other alternative treatments
  • avoiding suppositories and enemas, as oral constipation medicines are just as effective and will be better tolerated by your child

Your pediatrician and/or a pediatric gastroenterologist can be helpful if your child has hard to control constipation. In fact, up to 25% of the visits to a pediatric gastroenterologist are for constipation.

For More Information on Constipation