Tag: food labels

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

Sugar and Added Sugar

What do you think about when you think of sugar?

Candy and junk food?

It is important to remember that sugar is also naturally present in milk, including breastmilk and baby formula, and in fruits, and vegetables, etc.

That means that not all sugar is bad sugar.

Types of Sugar

Most of us have learned to limit or avoid certain types of sugar, like high fructose corn syrup, but you don’t have to avoid all sugar. In fact, if you eat fruits and vegetables, it would be awfully hard to avoid sugar.

You probably thought that sugar was sugar, right?

Nope.

There are many different types of sugar, with the most common types including:

  • glucose – found in many fruits and in corn syrup
  • fructose – fruit sugar
  • sucrose – sugar cane, sugar beets (a combination of glucose + fructose)
  • maltose – barley or malt sugar (a combination of two glucose molecules)
  • lactose – milk sugar (a combination of galactose + glucose)

Honey, a sweetener like sugar, is also made up of glucose and fructose, but they are not combined together. In general, honey contains much more fructose than glucose, which is why it is so sweet.

What about table sugar? That’s sucrose.

Still, like most other types of sugar, table sugar is broken down by enzymes in our body to glucose, with each gram of glucose providing four calories of energy. If you don’t need that energy at the time, that glucose gets converted into fat and is stored away.

Good Sugar vs Bad Sugar

While it’s become popular to worry about how bad sugar is for us, that’s not really what you should focus on. Instead,  learn more about the the differences between naturally occurring sugar and added sugars.

A large strawberry contains about 1 gram of natural sugar. They are low in sugar, unless you dip them in sugar before giving them to your kids.
A large strawberry contains about 1 gram of natural sugar. They are low in sugar, unless you dip them in sugar before giving them to your kids. Photo by Ken Hammond

If there is a bad sugar, it is the added sugars in foods that help us get too much sugar in our diets.

Also, when you eat or drink something with naturally occurring sugar, even though you are getting some sugar, you are also getting many other vitamins and minerals in your diet. For example, when you drink milk or eat an orange,  you get other nutritional benefits, unlike drinking a soda or eating a piece of candy.

So while you do get sugar from all of them, that’s all you get from the soda and candy.

That’s why it is often said that junk food is filled with empty calories.

Has someone got you shocked about the sugar content of your child’s lunch consisting of a PB&J sandwich, applesauce, and fruit punch? Then swap the applesauce for an apple and the fruit punch for low-fat milk or water.

Identifying Added Sugars

A new food label with added sugars is coming - by January 2020...
A new food label with added sugars is coming – by January 2020…

How do you know if the foods you are eating are high in sugar?

Just check the Nutrition Facts label and look at the amount of Sugars listed under Total Carbohydrates.

That can be misleading though, as it doesn’t differentiate between natural sugars and added sugars. At least not yet.

For that, we have to check the ingredients list and look for clues that the food item contains added sugars, including that it contains things like:

Hidden Sugar on Ingredients List
agave nectar invert sugar
anhydrous dextrose lactose
beet sugar malt syrup
brown sugar maltose
confectioner’s powdered sugar maple syrup
corn syrup molasses
corn syrup solids nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
dextrose pancake syrup
fructose raw sugar
fruit juice concentrate sucrose
high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sugar
honey white granulated sugar

New rules from the FDA will hopefully soon make it easier to recognize added sugars on food labels, as they add information about the amounts of added sugars in foods.

Limiting Sugar in Your Diet

Although some people are concerned that sugar is an actual poison – it isn’t – the most common reason to avoid added sugar is to simply avoid extra calories.

Sugar itself doesn’t cause diabetes or ADHD or any number of other things it gets blamed for, except maybe getting cavities.

If you get too much sugar in your diet and you become overweight, then you could develop type II diabetes. Getting too much fat in your diet is also an easy way to become overweight though, especially if you don’t exercise everyday.

How much sugar is too much?

“Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”

WHO on Sugars intake for adults and children

In general, you don’t usually want to get more than 10% of your daily calories from free sugars. Unfortunately, most people get too many calories in their diet, and too many of those calories are from free sugars.

Other recommendations are a little more restrictive.

“The committee found that it is reasonable to recommend that children consume ≤25 g (100 cal or ≈6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day and to avoid added sugars for children <2 years of age.”

AHA on Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children

But remember, this is the sugar that you get from candy, cakes, fruit drinks, donuts, and soft drinks, etc.

A teaspoonful of sugar is equal to 4g of sugar or 16 calories.
A teaspoonful of sugar is equal to 4g of sugar or 16 calories. Photo by Samantha Celera (CC BY-ND 2.0)

In general, it is not the sugar that they get from whole fruits, plain yogurt, or milk.

For example, don’t be mislead by scary claims, like yogurt might have more sugar than a Twinkie. Unless it is a kid’s brand, with a lot of added flavorings, the sugar in yogurt is mostly from naturally occurring milk sugar and sugar from added whole fruit, while a Twinkie is almost all added sugars.

Once you start being more mindful of how much sugar your kids are getting and you limit sugary drinks and candy every day, it becomes easy to get under about 25g of added sugar each day.

Avoiding Added Sugars

To help your kids avoid added sugar, it can help to:

  • drink water
  • limit or avoid soda, fruit drinks, and other sugar-sweetened drinks, including sports drinks
  • drink low-fat white milk without extra flavorings
  • avoid sugary cereals
  • choose canned fruits with water over syrup when not eating fresh whole fruit
  • limit candy, cakes, cookies, ice cream, and other junk foods
  • choose plain yogurt without added sugars instead of a flavored yogurt and then add fresh fruit to it

Even 100% fruit juice should be limited, and avoided all together if your infant is under 12 months old.

And don’t make the mistake of limiting added sugar, but then turning to high fat foods!

Healthier alternatives can include more nutrient dense foods, including beans and peas, eggs, fat-free and low-fat milk and cheese, fruits, lean meats and poultry, seafood, unsalted nuts and seeds, vegetables, and whole grain foods.

Most importantly, learn to read food labels to look for added sugar in the foods your kids eat and then avoid those food and watch their portion sizes. When you do allow your kids to have a treat, don’t go overboard with a 24 ounce soda or letting them eat a pint of ice cream.

Learn to eat healthy.

Remember that it’s not all about sugar, fat, carbs, or any other one thing. A registered dietician can be helpful if you need more help planning what your family eats.

What to Know About Sugar and Added Sugar

Learn to avoid added sugar in your child’s diet as part of an overall healthy eating plan.

More About Sugar and Added Sugar