There’s not a parent alive who doesn’t wonder, at one time or another, whether or not their kids are meeting their nutritional needs. After all, kids are growing and nutrition plays a vital role. Parents get that.
I believe it’s important for you to have a good idea of what your child’s nutritional needs are at different stages — and how to meet them. You don’t have to be a nutritionist, but learning the basics will help quell that voice that causes you to go crazy with worry.
Welcome to our Kids’ Nutrition Eating Series. Before getting to the good stuff, I want to discuss myths that get in the way of providing nutrition for kids. And some of them might surprise you.
Myth #1: Kids have to eat their veggies to meet their nutritional needs: I’ll never forget the sigh of relief the parents felt when my nutrition professor announced that kids could meet their vitamin and minerals needs on fruit alone. Yet parents believe their kid will miss critical nutrients if they don’t eat their greens, which is why pressuring and hiding them in food is so popular.
While vegetables are great because they are nutrient-dense for so few calories–something particularly important for adults — they aren’t a must-have for kids nutrition. Fruit, also nutrient-dense but more preferred by young children often does the job.
In this series I’ll show you how to vary the diet of your non-vegetable eaters to maximize nutrition. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep offering veggies but you don’t have to worry so much when kids don’t devour them)
Myth #2: Most kids need a multivitamin, it’s a good insurance policy: According to a study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one-third of kids take multivitamins. Yet research reveals that most meet their needs except for a few key nutrients that may not be found in multivitamins in high enough quantities (if at all). And researchers are starting to worry that people are receiving too much of certain nutrients, like folic acid, which may adversely affect health.
In this series I’ll help you decide whether a multivitamin is right for your little one after taking into account the fortified and enriched products they may already be consuming.
Myth #3: If kids are eating natural and whole foods, nutrition is not a concern: On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that kids consuming only natural and whole foods don’t need supplementation. And this includes breastfed babies and toddlers. In recent years researchers have started to speculate that there are certain nutrients that are difficult to meet even by natural means.
We’ll be looking at key nutrients that even healthy-eating kids miss out on which will help you decide whether supplementing, or tweaking your child’s diet, is needed.
Myth #4: Even if they take a few bites of healthy foods, at least they’re getting something: As a parent you might understand the advice from experts not to make your child take a few bites of one food to have another (you know they want more bread but you say they have to take a few bites of peas, meat, fruit, etc.). You just feel better knowing they are getting some healthy food.
But research shows the pleasure principle with eating does matter in how well the body absorbs nutrients. In Ellyn Satter’s book, Secrets of Feeding A Healthy Family, she discusses how enjoyment of food can improve nutrition. She explains how this may be related to the body’s cephalic phase of digestion which increases gastrointestinal activity when food is appealing.
For example, a study published in the seventies showed that women who enjoyed a meal more, absorbed 50% more iron than the women who thought the meal was too spicy. When the meal was pureed to a less desirable consistency the iron absorption decreased by 70 percent.
Instead of this old feeding strategy that doesn’t work long term, we’ll talk about how to vary your child’s food at every meal to maximize variety — but leaving it up to them to enjoy as they see fit.
Myth #5: Children should eat low-fat diets: I’ve had parents come to me wondering why their child seems so hungry. Once I find out what they are feeding them, I often find the child is getting little dietary fat.
Here’s what no one is telling you: kids need more fat than adults do. And I’m not just talking about those 2 years and younger. Fat is an important source of calories for growing bodies and it plays a vital role in development. I will show you how to sensibly fit fat in your child’s diet.
Of course we’ll have expert interviews and real-life stories to help bring kids’ nutrition to life. And because I haven’t finished the series yet (if only I was that organized) feel free to leave your nutrition questions in the comments — I might find a way to address your concerns.
So tell me, what worries you the most about your child’s nutrition?
Shaikh U, Byrd RS, Auinger P. Vitamin and mineral supplement use by children and adolescents in the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: relationship with nutrition, food security, physical activity, and health care access. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009 Feb;163(2):150-7.
Hallberg L, Bjorn-Rasmussen E, Rossander L, Suwanik R. Iron absoprtion from Southeast Asian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 1977;30:539-548.
First article in the series: 7 Nutrients Even Healthy Kids Miss