by Lisa Young, Nutritional Counselor
When it comes to good nutrition for kids, parents usually try to make their children eat “healthy” foods that may not taste good to kids. But without fail, children end up requesting kid-friendly foods like french fries, chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs and soft drinks. So what can parents do to give their kids proper nutrition?
To begin with, parents should teach their children to avoid high-calorie and high-fat foods. There are many healthy and nutritious food items for kids that also taste good. For example, milk is a very good source of calcium, vitamin C, and protein.
Milk should be part of your children’s diet unless your kids are allergic to it. For those children who cannot drink milk, there are calcium-rich alternatives like yogurt available.
Some varieties of yogurt have live active cultures and no added sugar, which means low fat content. Other yogurt products contain pro-biotics, which provide healthy intestinal flora.
Every child can benefit from eating a nutritious and healthy breakfast each morning. Research has shown a link between eating a healthy breakfast and higher achievement on standardized tests, as well as better concentration and improved behavior in the classroom.
If you want to give your children a healthy and nutritious breakfast, begin with breakfast cereal. But make sure to select whole-grain cereals that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Avoid sugary cereals that can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Sugared cereals really have a high glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates in food are absorbed by the body and converted into fuel.
Foods that are low on the glycemic index scale (like whole grains) are the best breakfast foods for kids. For example, while sugary cereal and regular oatmeal may have the same number of carbohydrates, they have very different glycemic index levels.
Sugary cereals are absorbed by the body quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar levels. But the levels then drop precipitously after a couple of hours, causing energy problems for kids as a result.
On the other hand, oatmeal is absorbed by the body slowly, resulting in a slow rise in blood sugar and providing sustained energy to last kids throughout the morning.
Moreover, kids who eat oatmeal won’t experience a steep drop in their blood sugar levels. A drop in blood sugar can cause a release of hormones that affect a child’s mood. In some children, these hormones seem to also have an effect on concentration and memory.
The best breakfast cereals for kids are fortified with calcium, iron and other important vitamins and minerals. For additional nutrition, put some fresh fruit such as bananas or strawberries on top. For protein, you can also give your children eggs for breakfast.
You don’t have to push your children to eat vegetables such as spinach and broccoli. There are many healthy vegetables that children enjoy like baked or mashed potatoes, corn, peas and carrots. These vegetables are high in fiber and are good sources of vitamin C and potassium.
Introduce vegetables into their diet at an early age, starting with small servings of green or yellow vegetables. You can make your own baby food by steaming vegetables and then mashing or cutting them into tiny pieces for nutrition kids enjoy.
Fish is a very good food for kids and is a natural source of essential protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. If your children don’t like baked fish, you can give them tuna sandwiches on whole wheat bread as a delicious and healthy alternative.
Here’s an idea: cut up apples and oranges for your kids as a great snack between meals. Oranges and apples are sweet, juicy and high in vitamin C. They are also contain important dietary fiber and are low in calories. Most kids love fruit for a healthy snack.
Carrot and celery sticks are another nutritious, low-cost snack for children that is easy to prepare. Simply wash and cut into sticks that are the right size for children’s smaller fingers. You can store them in a Tupperware container in the refrigerator.
There are many books on proper nutrition and diet for kids. You can do an internet search to get information about proper nutrition for children. But it’s always a good idea to talk to your pediatrician about these issues because they are the experts when it comes to children’s health.
Children’s books about nutrition and healthy eating and food books for kids should come recommended from reputable sources. Look for nutrition book reviews by dietitians and nutritionists who work with children.
The best books should provide a clear set of guidelines for healthy eating. Nutrition basics like the composition of foods (fats, protein, carbohydrates, etc.), basic food groups, and how to make healthier food choices should be included in any good nutrition book for kids.
(published July 21, 2011)