Well, isn’t that good timing? Right when my daughter and grandkids are here for a visit, I learn that August is Kids Eat Right Month. And along with this proclamation, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has released a new position paper on feeding kiddos in the 2- to 11-year-old age range.
Our goals, of course, are for young ones to achieve their full physical and mental development. To enjoy food. And to maintain a healthy weight as they skip into adulthood.
How are we doing? The good news is that — after two decades of skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity — the numbers are beginning to stabilize.
The bad news? Several key nutrients — such as calcium, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber — are being under-consumed by young children. And with these inadequacies come diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and, yes, even osteoporosis (porous bones) at younger and younger ages, says the AND.
Here are some ways we can feed our kids to keep them healthy for a lifetime:
Provide “nutrient-dense” foods — ones that supply a big nutritional bang for the calorie buck. A small orange, for example, is loaded with potassium and dietary fiber for a measly 60 calories. Not so for [cheese curls], which have few nutrients except fat, refined starch and salt for 160 calories.
Serve child-sized portions on child-sized plates. Studies show that the larger the plate, the more food we tend to eat. A fourth to a half sandwich on a salad plate is just fine for my two-year-old granddaughter. She can always have more if she is still hungry.
Limit juice. Even 100 percent fruit juice in a cute little container is a vehicle for concentrated calories. Experts recommend no more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice a day, if any. And remember that juice does not contain the beneficial fiber of whole fruit.
Limit fast food. Even though the milk and salad and fruit choices are there, let’s face it — frequent fast food sets Junior up to overload on calories and under-consume key nutrients. Our kids need less fat and sugar (such as fries and sodas) and more foods with calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber (such as yogurt parfaits).
Nourish little bodies and minds in the morning. Oat cereal and blueberries, anyone? Peanut butter on whole grain toast? Little ones who eat a simple morning meal can be expected to perform better with school tasks than those who do not, say researchers.
Whoa on too many snacks. Kids in 1978 ate meals or snacks about four times a day. Youngsters now eat more than five times a day. And unfortunately the top contenders are candy and salty snacks.
Be the parent. Kids can regulate their food intake well but only if they are in an environment that supports that. Mom and Dad and Grandmom and Granddad, careful that you don’t over-indulge or over-restrict little ones. Either extreme can backfire into eating problems later on.
Did I mention that my grandkids are in town?
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .