According to an article published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine,” poor nutritional choices are a growing health threat to American families. Although poor nutrition can cause chronic diseases, it isn’t always easy to get children to eat healthy diets. Doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stress how important proper nutrition is for children. They advise parents to make sure that children eat a variety of foods from the different food groups in order to get all the essential nutrients they need for proper growth.
Whole grain breads and cereals have lots of vitamins and minerals in addition to the carbohydrates that kids need to fuel their bodies. A recent survey of members of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) shows that the risk of childhood obesity is lower for kids who eat oatmeal regularly. Nutritionists point out that the fiber found in whole grains helps kids maintain a healthy weight. Dietary fiber also reduces cholesterol and maintains blood sugar levels. Children need at least three servings of whole grains each day, which should include other grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, graham crackers, granola bars, tortilla chips and popcorn in their diets. Even though one slice of whole wheat bread or one packet of instant oatmeal are examples of a single serving size, according to the ADA, studies found that most children consume only one or less than one serving of whole grains each day.
Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables and fruits have the vitamins and minerals that kids of all ages need to help them grow. Green leafy vegetables contain the B vitamins the body needs to make protein, while vitamin A in carrots, apricots and sweet potatoes helps to keep a child’s eyes and skin healthy. A child needs the vitamin C found in cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, strawberries and citrus fruits for healthy bones and teeth. Nutritionists say that young children need at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day. The Food Guide Pyramid published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers a single piece of fruit to be one serving, and a serving of vegetables measures as ½ cup. While older children and teenage girls should eat four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit each day, teen boys need at least five servings (or 2½ cups ) of vegetables and four servings of fruit.
Children need adequate calcium in their diets in order to grow and maintain healthy bones and teeth. While three servings of dairy foods each day should give children most of the calcium they need, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, after age 8, children should consume four servings of milk and other dairy foods. Studies show that kids who do not drink milk may be more at risk for childhood bone fractures than those who drink milk regularly. Dairy products also provide essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins needed in the diet. Yogurt, ice cream, hard or soft cheeses, pudding and cottage cheese are dairy products, which contain nutrients like calcium, protein, vitamins A, D and B12 that kids need. Although the Dietary Guidelines of America recommend low fat or nonfat milk for children, parents need to keep in mind that since kids tend not to think in terms of nutrients when they eat, it may be necessary to make a gradual switch from whole to reduced fat milk.
The body uses protein to build and repair tissue, but because it is unable to store protein, it needs lots of it. Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that dietary protein should come from food sources like fish, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains. Two daily servings or 5 oz. of protein are recommended for children ages 2 to 6. Older children and teenage girls should eat two daily servings of protein for a total of 6 oz.. Teen boys need slightly more, and should eat three servings of protein each day. A message published by the Harvard School of Public Health stresses the importance of choosing protein-rich foods that are low in saturated fats, but which offer the fiber and other vitamins and nutrients needed for a healthy diet.
While children need more fat in their diets than do adults, most fast-food menus and packaged snacks are loaded with trans fats. It’s important to get kids to eat more tuna and canned salmon, both excellent sources of the Omega-3 fatty acids they need for the development of healthy brains and the nervous system. Despite all the negative publicity about the risks of including too much of the wrong kinds of fat in the diet, children need to consume a certain percentage of fat in order to help them absorb the vitamins they need for good health. Members of the American Dietetic Association say that kids older than 2 need to get about 30 percent of their daily calories from fat. Nutritionists also say that even though it’s OK for older children to drink low fat or skim milk, toddlers still need the higher percentage of fat found in whole milk.