Dr. L. Lee Coyne
Nutrition Consulting
Dr. Lee, the Healthy Professor

What Should Children Eat?

Kids eating lunchAn increased awareness of the incidence and perils of childhood obesity has many parents asking the question – so what should my child eat?

Most parents could easily make a list of what not to eat. Many, particularly those with “picky” eaters at the table, have some difficulty or are confused about what is best and how to get their children to eat what is best for them.

The quandary about how to handle the “picky” eater deals with understanding the importance of and sources of good nutrition. Nutritional deficiencies can have devastating effects on child development both physically and intellectually.

Poor nutrition leads to poor bone and muscular development and increases the risk of developing obesity. If the practice continues, the early development of type II Diabetes and heart disease follows.

Leading by example is the first fundamental advice for any family. Children learn to eat and develop tastes based on what is presented and what is considered to be normal behaviour by those they love.

A 1995 Cornell University study of the habits of 122 children aged three to five years demonstrated that a young child’s preference for sweets was related to what parents do and do not allow.

Children whose parents ate sweets frequently were likely to eat sweets more often than those whose parents seldom ate sweets. Sweet eating was also related to the amount of television watched as well as to the parents’ attitude toward giving children sweets. Children are not born with a “sweet tooth” - they acquire the taste.

Marketing experts with very good writers have developed programs to convince parents and children that their products taste good and are therefore good for you.

They have successfully sold orange flavored sugar water with two vitamins added as a healthy alternative to orange juice. In fact the grocery store even places these products in the same cooler as the dairy products and that further enhances the image.

Snacking is a way of life and if wise choices are made it is a healthy habit. All snacks should be included in the daily nutritional intake plan and not be regarded as outside nutritional parameters.

Nutritionists at Iowa State University reported in a 1993 study that 40% of school age children ate no vegetables; 20% ate no fruit; and 36% ate four different types of snack food  (cookies, ice cream, soda, chips and candy).

Surely parents understand that this snack list is loaded with sugars, refined carbohydrates, salt, artificial flavors and colors, artificial sweeteners and acrylomides (I urge you to type this on into a search engine on the internet). None of these features in typical commercial snack foods have any redeeming nutritional qualities.

Wise food choices for children (and adults) include a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit along with smart protein choices. If protein is included with every meal and every snack there is less chance of creating insulin (the fat storage hormone) disasters and better blood sugar control.

The objective should be to create a healthy balance because healthy people don’t have silly food cravings. Protein deficiencies usually lead to the craving of sweets and calcium deficiencies have been linked to chocolate cravings.

Good protein sources include milk and yogurt. Avoid the flavored versions because they are sweetened with sugars and fruit concentrates and elevate blood sugar too quickly. If you must add flavor to yogurt choose a small amount of berries (high in fiber, nutrients and low glycemic index).

Other great protein sources include eggs (deviled eggs are great snacks) cheese, sliced beef, ham, turkey, chicken, smoked fish, shrimp and other seafood. Cottage cheese is a great choice and you can flavor it with fruit because the protein content is so high.

Nuts and seeds are also good sources of protein even though they are primarily a fat. Whole grains like old fashioned – large flake, rolled oats and other hot cereals combined with milk and/or yoghurt (and some protein powder in my house) nuts and seeds make great breakfasts.

Vegetables pre-cut and raw are excellent methods to deliver good nutritional density and fiber to the diet. These can be used in meals or snacks. You can include a yogurt-based dip and a few herbs for taste.

Remember that root vegetables are higher on the glycemic index list and green vegetables are lower. Many of these same colorful vegetables can be included in stir-fry dishes along with a favorite protein choice. Home made tacos or burritos or quesedias are also easy and fun choices.

Home made healthy freezer treats can become part of the snack menu. Simple create your own popsicles but add yogurt, real fruit and some protein powder to the mixture to increase the nutritional density.

The bread, cereal, rice and pasta food group is often the most favored and the lowest in nutritional density. Therefore the exercise of caution is urged making choices here.

Choose more whole grain and sprouted grain items with a plan for some protein food to accompany the grain item. Wraps, pita pockets, small home made muffins sprouted wheat bread, whole grain granola (home made is best to control the sugar and fat content) and whole grain pasta are among the better choices.

If these choices are new to your family try to introduce one new item each month. Similarly, if your current choices are not the best, begin by reducing the amounts and frequencies and chose an item to eliminate each month.

A transitional approach will meet with far more success than an attempted wholesale change overnight. To help the transition, begin a responsible vitamin/mineral/ essential fatty acid supplement program. Healthy people make healthy choices. Make healthy choices to become a healthy person.

Further Reading

Death to the chicken finger. How we created an entire generation of unsophisticated, picky eaters — and why we must stop the tasteless cycle.

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Dr. L. Lee Coyne

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