Nutrition

Because childhood obesity has been increasing at an alarming rate, the subject of childhood nutrition has lately been prominent in the news. The US government recently released new dietary guidelines called “My Plate” (see the attached image). But what does this mean for our children?

It means, first of all, that we should offer our children a varied diet with half of their intake composed of fruits and vegetables. But do your kids avoid these foods? What can we do about that?

Studies have shown that introducing a varied diet of different flavors of fruits and vegetables early in a child’s life increases his or her acceptance of those foods. So when starting your baby on solid food at months of age, go through all the fruits and vegetables before continuing on to meats and dairy. Remember, also, that fresh vegetables usually taste better than canned or frozen varieties. If our kids get used to the idea that every meal includes a large amount of fruits and vegetables, they accept this as their own norm.

Another recommendation is to eat whole grains instead of refined grains, and drink low fat milk instead of whole milk. These differences also easy to accept if offered early and routinely. They become problematic only if children are used to eating primarily refined grains and whole milk. Once children are weaned from breastmilk or formula, they can start immediately on 1% milk. Then, after age 2, they can start fat-free milk.

The Choose My Plate website, to which we’ve linked on our Facebook page and here on our Kids Plus web site, has an enormous amount of information, tips, and even menus to help us all in this endeavor. Although much of the information is directed to the prevention of obesity, the recommendations are applicable to everyone for healthy eating. Here’s a synopsis of the guidelines that we can all use to get started…

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Specifically in terms of children, we can add to the first recommendation, “Enjoy your food,” that one way to do this is a family meal. (See Katie LaMendola’s June 8th Doctor’s Note on the benefits of family mealtime.)  This involves the whole family sitting down together without television, computer, phone or radio distraction. Studies have shown that families eating meals together are associated with a lower incidence of childhood obesity, better educational outcomes, and better mental health. So by sitting down to eat together, families can enjoy their meals as well as improve other important parts of family life.

Hopefully these suggestions will lead all of us to a healthier and more enjoyable diet.

Dr. Nancy Brent, a Kids Plus Doc, is the Medical Director of our Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.