Planning for Good Health
Your child’s good digestive health begins at home. From what you buy, prepare, and serve to your family’s activity level, you can play a significant role in just how healthy your child is. Almost every family can make improvements in their diet or lifestyle to encourage better eating habits and health.
One of the best things you can do for your child is to buy organic. If you aren’t sure it is worth the money, think again. In terms of relative body weight, children consume more pesticides than adults. The problem is, their bodies aren’t prepared to cope with it. Because children’s detoxification systems aren’t fully developed, they are much more likely to accumulate chemicals over a longer period of time and in greater amounts.
Combined with the fact that children are often picky eaters and may only eat a few specific fruits or vegetables, they are more than likely ingesting one particular pesticide or group of pesticides in larger amounts. Unfortunately, this can accumulate to toxic levels rather easily in a small body as chemicals accumulate in muscle or fat tissue.
What’s a fast snack I can keep in the refrigerator for the kids?
Make mini fruit-and-cheese kabobs. Using toothpicks as skewers, thread on fruit and cheese of your choice. You can try pineapple, strawberries, grapes, apples, and chunks of cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Make a big batch and keep in a container kids can reach. If you use apples, dip them in pineapple juice to keep from browning.
Aim for a Healthy Weight
In children, being overweight is a significant health concern. Children who have good digestive health will be close to a normal height and weight for their age. Almost 20 percent of children ages two to nineteen are considered overweight. Overweight children are more likely to be overweight teens, who are more likely to be overweight adults.
The health risks associated with child obesity are serious. Children who weigh too much are more likely to develop heart disease, type-2 diabetes, some types of cancer, joint problems, and more. There’s also a psychological impact of obesity for kids who don’t feel good about their size.
Here are some tips for helping your children eat healthy:
Model good eating yourself.
Add new healthy recipes to your list of tried and true ones.
Plan healthy eating for the whole family—for babies and toddlers, teens and adults.
Make mealtimes a pleasure, and never give food as a reward or withhold food as a punishment.
Offer a wide range of fresh foods to make sure kids get all the vitamins they need.
Invite children to help with choosing and cooking food. You’ll be giving them a healthy attitude toward food that will last a lifetime.
Limit fast food.
How do I know how much fiber my child needs a day?
A simple way to determine how many grams of fiber your child should be consuming each day is to add five to your child’s age in years (i.e., a five-year-old should get about 10 grams of fiber). After the age of 15, kids (and adults) need about 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.
The recommended daily intake of sugar is four to five teaspoons, but many kids consume closer to 25 teaspoons a day. Kids can get 10 teaspoons worth of sugar just from drinking one can of regular soft drink.
No studies show that sugar makes children hyperactive, but it does make blood sugar drop, which could make your children irritable and distracted. Plus, it contributes to growing obesity rates, leading to higher rates of diabetes, and has other consequences—including tooth decay!
Menus served in school lunch programs are often too rich in saturated fat and cholesterol and too low in fiber- and nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Take an active role in helping your school system create better school lunches.
Watch Out for School Lunches
While your child’s school may offer healthier lunches, that doesn’t mean junior is going to choose them. Often, the same schools that tout healthy alternatives fail to mention that hot dogs, fries, and ice cream are still on the daily menu. Unless your child’s school is committed to providing organic, whole-grain foods, start brown-bagging it.
However, that means you will have to be a little creative, so you (and your kids) don’t get stuck in the same old PB&J-apple-and-bag-of-chips rut. Put some energy and effort into making it a colorful and flavorful meal. Do not bother with prepackaged lunches. Very few of them are healthy, most are more expensive than what you can prepare on your own, and the excessive packaging is bad for the environment.
Remember food safety guidelines when packing lunch. Keep it safe by making sure everything is clean, use cold packs for cold items and keep hot foods hot in an insulated bottle stored in an insulated lunch box.
When making sandwiches, choose whole-grain slices instead of white bread for sandwiches to boost their intake of fiber and other nutrients. Make it more interesting by rolling it up into a whole-grain pita, wrap, or gyro bread. Add lettuce, baby spinach, tomato, or cucumber slices to sandwiches to boost their veggie intake. Toss a baggie of baby carrots, sliced cucumber, sweet bell pepper, or celery in the lunch box. Tiny cookie cutters can make for interesting veggie shapes to dip.
Treats can be tricky. Swap in low-fat cheese cubes and whole grain crackers and swap out the chips to help them bone up on calcium and cut the fat. Fill a sandwich bag with air-popped popcorn for a low-fat, high-fiber snack. Include a baggie of dried cherries with a cup of plain or vanilla yogurt and let them mix up their own sweet treat. Instead of fruit-flavored candy, try dried fruit for a nutrient-packed sweet treat.
Be careful with choosing vitamins that look like candy. Some look like gummy animals or chewing gum. Make sure whatever vitamins you buy have a childproof lid and are kept out of reaching distance. Accidental overdose of iron-containing products is a leading cause of fatal poisoning in children under six years of age.
Ideally, your child should get all of the nutrients he needs from food. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a diet based on the Food Guide Pyramid provides adequate amounts of all the vitamins a child needs. There isn’t much research on whether adding a multivitamin makes a difference in the health of most children, but there isn’t any research to suggest it’s a bad thing, either. Many parents prefer to play it safe and think of a multivitamin as a nutritional insurance policy.
If you purchase vitamins, choose a brand formulated specifically for children that provides about 100 percent of the RDA for all of the vitamins and minerals listed. Look for a daily multivitamin with at least 200 IUs of vitamin D if a child:
Does not get regular exposure to sunlight
Does not drink at least 17 ounces (500 milliliters) of vitamin D-fortified milk, juice, or soy milk daily
Follows a vegetarian diet