By Trina Blythe, MD
Good nutrition for children is challenging because it needs to look appetizing, smell pleasant and taste good. Putting together a meal that meets all those criteria seems near impossible if you are a busy parent on the go. However, there are some startling statistics that might help get you motivated. Obesity has already been declared an epidemic among children. High cholesterol is on the rise among children. Poor nutrition or unbalanced nutrition can manifest in skin rashes, constipation, diarrhea, obesity and being underweight.
Parents can talk to their children about nutrition as early as three or four years old. Simple age-appropriate statements like, “Apples are better for you than cookies” are a good place to start. The challenge is knowing what truly constitutes good nutrition. Learning about nutrition is a process and it takes time. No one can become a nutrition expert overnight, but there are here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
- Everyone needs calcium. Newborns and older infants get calcium in breast milk and formula. Older children need two cups of milk per day. Children over nine need three cups of milk per day.
- Iron-rich foods are vital to certain bodily functions such as energy and red blood cell production. Dark green leafy vegetables tend to be rich in iron, low in calories and help with digestion. Red meats are rich in iron but should be eaten in moderation because they tend to be fattier.
- Folate is essential and can be found in grains and cereals. In general, baked is better than fried.
- Fish is rich in essential oils and should be encouraged.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are better than canned or frozen. Try to serve two or three servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Carbohydrates provide energy but are high in calories. A small amount of pasta can add your calories up quickly.
- Multi-vitamins are not a substitute for good nutrition and should be discussed with your pediatrician.
- Classic fast food is generally unhealthy. It is high in calories, cholesterol and fats. These should be avoided or eaten infrequently. Many fast food restaurants publish calorie information either directly on the menu or online.
If you are concerned about your child’s nutritional status, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. Your child’s pediatrician will want to discuss dietary history, perform a physical examination, and look at longitudinal records of height and weight and body mass index (BMI).
Trina Blythe, MD, family medicine, Way to Grow Pediatrics, is a member of BJC Medical Group. She is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. This article and others can be viewed at her blog, Way to Know Kids.