March is National Nutrition Month, and it’s a great time to be reminded of the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits in your family. Here are some answers to common questions I hear about kids and nutrition.
Is my child getting enough Calcium and Vitamin D?
Calcium and Vitamin D work together in the body to help build strong, healthy bones. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium so that calcium can do its job of building and maintaining strong bones. Try to include high calcium foods in your child’s diet such as dairy, green leafy vegetables, and soybeans. Vitamin D is naturally found in salmon, sardines, tuna and eggs, and supplemented in milk, yogurt, and cereals. It is also found in sunlight, which can be hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all infants receive 400 IU per day of vitamin D. Older children and adolescents who do not get at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day through their diet should supplement with 600 IU of vitamin D per day.
What are some ways to make sure my child is getting a balanced diet?
Eating healthy fats, fiber, and a variety of foods can help with your child’s development.
Healthy fats are not the enemy and are especially important in the first two years of life for brain development. Some examples of healthy fats include avocados, cheese, eggs, fish, nuts, and seeds. Make sure to check with your pediatrician or nutritionist on when to introduce these foods into your baby’s diet.
Fiber is another important element to include in your child’s diet. It helps with digestion, lowers cholesterol, and helps prevent heart disease and diabetes. Examples of foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
Variety is key! One easy way to introduce variety is to aim for a rainbow of colors in every meal. This not only keeps meals interesting and flavorful but will also help your child learn to eat a healthy, balanced diet containing a unique mix of nutrients.
What should my child be drinking?
Water and milk are the best beverages for your child. Water can be introduced after 6 months of age in small amounts when learning to drink from a cup. Breast milk or formula should be the primary beverage before the age of one. Whole milk is recommended for children ages 1-2, and after 2 years old it’s good to discuss with your child’s pediatrician whether whole or lower fat milk is right for your child.
Alternative milks are generally no longer recommended, as they tend to be lower in calcium, vitamin D, protein, healthy fats, and other micronutrients, and often have added sugar. If your child is allergic to dairy or you follow a vegan diet, talk to your pediatrician about options for getting these nutrients in food instead.
Juice and beverages with added sugar should be limited and only given as a special treat.
Our family is vegetarian/vegan - how can I make sure my child is getting the right nutrients?
Vegetarian: Make sure your child is getting enough iron and protein. Iron can be found in beans, tofu, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables like tomato sauce and leafy greens. Good sources of vegetarian protein include tofu, beans, lentils, Greek yogurt, eggs, nuts, and nut butters.
Vegans: Make sure your child is getting enough B12 and essential amino acids, which are present in “complete proteins” such as animal and soy proteins. It’s a good idea to mix and match from plant-based proteins. Good examples of plant-based proteins include tofu, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, almonds, spirulina, quinoa, chia seeds, hemp seeds, beans with rice, potatoes, and dark, leafy greens and vegetables.
What are other ways to help my child stay healthy?
Exercise every day! Encourage your child to exercise for 30-60 minutes every day, even teens. Try making exercise a family activity and help model this healthy behavior.
Eat meals as a family and model healthy choices. If your child sees you making healthy choices, they are more likely to do the same. Avoid negative body talk, both to your kids and about yourself/others, and do not talk about weight loss/dieting. Studies have shown that dieting is not helpful and can even to be detrimental to healthy weight. Instead, talk about nutrition, what foods help keep the body healthy, and what eating good foods can help a healthy body do - run fast and jump high.
Well-child check ups are a great time to check in with your pediatrician about healthy eating habits at your child’s age and any eating or dietary concerns you may have for your child.
Dr. Eva Taylor is a pediatrician in the Allegro Pediatrics Sammamish office.