Nutrition Tips for Parents

Apr 16

Hayley Cestafe

Nutrition Tips for Parents

by Hayley Cestafe

Nutrition can be an overwhelming topic for many parents. There is often concern that children aren’t getting enough nutrients or aren’t eating a balanced diet. Here are some tips on commonly heard nutrition concerns.

Snacking

For the most part, we try to prepare healthy and nutritious meals, but many times the snacks that children are offered tend to be less healthy. For snacking, try to avoid processed foods and instead focus on fruits and vegetables, since most children do not eat enough of these foods. Fresh, colorful foods offer a variety of vitamins and minerals that children need. You can pair these fruits and vegetables with other items such as dairy products, lean meats, or whole grains. If you keep healthy foods around the home, then children are less tempted to eat unhealthy options like cookies or chips. Here are some great snack ideas from healthychildren.org:

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Added Sugars

It is recommended that less than 10% of your child’s daily calories come from added sugars, but it in actuality most children consume around 17% of their daily calories in added sugars. More than half of these added sugars come from what children are drinking, not from what they are eating. Offer water or milk instead of fruit juices, sport drinks or sodas. This is important because childhood obesity is a prevalent problem and added sugars in the diet contribute to this problem.

Meals and Media

Don’t do it! When we eat in front of a TV or other screen such as a phone or tablet, our brains are distracted and we tend to eat more than we would if we were only focusing on eating. It is important to teach your child mindful eating so that they can acknowledge their hunger cues and know when to stop eating due to fullness. This can be accomplished by encouraging family meals without the distraction of a TV or other screen. Family meals also help to engage your child and enhance their communication skills.

Multivitamins and Supplements

If your child is eating a well-balanced diet, a multivitamin is typically not needed. Vitamin D is a different story though. Studies have shown that most children do not get enough vitamin D, an important vitamin for bone development. Living in the northern United States also puts us at risk because we do not get adequate sunlight. Vitamin D is found naturally in some foods, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and eggs, while some foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, yogurt, and orange juice. This important vitamin is also synthesized in our bodies when exposed to sunlight. For infants who are breastfed, partially breastfed, or who consume less than 32 ounces per day of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk, supplementation with 400 IU per day of vitamin D is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). 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. Here is a chart of natural sources of vitamin D from the AAP that you can try implementing in your child’s diet:

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Energy Balance

What we consume in calories (energy in) should equal how much we burn off in calories (energy out). Breathing, digesting food, going about our daily routines and any extra physical activity we do all contribute to the calories that we burn. If there is not a balance between these two things, then weight loss or weight gain can occur. If we consume too many calories and do not burn enough off by being physically active, then over time weight gain can occur. If more calories are burned off than what are consumed, then weight loss can occur over time. The point of this is that being healthy and maintaining weight is not just about the foods that we consume. It is also about how active we are and the balance between consumption and expenditure of calories.

Cow Milk

Drinking too much cow’s milk increases the risk for iron deficiency anemia. Milk is filling and can lead to a decreased consumption of iron-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, beans, and red meat. Milk can also decrease the body’s absorption of iron, furthering the risk for iron deficiency. As a general rule for toddlers, milk intake should be limited to 16-24 ounces per day.

Vegetarian Diets

A vegetarian lifestyle can still be a healthy one, but you want to ensure that you child is getting all of the necessary vitamins and minerals that he or she needs. If not, supplementation may be necessary so it is important to talk to your pediatrician to see if this may be needed. Here is a list of important nutrients you should focus on and some great vegetarian food sources of these nutrients:

  • vitamin B12: dairy products, eggs, and vitamin-fortified products, such as cereals, breads, and soy and rice drinks, and nutritional yeast
  • vitamin D: milk, vitamin D-fortified orange juice, and other vitamin D-fortified products
  • calcium: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans, and calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy and rice drinks, and cereals
  • protein: dairy products, eggs, tofu and other soy products, dried beans, and nuts
  • iron: eggs, dried beans, dried fruits, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and iron-fortified cereals and bread
  • zinc: wheat germ, nuts, fortified cereal, dried beans, and pumpkin seeds

Eczema

This is believed to be an inherited condition and can have a variety of triggers that can make it worse such as certain skin care products, harsh soaps and detergents or environmental allergens. Did you know that certain foods can actually trigger flare ups of eczema as well? Some common culprits are eggs, dairy products, soy, wheat and nuts. 

Blood or Mucous in the Stool

If you find blood or mucous in the stool, this may alert us to a possible milk protein intolerance that can cause inflammation of the gut due to the protein found in milk or soy products. This is a common cause of bloody stool in both formula and breast fed infants and usually resolves by 6 to 18 months of age. Treatment includes removing the causative protein in mom’s diet if breastfeeding or switching to a hydrolyzed formula for formula fed infants. There are other causes of blood or mucous in the stools, so make sure to talk to your pediatrician if you have noticed any abnormal stools from your child.

Dieting

I’m often asked, “My child is overweight - do I need to start them on a diet?” The answer is no. Diets do not work, but lifestyle changes do because they promote habits. Encouraging your child to make healthy food choices and staying active will be much more effective than placing your child on a diet. Being a role model and showing your child that you are partaking in these healthy choices too will also encourage them to continue these habits as they get older. 

Calorie Intake

How many calories should my child consume each day and how much of each food from each food group should they be eating? Every child is different and energy needs can change depending on physical activity and growth spurts. The following two tables from healthychildren.org are a general guide:

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Balanced meals can help children stay healthy and focused. For example, a healthy lunch should consist of about ½ fruits and vegetables, ¼ grain, and ¼ protein with one serving of dairy.

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Hayley Cestafe is a Physician Assistant in the Allegro Pediatrics Bothell South office.