If you’re confused about what’s healthy and what’s not, I understand – there’s plenty of conflicting information out there. Although dietary fads come and go, here’s a rundown of basic principles of good nutrition and healthy growth.
Essential Vitamins: Learn Your ABCs
Plan meals with your kids to make sure you all get enough of the ABCs:
Vitamin A is essential for growth, development and a healthy immune system. Pre-formed A, called retinol, comes from animal products (liver, whole milk). Carotenoid A is found in certain colorful fruits and veggies, and is transformed into retinol in the body.
B vitamins are needed for energy, brain function and stress management. Do you eat a lot of processed foods and refined carbohydrates? If so, you better boost your B intake!
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant for a healthy inflammation response and is crucial for immune and brain function.
Vitamin D plays a major role in bone development, so deficiencies in this vitamin can impair growth. The good news: exposure to sunlight causes the body to produce D — and kids love to play outside!
Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, are crucial for development and health of the brain, heart, nervous system, tissues, skin and immune system. The omega-3 DHA is especially important for school-age children. Cold-water fish (salmon, tuna), flaxseed, dark leafy greens and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Consider supplementing if these foods are not part of your diet. Child-friendly omega-3 supplements are available.
Eat a Rainbow
A colorful plate of natural purples, blues, reds, oranges, yellows and greens will nourish young bodies with the positive effects of phytonutrients, such as flavonoids, carotenoids and chlorophyll. Choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables like mangos, carrots, apricots, citrus fruits, plums, blueberries, eggplant, grapes, watermelon, raspberries, beets, salad greens, green beans, winter squash, pumpkin and dark leafy greens.
Toss Out the Trans Fats
Avoid snacks and desserts with hydrogenated fats, which are added to many conventional processed foods aimed at kids. The hydrogenation process transforms vegetable oils from their natural liquid state into solid fats. The result is a fat that is rich in trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while at the same time decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which has been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Trans fatty acids have an even worse impact on cholesterol levels than diets high in butter, which contains saturated fat.
Make a Sweet Deal
Higher intake of refined sugar has been implicated in many health problems, from obesity to diabetes to dental decay. Eating lots of nutrient-poor, sugar-rich foods can take away your appetite for more nutritious foods. But that doesn’t mean you have to cut out all the fun stuff!
Trade refined sweets for delicious, more wholesome options that are high in nutrients but lower in sugar. Opt for plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits or dried fruits. Use unsweetened applesauce or granola as toppings. For a fruity soft drink alternative, dilute 100% fruit juices with carbonated mineral water. Try alternative sweeteners such as maple syrup, molasses, honey and agave nectar for baking.
Nutrition for Pregnant and Nursing Moms:
So much to eat, so little time! With all the excitement, exhaustion and long lists of to-dos, many expectant and nursing moms wonder how they will ever manage to work in all the extra meals, calories and nutrients recommended by the experts. Giving preference to nutrition-packed power foods is one way to reach your daily quota.
Top 10 Power Foods:
These foods have nutrients especially important for pregnant and lactating women. They also deliver a powerful nutritional punch to everyone at your dinner table, so now is the time to start incorporating them into your family’s meals for life.
Yogurt for calcium and probiotics. Calcium needs increase during pregnancy. In addition to being high in calcium, yogurt is fermented, so it also provides beneficial probiotic bacteria, which promotes intestinal and immune health.
Dark, leafy greens for calcium, fiber, vitamins and folic acid. Kale, collards and other dark, leafy greens are rich with calcium, fiber, and vitamins A and C. They rate high on the antioxidant scale and are an important source of folic acid, which is recommended in higher amounts for all women in their childbearing years to help prevent neural tube defects in their children.
Eggs for vitamin A, iron and protein. Eggs contain important nutrients, including vitamin A, iron and protein. Protein needs increase during pregnancy, and adequate protein intake often helps to temper sugar cravings. Note: most of the nutrition in eggs is found in the yolk.
Fatty fish for omega-3s. Salmon, sardines, black cod, anchovies, herring and trout provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are the primary components of brain tissue and are vital for brain and visual development. However, pregnant and lactating women should limit their intake to no more than 12 ounces (2 servings) of low-mercury fish per week, and should also avoid larger, long-lived fish with more dark meat (including tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish). Fish with dangerous amounts of mercury may harm a baby’s developing nervous system.
Zinc is important for growth and development because it is required for cell division, DNA/RNA synthesis, and protein synthesis. Fatty fish for omega-3s. Salmon, sardines, black cod, anchovies, herring and trout provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are the primary components of brain tissue and are vital for brain and visual development. However, pregnant and lactating women should limit their intake to no more than 12 ounces (2 servings) of low-mercury fish per week, and should also avoid larger, long-lived fish with more dark meat (including tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish). Fish with dangerous amounts of mercury may harm a baby’s developing nervous system.
Berries for antioxidants and fiber. These colorful fruits top the charts with their antioxidant content and have been shown to help with brain, eye and vascular health. Berries also provide fiber, which is beneficial for pregnant women.
Sweet potatoes for vitamins A and E. This is one comfort food that has an appealing nutritional profile. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (as colorful beta carotene) and a good source of vitamin E.
Avocados for potassium, folic acid, vitamin C, lutein and good fat. Nutrient-dense avocados contain healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as significant quantities of the antioxidant lutein, which has been shown to be beneficial for eye health.
Legumes for vegetarian protein, fiber, iron, folate, magnesium and zinc. Legumes (including certain pods, beans and peas) are a good source of vegetarian protein and are rich in fiber. Many varieties are also an excellent source of iron, folate and magnesium. Legumes (especially navy beans and split peas) are also a good alternative source of zinc for vegetarians.
Nuts for fiber, vitamin E and magnesium. Specific types of nuts have their own nutritional advantages. For example, walnuts have omega-3 fatty acids, and almonds provide calcium. Although nuts are high in fat, they contain primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.
Feeding Your Infant
Even though it’s an exciting milestone, many parents find the idea of starting solids downright daunting. As you become your child’s guide to the wide world of grown-up food, let us help you navigate.
Whether you make your own food or buy pre-made, using high-quality ingredients is important.
Sound Advice on Solids
Baby’s first solid meal is a big event. Don’t push baby into starting solids if she doesn’t seem ready, and don’t get discouraged if she rejects your spoon-wielding advances at first. When she’s ready, that mouth will open wide. The decision about when to introduce solids is based on numerous factors, but most pediatricians recommend doing so at around six months of age.
Start with foods that are easy to assimilate, nutrient-rich, and least likely to cause an allergic reaction. A few easy, fresh choices include mashed ripe banana or avocado. Other popular first fruits include unsweetened applesauce or pears. Sweet potatoes and winter squash are often recommended as first veggies because of their high nutrient content and mild, sweet flavor.
Cereals are also often recommended as early foods; rice is the most popular option. It’s easy to make your own baby cereal from rice or other grains in your cupboard, or use the just-add-water varieties available off the shelf.
Gaga for Organic:
Demand for organic commercial baby food is on the rise — and for good reason. Many experts believe that choosing organic foods is especially important for infants. Options include: fresh frozen purées, baby food in jars, cereals, crackers, teething biscuits and other snacks for infants and toddlers.
Food Cautions During the First Year:
Use caution when introducing nuts and eggs, which are common culprits for allergic reactions. Other common allergens include: soy, dairy, citrus, shellfish and wheat.
Some children are sensitive to tomatoes, chocolate and strawberries.
If making homemade baby food (particularly using non-organic produce), avoid carrots, celery, beets and spinach until age seven months due to possibly high nitrate content.
If you serve meats to your baby, be sure they are fully cooked and chopped or puréed to a safe texture. Meats can enhance the absorption of nutrients and may be an excellent source of iron.
Certain fish species, including shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and tuna, may have high mercury content and are not recommended for babies.
Juice contains high amounts of sugar. Even though it is natural, watch that it doesn’t take the place of other more nutritious choices.
Honey should not be served to infants under one year of age.
Never limit fat intake for infants. Dietary fat is essential for the development of the brain and immune system. Babies need significantly more fat than adults.
What Your Toddler Really Needs:
Although they are increasingly active, toddlers aren’t growing as rapidly as they were during the first year of life; therefore, their energy needs actually decrease. So it may look like your toddler isn’t eating enough when she actually is.
Rather than adjusting your child’s eating habits, you may need to adjust your eyes. A serving size for a child between 12 and 36 months of age is only one-fourth to one-half of an adult serving size. That means “one serving” of bread, for example, is only ¼ to ½ a slice! Just like adults, children need a variety of grains, vegetables, fruits and proteins, but they don’t need grown-up portions.
The Snack Strategy:
Snacks are a great way to ensure that these busy little bodies continue to thrive despite their frenzied pace and new found food aversions. It goes without saying you should choose snacks that are fresh and healthy and that also taste good, whether it’s simple carrot sticks, sliced grapes, grab-and-go organic snack bars or something creative you and your child whip up in the kitchen. Offer several healthy snacks between the main meals, and make sure a lot of them are portable. Stash some that have a relatively long shelf life in your car, purse, diaper bag or stroller pocket so you’re never stranded without a quick bite for an on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown toddler.
Just when you thought your baby was old enough to allow you to sit down and eat a civilized dinner…she can’t sit still! With such busy minds and active bodies, sitting through an entire meal is not realistic for many toddlers. Experts advise that you shouldn’t let meals become a battleground, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a short-order cook. Simply prepare a variety of simple, healthful foods and offer them at regular intervals throughout the day, including the family’s usual mealtimes.
Kids and Teens:
Kids have different nutritional needs at different times in their lives. These tips will help guide you through some of the milestones.
Preschool to Preteen: Model Positive Habits
For this age group, maintaining positive habits at home is especially important.
Make sure every bite your child eats is as nutrient dense as possible. Allowing them to fill up on non-nutritive calories (like too much juice) can displace the nutritious foods they would have otherwise eaten.
Choose whole grains and whole grain products (breads, pastas, brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal) instead of refined grain products.
Limit access to “junk” foods, but provide some alternative sweet options. Making all sweets forbidden may only intensify a child’s attraction to them.
Model good nutrition choices. If you choose fries instead of a baked potato, you can’t expect them to do the opposite.
Fill nutrition gaps with a range of healthy snacks. What your child eats between meals is just as important as what is eaten during meals.
Discourage the habit of eating and watching television simultaneously. Consider limiting television, which has been linked with childhood and adolescent obesity.
For older children and adolescents concerned about their weight, teach them that physical activity and making healthy food choices, rather than dieting, is the best route for weight loss.
Teens: Keep the Benefits in Mind:
Help teens stay healthy by explaining the benefits of eating well. Use motivating examples, like improved performance in school, sports or their favorite creative outlet. Keep the following in mind when feeding your teen:
Teens need more vitamin C, calcium and iron than adults.
Getting enough calcium, along with magnesium and vitamin D, is important for bone support.
For healthy skin, teens need lots of nutrients, water, fiber and essential fats — and less sugar and highly processed foods and drinks.
Teens who eat on the run, are active in sports, or are concerned about weight should consider a supplement to help fill the gaps in their nutrient intake.
The teen years can be very stressful. Stress can wreak havoc on skin, moods and eating habits. Help your teen learn coping skills for stress.