Report: When it Comes to Kids' Food Intake, Look at Whole Picture

Pediatrican group says banning certain foods not effective

AAP Policy statement takes a whole-diet approach
Certain foods such as fats and sugars don't have to be banned from a child's plate in order to have a healthy diet.. Luc Beziat

The devil is in the details. Especially when it comes to what you put on your preschooler's plate. That's the message in a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding what our kids eat every day.

"Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools," published in the March 2015 issue of Pediatrics (released online Feb. 23), urges parents and schools alike to "take a broader approach to nutrition, considering children's whole diet pattern – rather than the amount of sugar, fat or specific nutrients in individual foods."

"A good diet is built on highly nutritious foods from each of the main food groups," said Robert Murray, M.D., FAAP, lead author of the policy statement. "No ingredient should be banned. A small amount of sugar or fat is ok if it means a child is more likely to eat foods that are highly nutritious."

For parents, this means offering preschoolers high-quality, low-calorie foods that meet a variety of their nutritional needs. It's about being flexible -- if you need fat or sugar to get kids to eat something, that's ok. (In small amounts!)

To help parents figure out what types of foods are best for little ones, the AAP has developed a five-step approach: 

  1. Select a mix of foods from the five food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy, and quality protein sources, including lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and eggs).
  2. Offer a variety of food experiences.
  3. Avoid highly processed foods.
  4. Use small amounts of sugar, salt, fats and oils with highly nutritious foods to enhance enjoyment and consumption.
  1. Offer appropriate portions.

"Children, like adults, often want their own preferred flavors and textures during meals and snacks," Dr. Murray said. "It's no secret that brown sugar on oatmeal, or salad dressing with cut vegetables, can make these healthy foods more palatable to children, and increase their consumption.

This is not a license to give kids anything they want; we just need to use sugar, fat and sodium strategically."

Common-Sense Feeding Tips for Parents

So while the new guidelines aren't suggesting you offer your little one a box of cookies in exchange for eating her cauliflower, they do offer parents a little bit of leeway when it comes to figuring out the best ways to get the "right" foods into your little one. Here's how:

  • "Allow 'treat foods,'" says Dr. Kathy Keenan Isoldi, RD, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at LIU Post. "It's O.K. to keep ice cream and cookies in the house! But make it clear to your child that she can only have one a day. After that, if she wants another snack, it needs to be fruit or crackers or something else healthy. If you restrict certain foods, it will backfire when they are older.
  • Let your kids help. Kids who join their parents or caregivers in the kitchen and assist in making the meal are more than likely willing to try what they've just created. Plus, it's a great opportunity for some quality time together.
  • Make recipes kid-friendly. That doesn't mean that every dinner has to consist of chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. But there are plenty of kid-friendly recipes that are also great for families. They are tasty, nutritious and easy to whip up.
  • Offer new selections next to old favorites.  Sure your preschooler likes chicken breast, but couscous? You never know, especially since it is being served next to something she does enjoy. The more often you put the new food on the table, the more familiar with it she becomes.
  • Don't give up. Be patient. "You want to make sure there is a nice harmony in your house when it comes to food. If you have 'food fights' in your house when the kids are little, you'll have them when they are in their teens too. There should be no stress in the home around the meal," said Dr. Isoldi.

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