As summertime bliss winds down, families are getting back into their fall routines with school, homework, after-school activities and even eating. As you bring structure back into your lives, don’t forget that fueling your children with the right foods is crucial not only for their growth, brainpower and physical activities, but also for setting the stage for good health later in life.
Here are a few must-have eats that will supply three crucial nutrients that most kids fall short on in their diets: fiber, protein and calcium. Make sure to include sources of these three “biggies” at breakfast and lunch.
Fiber: Low fiber intake in children may set them up for diabetes, heart disease and obesity in their adult years, even as early as their 20s! Kids need their age plus 5 in total grams of fiber daily (e.g. a 6-year old need 6 + 5 = 11 grams daily). Choose higher fiber breakfast cereals—at least five grams per serving—or mix high-fiber types with sugary cereals to entice the skeptical. Also top cereals or yogurt with fresh or dried fruit for soluble fiber great for healthy circulation. Choose high-fiber breads (100% whole grain) and tortillas (low-carb versions with added fiber). Include colorful, raw veggies cut up in lunches with a low-fat dip.
Protein: Choosing good quality, low-fat protein choices ensures children not only get body-building nutrients, but also zinc, a mineral that keeps the immune system strong—especially important during the school year! Make sure to include some protein at all meals: low-fat milk over cereal, yogurt (make into a smoothie with fruit), string cheese, hard boiled eggs, leftover chicken or other lean meats, and even pizza topped with cheese and lean meat. Also consider soy protein sources such as edamame (soybeans in the shell) and veggie burgers—these are precooked and can be used in sandwiches or as pizza topping.
Calcium: You know calcium is vital for growing bones, but new research suggests that getting adequate calcium, especially from dairy products, may be helpful in lifelong weight control. Children need two to three servings daily (1 cup milk or yogurt or 1½ ounces of cheese). Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy, soy milk and yogurt, and calcium-fortified juices. Low-fat chocolate milk is okay (you can mix with skim milk to keep sugar intake down). Use plain yogurt with savory seasonings or a bit of honey for a veggie dip or mix into canned soups for a “cream” style version.
Dr. Liz Applegate, PhD is Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, Nugget Market, Inc.’s nutrition consultant and a nationally renowned expert on nutrition and fitness. Dr. Applegate is the author of several nutrition and fitness books in addition to the popular “Fridge Wisdom” nutrition column for Runners’ World Magazine for the past 30 years and Nugget Market, Inc.’s “Health Notes by Dr. Liz” for the past 9 years.