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Mealtime Makeovers

  • A Too-Rich Diet

    Like Sarah, Fernando, and Adrian, most American kids take in more protein than they need, and more than two-thirds of those between ages 2 and 6 consume more saturated fat than is healthy.

    Protein. It's a key building block of all cells, yet it doesn't take much to meet a child's needs. For example, eight ounces of milk (one cup) and one ounce of cooked meat (the size of a third of a deck of cards) supply all the protein a 3-year-old needs in a day. For a 5-year-old, just add one more ounce of meat and another cup of milk. Extra protein won't hurt a child with healthy kidneys, but it can crowd out nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit.

    Saturated Fat. A childhood diet high in this type of fat can raise blood-cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease in adulthood if dietary patterns don't change. Starting at age 2, children should get no more than ten percent of their calories from saturated fat, although it's okay to make the shift gradually. Trans fatty acids (from partially hydrogenated oils) have similar effects. To cut back on saturated and trans fats, choose leaner cuts of meat, switch from whole to low-fat milk and dairy products, minimize fried fast foods, and limit high-fat commercial baked goods and snacks.


    Taste-Test Tips

    When introducing new foods:


  • Offer one new food at a time along with familiar ones. This lets your child approach it without pressure.


  • Allow her to explore. She learns about foods  -- especially new ones  -- by touching, smelling, and even playing with them. She might even try a taste!


  • Make mealtimes pleasant. It's hard for your child to try something new when he's distracted. Turn off the TV, computer, and loud music, then eat with him or at least sit with him while he eats.


  • Cook together. Kids as young as 3 take pride in dishes they've helped create and may be more likely to taste them.


  • Relax. It may take ten or more exposures to a new food before your child accepts it. Forcing kids to try something before they're ready just fosters resistance. And don't give up: What's yucky in June may be peachy in July.


    Who Needs a Vitamin Pill?

    Nobody's diet is perfect, least of all a child's. That's why a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement can make sense for many kids. Always check with your pediatrician about your child's individual needs. Best bet: a kids' chewable multi (or a liquid for ages 2 and under) that supplies no more than 100% of the Daily Value for the nutrients on the label. Children who don't eat meat or poultry may need one with iron too.