February 5, 2001
Your Children Well
a checkup, a mother once confided that because her child refused
to eat anything but ice cream, she gave it to him three times a
day. Children are experts at whining to get certain foods and avoid
others; this boy was no exception. And while this family's mealtime
problem was extreme, nutrition problems are more common than parents
and pediatricians care to admit.
Parents worry about their kids' eating all the time. And who can blame
us? For 12 months the baby eats and eats and eats, only to be replaced
by a toddler who takes two bites and says she's done. Growth slows
dramatically after the first birthday. Children gain only 3 to 5 pounds
between ages 1 and 2, whereas infants gain that much every month or
two! School-age children, on average, gain 6 pounds and grow about
2 inches each year until puberty. This slow, steady rate of growth
does not require superhuman amounts of food. A rough guide to serving
size is a tablespoon per year of age. That's not a lot!
Room to Grow
By Lisa M. Asta, M.D.
Recognize food rejection for the game it is, and resist the urge
to become a short-order cook. Focus on serving nutritious meals
based on the food pyramid: more fruits and vegetables, fewer sweets
and fats. If your child is hungry, she will eat. You decide what
to serve and when. Your child decides if she wants to eat and how
much. If she doesn't like what you're serving, offer a slice of
bread or a piece of fruit from a basket on the table.
It's our job as parents to teach healthy eating habits and model
good nutrition. Having a child, after all, is one of the most important
reasons to clean up our nutritional house. We all know what we do
well and what we can improve. Eating better will keep us healthier
longer -- who doesn't want great-grandchildren? Teaching the next
generation good nutrition is an uphill battle sometimes, but healthy
habits invested over an entire lifetime will pay an enormous dividend.
food rejection for the game it is, and resist the urge
to become a short-order cook.
Eating well need not be time-consuming or tasteless. Excellent
resources are widely available. I recommend the American Academy
of Pediatric's Guide to Your Child's Nutrition, edited by William
Dietz, M.D., and Loraine Stern, M.D. The Center for Science in the
Public Interest offers the skinny on good eating and evaluates food
products. (See link below.)
Research has shown that if you put nutritious food in front of
kids, they will meet their recommended daily allowance over time.
Prepared food, snacks, and many school lunches, however, fill kids
with sugar, fat, and salt at the expense of important vitamins and
minerals. Teach your child to make better choices and work toward
more nutritious options.
Any family can improve their eating habits right now by playing
the five-a-day game. At the end of the day, family members count
up how many times they've eaten fruit and vegetables. If the number
is less than five, try harder. Five-a-day means that every meal
and every snack should include a fruit or vegetable. Once you reach
five-a-day, give yourself a star and work on another nutrition goal,
like having four servings of calcium-rich food each day.
Here's where you can occasionally dig into some frozen yogurt!
Send feedback on this article.
M. Asta, M.D., F.A.A.P., is a board-certified pediatrician and a fellow
of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Asta graduated from the
Johns Hopkins University and Temple University School of Medicine.
She trained at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. She is an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics
at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.
She practices in Walnut Creek, California.