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February 5, 2001
Feed Your Children Well

uring 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.

Room to Grow


By Lisa M. Asta, M.D.
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!

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.


Recognize 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!

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Lisa 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.