The direction on what we're supposed to be feeding our kids seems to be as unpredictable as what will come out of Donald Trump's mouth next. One day, it's "have your kids eat this." The next day, it's "oh wait, just kidding, don't feed your kids that." The food pyramid has morphed so many times that it's not even a pyramid anymore, it's round and now it's called, "My Plate" -- a colorful representation of what your plate should look like at every meal. Last week, we sat down with Nicole Silber RD, a registered dietitian and pediatric nutritionist in New York City to help set the record straight on our kids' diets -- that was Part I. Here, you'll find Part II with even more useful information on what your kids should and shouldn't be eating. For the complete and full interview, visit our blog.
Given growing concern with our kids eating too much sugar already, what's your take on fruit? Is fruit good or bad? And are some fruits better than others?
Fruit is a great addition to your child's daily diet. It is a great way to get in many nutrients, like fiber, carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Plus, it's a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth without being processed white sugar. But, ultimately, too much fruit or what I like to call "over-fruiting" is ultimately sending too much sugar into those little bodies. And, yes, while it is natural, fruit sugar, which is superior to white sugar, still will raise blood sugar levels. Fruits like citrus and berries tend to have a little less sugar than sweeter fruits like mangos, bananas and grapes. But, rather than getting caught up on which fruits to choose, think portions and frequency -- keeping fruit to only 2 servings a day, each serving about ½-1 cup of fresh fruit, not juice or dried fruit.
What about veggies? What are the most and least nutritious? We always hear lettuce is just water or that corn has no added value. Is all this true? What veggies should our kids be eating?
The take home message with veggies should be to aim to have them more! Include them in your child's lunchbox and have half of their plate be full of them at dinner. Whether they eat them or not, is up to the kids, but it's important for them to see a variety of vegetables on their plates everyday. Unlike fruit, you do not have to worry about "over-vegetabling."
While not all vegetables are created equal, instead of getting stuck on certain veggies, it's best to always mix them up because the different colors in vegetables are what provide the different vitamins and minerals. That's where the "taste the rainbow" expression came from! So, it is true that dark leafy greens have higher vitamin levels than iceberg lettuce. Potatoes and corn are technically vegetables and do have fiber, but ultimately they are starchier and break down into sugar. Potatoes and corn, in their natural, whole state do have some nutritional value, but it is when they get broken down into food starch and overfill our food supply that becomes more problematic.
We are a culture obsessed with with getting more protein and soy seems to be a great way to get some. But, what's the deal? Is soy (like, tofu and edamame) safe for kids to eat given concerns on elevated estrogen levels? Does it matter if the kid is a boy or girl?
The jury is still deliberating on just how safe or unsafe soy is. What is important to remember is that not all soy is the same. There are two categories of soy. The wholesome and fermented soy like edamame, tofu and miso -- these are great sources of soy and protein. The soy you want to avoid are the highly processed soy found in soy milk, fake meats, many soy cheese and soy protein isolate found in many bars and cereals.
As far as gender and the concern over estrogen, I wouldn't distinguish between a girl or a boy but the message again is to choose those soy products that are wholesome and fermented.
Food dyes. Can we blame food dyes for making our kids are hyper and crazy? Or are they just hyper and crazy?
Most products with food dyes are highly processed, and that means that along with the dyes come the sugar, artificial sweeteners, fat, salt and other funky ingredients. I am a believer that all of these additives to our children's foods can have an effect on their health and behavior. And so, as a rule of thumb I recommend to steer clear of them. Instead, go for products that use natural colorings, usually from fruit and vegetable pigments.
We know fruit juice isn't the ideal choice of beverage for our kids, but can you tell us why? What if the juice is all natural and there's no added sugar? Is it still bad?
I recommend limiting juice, especially with toddlers and young children, who have small stomachs. While juice does have some vitamins and natural fruit sugar, it is filling enough to take away their appetites from eating whole foods at mealtimes. And, it leaves the fiber behind in the fruit. In general I like for kids to eat their calories and not drink them. Juice, without added sugar, once in awhile is fine, but I would try not to make it a daily habit.
Plastic containers are so convenient but is it okay to put plastic in the microwave to heat food up? What about the dishwasher?
Some plastic can leach out harmful, and possibly carcinogenic materials into food, especially when heated. That is why I recommend using stainless steel, BPA free, and glass for food storage. Most are dishwasher safe, but I always recommend looking at the manufacturer's instructions. For the microwave, I prefer using glass because there is nothing leaching out into the food.
What about aluminum foil? We've recently heard some rumors about that.
As far as aluminum foil, it hasn't become such a health concern that the FDA is recommending to pull it. But, aluminum can leach into the food as well. So it's always best to heat foods up in glass or use parchment paper. Also, whenever possible I would try and use aluminum free pots and pans where the inside of the pot or pan isn't lined with aluminum.
Can you offer some tips to parents to help our kids become more healthful, conscientious eaters?
If kids learn to enjoy fresh, good, varied and flavorful food they will naturally become more healthful and conscientious eaters, and it will create this natural defense against all of the processed food. Some things that parents can do to develop their children's liking for more nutritious foods are to:
- Start them young! Begin adding flavor, spices and herbs in baby food. Bland baby food can lead to bland palates later on in life.
Big thanks to Nicole who offered some enlightening info on what our kids should be eating. As you know, at Little Global Chefs we provide advice and suggestions, sharing with you what has worked with us to get our kids to be better eaters. Check us out for recipes and tips!
Little Global Chefs is eradicating picky eating by encouraging parents to cook global foods with their kids. We provide tips, suggestions, and recipes to safely bring your kids in the kitchen and expand their palates.
Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC is a registered dietitian, board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition and a certified lactation counselor. Nicole has worked with hundreds of children and families with chronic medical conditions, food allergies, picky eating, oral-motor and processing disorders, infant nutrition, breastfeeding, gastrointestinal conditions, prematurity, underweight and obesity. She is the Director of Pediatrics at Middleberg Nutrition in New York City and Pediatric Nutrition Expert for Beech-Nut baby. Prior to her current roles she was a clinical nutritionist at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia.