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Helping Your Child Eat Healthy

Rachel McGuffey, M.D., Lexington Clinic Pediatrics  

Childhood obesity is on the rise in the United States. Poor eating habits are one of the roots of this rise. I have many questions from parents on how to help their children eat better or ways to help their child not gain more weight.

Children need to eat a balanced diet, including grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits, and meat.  The amount of each of these is determined by how active your child is and your child’s age. Information on amounts can be found at     

One major deficiency in children’s diets is vegetables. Many parents find it difficult to get their child to eat vegetables. Ideas for incorporating vegetables into your child’s diet include making soups and casseroles with vegetables inside, using cheese sauces to make the vegetable more appetizing, and trying a variety of vegetables. During summertime, especially, there are a wide variety of vegetables at the store and also at the local farmer’s market. We recommend fresh and frozen vegetables for children since canned vegetables include a large amount of salt for preservation.

One common misconception with parents is that fruit juice is really good for you. One hundred percent fruit juice can be good when dealing with constipation or a child who does not like fruit, but it has about as much sugar as a soft drink. Drinking fruit juice in large quantities can actually curb a child’s appetite and also add unwanted weight. Fruit juices should be limited to 4-6 ounces daily.    

Chicken and fish are good meat options for children. Choose baked options instead of fried and “nugget” forms.  These processed meats have many calories and not alot of nutrition. Again, for children who do not like meat, casseroles can be a good option for getting small amounts in. For vegetarians, make sure you offer other substitutes that are high in protein and iron, such as lentils and beans.

Dairy products are also important for calcium. For young children, these products should be high in fat. Once a child reaches age two, parents should start to introduce lower fat dairy products. Like juice, milk can curb children’s appetites and should be limited to around 16-24 ounces daily. Children who drink a lot more than that can be at risk for anemia.

Make sure to keep healthy options for snacks in the home. Instead of offering cookies and fruit chews, have fresh fruit options, low fat cheese, baby carrots or other healthy snacks.  Keep cookies and sweets for special occasions.

Lastly, limit eating out to a “treat”. Although many restaurants are starting to offer lower fat options, children usually want the high fat foods such as chicken nuggets and french fries.  

Children do watch what parents and others are doing.  If you pull a bowl of ice cream out after every meal, your child will want ice cream too.  If there are chips and cookies in the cabinet, your child is going to want them. Model good eating habits for your child and he will follow your lead.