Raising Healthy Eaters

100 Tips For Parents


By Henry Legere

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One of the most important steps that parents can take to prevent childhood obesity or simply to get their children to a healthier weight is to teach them good eating habits. Establishing such habits at an early age will contribute to lifelong health. Indeed, when kids learn that a snack should be an apple or carrots instead of chips or a candy bar-a deceptively difficult lesson to teach-they are better equipped to resist the temptation of junk food on a regular basic. In Raising Healthy Eaters, Dr. Legere offers 100 easy-to-follow and easy-to-implement tips for parents of children of all ages and eating preferences. He includes healthy, quick recipes that kids will actually like, as well as specific suggestions for parents who want to serve only organic foods or whose children have allergies or aversions. Raising Healthy Eaters is the essential resource for parents working to raise healthy kids in a fast-food world.


For Claudia and Chloe with love

There is an overwhelming amount of information available to parents today concerning everything to do with being a parent. As a pediatrician and advocate for families, I try in every patient encounter to clarify the confusing messages coming from various sources. Of foremost concern to parents during well-child visits is how to raise a healthy eater in a fast-food culture.
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions among our children. Both the American Academy of Pediatricians and the Academy of Family Practitioners have declared as much. The American Medical Association predicts that the increased costs of medical problems resulting from obesity will cost society billions of dollars in the years to come. In addition to the morbidity associated with obesity, the consequences of poor dietary habits include increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, vision loss, renal disease, and certain types of cancer.
Given this information, you might be tempted to put your chubby little baby on a diet. However, as a general rule, children should not diet! Some dieting, when implemented by a pediatrician, may be safe and even warranted. However, children who begin deprivation diets start the vicious cycle of yo-yoing that can affect their metabolism, their growth, and their endocrine system. The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to maintain a healthy eating regimen from the start. Children who are fit will stay fit. Children who are not fit can engage in the process of becoming fit, adopting patterns of eating and behavior that will increase their lean body mass, their metabolism, their energy level, and their confidence and self-esteem. Healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a fad. As such, it is a process that needs to be learned over years and reinforced by consistent rules and by parents who are good role models.
As a pediatrician, I've had the opportunity to listen to parents' complaints about some of the common obstacles to raising a healthy eater. Furthermore, I have the benefit of mentors who have listened to parents' complaints for some twenty to thirty years longer than I have and who have seen what works and what doesn't. This book is the by-product of all that combined experience. The 100 tips provided here can serve as your guide to initiating the process of raising a healthy eater.
To make this book as user-friendly as possible, I have organized the 100 tips into six chapters: "Understanding Nutrition," "The Basic Rules of Raising a Healthy Eater," "Troubleshooting for Picky Eaters," "Meals, Snacks, and Beverages," "Activity," and finally, "Nutrition and Health Issues."
Several of the tips provide general dietary lessons that clarify and demystify what it means to eat healthy. Each tip contains an explanation filled with high-yield, easy-to-understand-and-utilize information. One tip provides information on the correct interpretation of the food pyramid and elucidates the role of each meal and the major nutrients. Other tips incorporate this knowledge into meal planning and give additional ideas on attaining the enthusiastic cooperation of our future healthy eaters. Many of the tips are geared to overcoming the common obstacles of healthy eating for specific age groups of children, such as fussy eaters and milk-o-holics.
Some of the tips are addressed to families who are vegetarian or "whole-foods" consumers, providing healthy recipes and fun activities. In this vein, there are also tips for recognizing the benefits and pitfalls of organic foods. Additionally, I have included several tips for building self-esteem and a healthy body image as part of a healthy dietary regimen as it relates to preventing the eating disorders and medical diseases that can result from unhealthy eating habits.
There is no magic pill, no panacea, that will cure a society's poor eating habits. Parents can do only so much to protect their children. As children get older they become more responsible for their own choices. Unfortunately, some of the choices they make can affect their future health. Each family must make their own choices, and parents must do their utmost to give their children every opportunity to be healthy in the years to come. These tips are geared toward establishing a sustainable dietary regimen that will give children a head start in the lifelong process of healthy eating. Good luck and have fun!

Understanding Nutrition
Nutrition is what we put in our mouths and the mouths of our children. Everything you and your child eat can be broken down into a few groups: things you get energy from, things your body uses to form tissues and bones, things that promote bowel movements, things your body uses to facilitate chemical reactions at the molecular level, and finally, things that can affect your body in other ways, either positively or negatively, like medications or caffeine.
At the simplest level, eating a well-balanced diet with foods from each of the major food groups ensures that you and your children are eating healthy without ever having to think about it. To help keep nutrition simple, here are some tips that address different categories of nutrients.

Tip 1

Carbohydrates should be the foundation of your children's healthy diets.

Despite the popularity of recent high-protein diets that vilify dietary carbohydrates, carbohydrates are the foundation of a sustainable, healthy diet for you and your kids. Although it is true that excessive carbohydrates are converted to fat, the same can be said of dietary protein and fat. High-protein diets work in the short run because dieters are taking in fewer calories than they are burning. The high-protein foods that are the staple of fad diets are often high in fat, and the long-term effects of high cholesterol on dieters' cardiac health are still unknown. Furthermore, much of the weight loss credited to a high-protein diet over the short run is lost water weight. Walking around partially dehydrated is not good for anyone, especially children!
When I give advice to my patients and their parents, I ask myself what I would tell my brothers and sisters about feeding my nephews and nieces, and I think about what I recommend for my own daughter. In sum, I never recommend fad diets to my own family. Small children should certainly not be on nutrient-restrictive diets unless they are followed closely by a pediatrician and dietitian. Teens too should not start dabbling with fad diets, which can begin the lifelong process of yo-yoing—repeated weight loss and weight gain—that plagues so many. Like so many things in life, carbohydrates are good in moderation. That said, whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and wheat pasta are better choices than their white or processed counterparts for the whole family.

Tip 2

Incorporate nonmeat sources of protein into your child's diet.

Giving your child a combination of protein sources is the optimal way to raise a healthy eater. Your children need to consume 10% to 15% of their daily calories from protein sources to ensure adequate growth and tissue repair, but the typical child's diet provides twice the amount of protein needed. Regardless if your child eats too many calories from protein, carbohydrate, or fat, extra calories are stored as fat by his body. The key to healthy eating is understanding that protein is available from sources other than meat, which, in addition to being high in protein, is often high in fat.
So what's the difference between animal-derived protein and plant-derived protein? Both are made up of the same set of twenty amino acids. Animal-derived proteins are called complete because they contain all of the needed amino acids in each bite. Plant-derived proteins are incomplete because they do not. However, by combining plant protein sources, such as rice and beans, you are providing your child with all of the needed amino acids!
As parents struggle to lower cholesterol and improve their families' cardiovascular health, they are faced with the challenge of meeting their children's protein needs while at the same time reducing saturated fat and cholesterol in their diets. Natural and convenient alternatives are readily available in the form of beans and soy protein. The American Heart Association has proclaimed that dietary soy protein can lower LDL, or so-called "bad" cholesterol. Not only are beans affordable and great sources of protein, but they also contain needed B vitamins, iron, and calcium. Furthermore, they are rich in fiber and cholesterol-free.
Feed your kids a healthy, well-rounded diet centered on the principles of variety and moderation and obtain the benefits from both meat and nonmeat sources of proteins.

Tip 3

Not all fat is bad.

So what's the skinny on fat? Many misconceptions about fat are perpetuated by fad-dieting, as well as a frenzy of information about the risks and benefits of high-fat diets. What is clear is that a prudent diet for children includes moderate consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol. Indeed, an adequate amount of fat is necessary since fats and cholesterol serve not only as a source of energy but as important building blocks for cells and hormones. Healthy eating patterns with moderate fat consumption in childhood are linked to a reduction in heart disease, diabetes, and obesity in adulthood. So an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
All that being said, it's important to remember that not all fats are equal. Saturated fats are the worst kind. Choose cooking oils that contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like olive oil. A good rule of thumb is that unsaturated fats are liquids at room temperature and are generally derived from plants, while saturated fats are solids at room temperature and are typically derived from animals.
When shopping for snacks for your kids, you should also avoid partially hydrogenated fats, like those found in many store-bought cookies, crackers, and baked goods. Keep in mind that soft margarine is generally better for you and your children than stick margarine because it has fewer trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids are associated with an increased risk of heart disease because they lead to an increase in the bad type of cholesterol.

Tip 4

Teach your children the new food pyramid guidelines and incorporate these guidelines into your dietary planning.

As complicated as the new food pyramid might seem (see appendix A or visit www.usda.gov), adhering to the guidelines is not rocket science. With a little planning and a smidgen of self-discipline, you can teach your children a systematic approach to eating healthy that will last their whole lives. The food pyramid guidelines for older children and adults are slightly different from the guidelines for young children between the ages of two and six, for whom the U.S. Department of Agriculture created modified recommendations endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatricians:
• Six daily servings from the grain and cereal group
• Three daily servings of vegetables
• Two daily servings from the fruit group
• Two daily servings of meat and two of milk and dairy
The main difference between these recommendations for little kids and those for the rest of the family is that the quantity of the servings is different for big people and little people. For everyone, variety is key.
Here's a helpful tip I got from a colleague. She calls it the Five-Plus Rule. She recommends that families strive to eat a minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables, but you don't have to stop there. Up to ten servings a day is okay.
Another great new way of thinking about the food pyramid that is gaining steam among pediatricians is to teach younger children about "everyday" foods and "sometime" foods. Everyday foods are the healthy foods that fill in the base of the food pyramid and should be eaten daily. Sometime foods, like ice cream, cookies, cake, and candy, are at the very top and should be eaten sparingly—during holidays, for instance, or as a once-a-week treat. Once your kids understand the distinction, they'll probably start to tell you which is which and take responsibility for their own treats.

Tip 5

A well-balanced diet is an adequate source of water-soluble vitamins.

For the whole of human history, most people have obtained all the vitamins and minerals they needed without ever taking a Flintstones vitamin. Don't get me wrong, I take my Flintstones equivalent every day for good measure, but if you follow the food pyramid guidelines, your children should be able to get all of the vitamins and minerals they need from their diets.
Here is a helpful list of important water-soluble vitamins and the dietary sources from which they are derived.
Thiamin, or vitamin B1: Needed for normal functioning of muscle tissues, including the heart, the nervous system, and the digestive system, B1 also serves an important role in carbohydrate metabolism and energy production. Lean meats, nuts and beans, and enriched and fortified cereals are great sources of vitamin B1.
Riboflavin, or vitamin B2: Needed for energy production, normal immune function, and healthy skin, B2 is easily obtained from foods like lean meat, eggs, cereals, green leafy vegetables, and dairy products.
Niacin, or vitamin B3: Comes from foods such as lean meats, nuts and beans, cereals, and yeasts and is needed for energy production, for maintaining normal skin, and as a digestive aid. It can be made by your body from the dietary intake of the amino acid tryptophan.
Folic acid: Needed for energy production, preventing anemia, and preventing birth defects such as neural tube defects, folic acid can be easily obtained from meats, beans, leafy greens, and whole grains.
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin: This vitamin comes only from animal-derived products, such as meat and dairy. B12 is important for energy production, anemia prevention, utilization of folic acid, and nervous system function.
Biotin: Needed for many of the intracellular reactions that lead to energy production, biotin is so widespread in the foods your kids eat that deficiencies of this nutrient are unheard of in developed countries.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid: Found in citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, potatoes, and leafy green vegetables, among other foods, vitamin C is needed for normal growth, immune function, wound healing, bone and tooth formation, and efficient iron absorption.
As you can see, if your children are eating well-balanced diets that include foods from all of the food groups, they will get all of the water-soluble vitamins they need without the help of Fred or Barney. Refer to tip 14 for a more specific discussion of whether your child should take a daily multivitamin.

Tip 6

Encourage your kids to eat a diet rich in fiber.

Planting the seed for good health maintenance begins with fiber. My doctor once told me that fiber is like a broom for the GI tract, sweeping its way through the intestines. Sources of fiber are abundant, including fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seeds. A typical American diet contains only five to ten grams of dietary fiber a day, much lower than the recommended twenty to thirty-five grams a day. High-fiber diets reduce constipation, straining with bowel movements, rectal fissures, hemorrhoids, and diverticular disease as your kids become older adults. Furthermore, high-fiber diets may help to reduce the incidence of certain gastrointestinal cancers.


On Sale
Apr 20, 2009
Page Count
192 pages

Henry Legere

About the Author

Henry Joseph Legere, III, M.D., is a pediatrician who specializes in childhood obesity. He lives in Huntington Beach, California.

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