Just Breathe: The Importance of Meditation Breaks for Kids

Our kids’ brains are tired, and children of all ages really need opportunities where they can take time out each day “unplugged” to relax and focus. Meditation offers this break and helps kids function more effectively and clearly.

Children today also have reportedly high stress levels. To help them take a break, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to share meditation with their children—and teachers to incorporate mindfulness training into their lesson plans.

The simple act of teaching children how to stop, focus, and just breathe could be one of the greatest gifts you give them.

Meditation Options for Children

Meditative practices have been used since ancient times to improve health and well-being. But, just as an athlete may do different exercises, people who practice meditation often use different types.

The most common types of meditation practice are concentration, mindfulness, movement based, cultivating positive emotions, and emptying. There are specific examples and ways to practice each type.

 

Many meditation practices use breathing techniques to promote a state of calm. Mindfulness meditation on breath, perhaps the most well-known type, involves sitting quietly, resting or closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breath. When your attention drifts away, which it is likely to do, simply usher your attention back to your breath without judgment.  You don’t need years of meditative practice to benefit from this technique, nor do your children.

There’s no doubt, however, that sitting still for any length of time can be difficult for some kids. For this reason, a movement-based meditation, such as yoga, may serve as a good introduction.

Research on the Benefits of Meditation in Children

Meditation is used to rest the mind, body and spirit. This, in turn, has many mental, physical, and spiritual benefits. Mindfulness meditation, specifically, is gaining a foothold in disease prevention and treatment.

A number of studies in school settings also show improved attention and behavior. Some research has shown benefits for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, school performance, sleep, behavior problems, and eating disorders. For example, a trial of 300 low-income, minority urban middle-schoolers using school-based mindfulness instruction led to improved psychological functioning and lower levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

There are also physical benefits as it calms the nervous system and decreases stress hormones. Studies have shown benefits for gastrointestinal symptoms, obesity, headaches, high blood pressure, pain sensitivity, and immune function. For example, a trial looking at the effect of mindful breathing meditation at a summer camp of 166 teens at risk for cardiovascular disease found that breathing awareness produced a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate.

Meditation Tips

Meditation does not have a set of rules, but there are some tips that can help.

  • The length of time and frequency of meditating can vary for different people and different practices. But, pediatricians typically recommend the following time frames:
    • Preschool children: A few minutes per day.
    • Gradeschool children: 3-10 minutes twice a day.
    • Teens and adults: 5-45 minutes per day or more based on preference.
  • Try incorporating deep breathing into your children’s daily bedtime routine—it can help them wind down for the night and make meditation easier to do when other situations arise.
  • Remind gradeschoolers and teens to take a few deep breaths before answering a difficult question at school, taking a test, or before an athletic performance.
  • As young children learn to manage strong emotions, deep breathing can be part of the process—especially before and after time outs.
  • While meditation can be done on your own, it can also be done with the help of a trained professional. Some counselors and individuals with training in meditation can help others learn and practice meditation.
  • Meditation is not currently covered by most insurance plans unless given by a licensed counselor. It is always best to check with your individual plan. Flexible medical spending programs may count meditation training as a medical expense.
  • There are multiple ways to learn different practices of meditation. There are books, audio recordings, videos, online training, websites, and even smartphone apps to help children meditate. Choose and practice the one that works the best for you and your child, and enjoy a calmer body, mind and spirit.

Talk to Your Pediatrician

Since meditation practices are generally safe and have many possible benefits, they can be used without much risk. As with any lifestyle change, however, it is best to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician before adding meditative practices to your child’s wellness routine.


Source: Section on Integrative Medicine (Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Permission to Unplug: The Health Benefits of Yoga for Kids

Yoga offers a release from today’s fast-paced and tech-heavy world. It only demands that your child “unplug” and leave his or her phone (and shoes) behind—focusing solely on the action of connecting breath and movement. Yoga can help kids learn to live in the moment, focus on the task at hand, and handle problems peacefully. The more often your child practices yoga, the greater the benefits.

Yoga: More Than Exercise, More Than Sport

While any sport played well activates the mind in addition to the body, the practice of yoga is meant to bring the two together. Yoga is much more profound than merely the yoga postures we are familiar with from classes, videos, or movies. It involves a combination of certain postures (asanas), regulated breathing techniques (pranayamas), hand poses (mudras), and meditation (dhyanas).

Each particular body posture has been cultivated and fine-tuned over thousands of years to bring about specific effects in the mind and body. Whether a pose is done standing, sitting, or lying down, each one can challenge various muscle groups. At the same time, a child becomes more aware of his or her body and how it functions. Some yoga poses are harder than others, and even flexible kids in good shape should start slowly.

Yoga for cross-training

Many student-athletes, for example, practice yoga as a way to cross-train and prevent overuse injuries. Runners strengthen and stretch the hips, legs, and Achilles tendons. Baseball players strengthen the arms and upper body muscles. Gymnasts increase flexibility, balance, and concentration.

Health Benefits of Yoga

Children and teens are an ideal population to benefit from the therapeutic and health benefits of yoga.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends yoga as a safe and potentially effective therapy for children coping with emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral health conditions.

Children with special needs, for example, often have tension and rigid muscle tone—yoga can help with this. Stretching the body can relieve tension and holding yoga poses increases strength when practiced regularly. Yoga also has many bending and stretching poses that can help move and stimulate the digestive system and relieve constipation. Additional physical benefits from yoga include:

  • Regulated blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Regulated hormone levels
  • Decreased abdominal pain in children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Improved balance​

A study in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that daily yoga helps children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain calm and lowered their levels of aggression, social withdrawal, and anxiety. Further, a study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that yoga during PE classes reduced teen mood problems and anxiety and also led to higher test scores. In numerous other studies, yoga has repeatedly been shown to improve:

  • Self-confidence
  • Mood
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety
  • Concentration
  • Hyperactivity
  • Classroom behaviors
  • Emotional balance

Parents: Calm Breathing Can Be Contagious!

It’s good for parents to put down their phones, too! Tantrums, sleepless nights, and morning rushing, for example, test our limits. In times like these, it can be very effective to take a few deep breaths instead of losing control of your own temper.

Basic yoga breathing and a simple pose or two can be important tools for managing a range of stresses and pain as well as everyday challenges. Lead by example. Get your child involved in yoga—or better yet—try a class yourself! Namaste.


Source Section on Integrative Medicine (Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Choosing Healthy Snacks for Kids

MARCH IS NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH

​​While meals make up the majority of a child’s nutritional intake, most children eat at least one snack per day. While many of the most commonly offered kids’ snacks tend to be of lower nutritional value than meals, snacks still can support—or even enhance—your child’s overall healthy eating plan. Here’s how:

  • Use snack times as a way to increase fruits and vegetable intake. Most kids do not eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Snack times offer a great opportunity to increase access and exposure to these nutrient-dense foods. Consider pairing them up with dairy products or dairy substitutes (such as grapes and cheese) lean proteins (such as celery and peanut butter), or whole-grain cereals and bread (such as banana sandwich on whole grain bread).
  • Keep a range of healthy foods handy at home. It is much easier to make easy, healthy snacks when you keep a few key items stocked at home. Ideas include different types of raw vegetables and fruit, yogurt dip, hummus, and cheese sticks.
  • Avoid processed foods and added sugars. Processed foods (made in a factory and sold in bags and boxes) do not have many nutrients and often have a lot of added sugar and salt. In addition, children may become hungry faster after eating processed foods.
  • Teach your children to eat a rainbow of colors. Arrange your children’s foods to show the beauty of fresh, brightly colored foods. Talk about the farms where food comes from and the farmers who help grow it.

Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Avoiding Food Traps

MARCH IS NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH

Food traps are situations a​nd places that make it difficult to eat right. We all have them. The following tips may help your family ​avoid some of the most common traps.

Food Trap #1: Vacations, Holidays, and Other Family Gath​erings

Vac​ations

When on a trip, don’t take a vacation from healthy eating and exercise.

What You Can Do:

  • Plan your meals. Will all your meals be from restaurants? If so, can yo​u split entrees and desserts to keep portions from getting too large? Can you avoid fast food? Can you bring along your own healthy snacks?
  • Stay active. Schedule time for physical activities such as taking a walk or swimming in the hotel pool.

Holidays

It’s easy to overeat during holidays. But you don’t need to fear or avoid them.

What You Can Do:

  • Approach the holidays with extra care. Don’t lose sight of what you and your child are eating. Plan to have healthy foods and snacks on hand. Bring a fruit or veggie tray with you when you go to friends and family.
  • Celebrate for the day, not an entire month! Be sure to return to healthy eating the next day.

Other Family Gatherings

In some cultures, when extended families get together, it can turn into a food feast, from morning to night.

What You Can Do:

  • Eat smaller portions. Avoid overeating whenever you get together with family. Try taking small portions instead.
  • Get family support. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can have an enormous effect on your child’s health. Let them know that you’d like their help in keeping your child on the road to good health.

Food Trap #2: Snack Time

The biggest time for snacking is after school. Kids come home wound up, stressed out, or simply bored, so they reach for food.

What You Can Do:

  • Offer healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, fruit, light microwave popcorn, vegetable soup, sugar-free gelatin, or fruit snacks.
  • You pick the snack. When children are allowed to pick their own snacks, they often make unhealthy choices. Talk to your child about why healthy snacks are important. Come up with a list of snacks that you can both agree on and have them on hand.
  • Keep your child entertained. Help your child come up with other things to do instead of eating, such as playing outside, dancing, painting a picture, flying a kite, or taking a walk with you.
  • Make sure your child eats 3 well-balanced meals a day. This will help cut down on the number of times he or she needs a snack.

Food Trap #3: Running Out of Time

Finding time every day to be physically active can be very difficult. However, if you plan ahead, there are ways to fit it in.

What You Can Do:

  • Make a plan. Sit down with your child and plan in advance for those days when it seems impossible to find even 15 minutes for physical activity. Have a plan B ready that your child can do after dark, such as exercising to a workout video.
  • Make easy dinners. If you run out of time to make dinner, don’t run to the nearest fast-food restaurant. Remember, dinners don’t have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as a sandwich, bowl of soup, piece of fruit, and glass of milk.

Remember

Your job is to provide good nutrition to your child and family and encourage regular physical activity. Stay positive and focus on how well your child is doing in all areas of life. It can help keep nutrition and activity change moving along.


Written by Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP. Pediatric Obesity: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment Strategies for Primary Care (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Beyond Chicken Nuggets: Protein-Rich Alternatives for Picky Eaters

MARCH IS NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH

All parents want their children to have healthy diets—and part of that is getting enough protein. With picky eaters, that can feel hard. But it doesn’t have to be hard.

Here are some things about protein that you may not know—and some ideas to make mealtimes easier.

When all your child will eat is chicken nuggets:

As a pediatrician, I talk with parents all the time about what their children eat. And very often I find that when it comes to giving their children protein, families feel frustrated—and worried. “All he will eat is chicken nuggets” is something I commonly hear.

When babies are small it’s not really an issue, because they are on breast milk or formula. But as they grow into toddlers and preschoolers and we expand their diets, that’s where the worry sets in—because the age when they are expanding their diets is also the same age when they become more independent and willful. It’s a power struggle that often plays out as picky eating.

Enter the chicken nugget. I’m not sure what it is about them that makes kids almost universally like them; perhaps it’s the same thing that makes French fries universally appealing. Some even look like French fries. And for many families it can seem like once you’ve started the “nugget habit,” there’s no turning back. But here’s the thing: you don’t need to start that habit. And for those of you already in the habit, there is hope.

Why protein is an important part of your child’s diet:

When we think of protein we think of muscles, but protein is a building block for many other parts of the body, such as hair, bones, enzymes, skin and blood. Our bodies are very good at recycling and reusing proteins as they break down, but we do need to get some from our diet.

Here are three things about protein that many parents don’t know:

1. Children don’t need as much protein as you might think. The body is remarkably good at recycling.

Daily Protein Foods Table
Daily Recommendation•
Children 2-3 years old
4-8 years old
2 ounce equivalents 4 ounce equivalents
4 ounce equivalents
Girls 9-13 years old
14-18 years old
5 ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
Boys 9-13 years old
14-18 years old
5 ounce equivalents
6 ½ ounce equivalents
Women 19-30 years old
31-50 years old
51 + years old
5 ½ ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
5 ounce equivalents
Men 19-30 years old
31-50 years old
51 + years old
6 ½ ounce equivalents
6 ounce equivalents
5½ ounce equivalents
*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs. Source: choosemyplate.gov/protein-foods

2. If children are drinking the recommended amount of cow’s milk, they are likely getting all or most of the protein they need. Every ounce of cow’s milk has 1g of protein (soy milk has nearly as much, though not all soy and plant-based milks do).

Recommended Amounts of Cow’s Milk by Age
Daily Recommendation
1-2 years old
24 ounces
2-3 years old 16 ounces
4-8 years old
20 ounces
9+years old
24 ounces

If you compare this to the recommended amounts of protein above, you’ll see that milk alone could take care of all a child’s protein needs until age 9! Hopefully, that eases some parents’ worries. After age 9, your child is hopefully old enough to negotiate about healthy food choices.

It’s certainly true that some children don’t like milk, and that drinking more than the recommended amount can lead to constipation or anemia (and sometimes poor eating habits when children want milk instead of food). Which leads to the third point…

3. There are lots of ways besides meat or cow’s milk to get protein and mix it up at mealtime. Here are some other protein-rich ideas.

  • Other animal products. Salmon, fish sticks, eggs, turkey lunch meat, yogurt, or mozzarella string cheese.
  • Beans and grains. Soy products like soy milk or tofu. (You can even try soy “chicken” nuggets). Lentils, nut butter, hummus, oatmeal, or whole wheat pasta are more options.
  • Vegetables. Yet another reason to get kids to eat their veggies! Peas, broccoli, and even potatoes have protein. (Not that potatoes are the best vegetable, but it’s good to know they have some protein).

The bottom line:

When it comes to getting protein into your child’s diet, you don’t have to get into battles—or give in to the daily chicken nugget diet. There are lots of ways to do it, and with a bit of creativity and persistence, your child can get what he or she needs.

  • No clean-plate club. Don’t force your kids to eat something or finish everything, because that doesn’t work well (and makes everyone miserable). Kids don’t need a balanced meal at every meal of the day―what’s important is achieving balance over a day or two.
  • Keep it on the plate; have a “one bite” rule. It can take lots of tries before a child realizes that something tastes good. It also helps when others set an example, so eat meals together whenever you can!
  • Cook more meals at home. A homemade breaded chicken breast, for example, is healthier than takeout nuggets. Kids learn a lot about different foods and how to read food labels when they are involved in shopping for groceries and preparing meals―making them into healthier adults. Here are five more great reasons to cook with your kids.

​If nothing is working, or you are worried about your child’s diet, call your doctor.

Yes, picky eating can just be a phase. But it’s important to bring up any concerns with your pediatrician, so you can brainstorm possible solutions together.


Written by Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Childhood Nutrition

MARCH IS NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH

​Nearly 1 in 3 children in America is overweight or obese. Despite all the focus on kids being overweight and obese, many parents are still confused, especially when it comes to what kids eat. How much does your child need? Is he getting enough calcium? Enough iron? Too much fat?

Whether you have a toddler or a teen, nutrition is important to his or her physical and mental development. Here’s what children need — no matter what the age.

Babies

During this stage of life, it’s almost all about the milk — whether it’s breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two. Breast milk or formula will provide practically every nutrient a baby needs for the first year of life.

  • At about six months most babies are ready to start solid foods like iron-fortified infant cereal and strained fruits, vegetables, and pureed meats. Because breast milk may not provide enough iron and zinc when babies are around six to nine months, fortified cereals and meats can help breastfed babies in particular.
  • Once you do start adding foods, don’t go low-fat crazy. Although the AAP guidelines state fat restriction in some babies is appropriate, in general, you don’t want to restrict fats under age two because a healthy amount of fat is important for babies’ brain and nerve development.

Toddlers & Preschoolers

Toddlers and preschoolers grow in spurts and their appetites come and go in spurts, so they may eat a whole lot one day and then hardly anything the next. It’s normal, and as long as you offer them a healthy selection, they will get what they need.

  • Calcium, the body’s building block, is needed to develop strong, healthy bones and teeth. Children may not believe or care that milk “does a body good,” but it is the best source of much-needed calcium. Still, there’s hope for the milk-allergic, lactose-intolerant, or those who just don’t like milk. Lactose-free milk, soy milk, tofu, sardines, and calcium-fortified orange juices, cereals, waffles, and oatmeal are some calcium-filled options. In some cases, pediatricians may recommend calcium supplements.
  • Fiber is another important focus. Toddlers start to say “no” more and preschoolers can be especially opinionated about what they eat. The kids may want to stick to the bland, beige, starchy diet (think chicken nuggets, fries, macaroni), but this is really the time to encourage fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, which all provide fiber. Not only does fiber prevent heart disease and other conditions, but it also helps aid digestion and prevents constipation, something you and your child will be thankful for.

Gradeschoolers

It isn’t uncommon for a 6- or 7-year-old to suddenly decide to be a vegetarian once they understand animals and where food comes from. This doesn’t mean your child won’t get enough protein; animal tissue isn’t the only place we get protein. Rice, beans, eggs, milk, and peanut butter all have protein. So whether your child goes “no-meat” for a week or for life, he or she will likely still get sufficient amounts of protein.

Areas that might be a little too sufficient are sugars, fats, and sodium.

  • This is a time when kids first go to school and have a little bit more choices in what they eat, especially if they’re getting it in the cafeteria themselves. Cakes, candy, chips, and other snacks might become lunchtime staples.
  • The body needs carbs (sugars), fats, and sodium, but should be eaten in moderation, as too much can lead to unneeded weight gain and other health problems.
  • Packing your child’s lunch or going over the lunch menu and encouraging him or her to select healthier choices can help keep things on track.

Preteens & Teens

As puberty kicks in, young people need more calories to support the many changes they will experience. Unfortunately, for some, those extra calories come from fast food or “junk” foods with little nutritional value.

  • Some adolescents go the opposite way and restrict calories, fats, or carbs. Adolescence is the time kids start to become conscious of their weight and body image, which, for some, can lead to eating disorders or other unhealthy behaviors. Parents should be aware of changes in their child’s eating patterns and make family dinners a priority at least once or twice a week.
  • Like calories, calcium requirements are higher. Calcium is more important than ever during the tween and teen years because the majority of bone mass is built during this time. Encouraging kids to have milk, milk products, or calcium-rich alternatives, should help them get more calcium.
  • Your child’s gender may play a role in whether he or she needs more of a particular nutrient. For instance, teen girls need more iron than their male counterparts to replace what’s lost during menstruation, and males need slightly more protein than girls.

Although getting your child to eat healthy — regardless of his or her age — can be a constant battle, its one well worth fighting. A healthy child becomes a healthy adult, and only with your support and guidance will your child be both.

Water: Drink Up!

Water makes up more than half of kids’ body weight and is needed to keep all parts of the body functioning properly.

  • There’s no specific amount of water recommended for children, but it’s a good idea to give them water throughout the day — not just when they’re thirsty.
  • Babies generally don’t need water during the first year of life.
  • If your child doesn’t like the taste of water, add a bit of lemon or lime for flavor.
  • Fruits and veggies are also good sources of water.
  • Kids should drink more water when ill, when it’s hot out, or when engaged in physical activity.

Recommended Amount of Calories

Here’s what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends kids get calorie-wise and from each food group for a healthy, balanced diet:

Calories per day table


SOURCE: Committee on Nutrition (Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

5 Great Reasons to Cook with Your Kids

MARCH IS NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH

When it comes to raising an adventurous eater, it is not just about coaxing kids to eat their veggies. Bringing up a child who can enjoy a cantaloupe as much as a cupcake takes patience and persistence, but it does not have to feel like a chore.

Kids may need to have frequent joyful experiences involving food to overcome the anxiety they may have around tasting the unfamiliar. Over time, cooking with your children can help build that confidence—and provide rich sensory experiences.

Here are five ways to enjoy cooking with your children while raising an adventurous eater along the way.

1. Engage other senses. For a hesitant eater, tasting an unfamiliar food can sometimes be intimidating. You can help your child explore foods when cooking using other senses besides taste. This helps to build positive associations with food. Kneading dough, rinsing vegetables, and tearing lettuce all involve touching food and being comfortable with texture. The complex flavors we experience when eating food come from both taste sensations from the tongue AND smelling with the nose. While cooking with new ingredients, some children may feel too overwhelmed to taste. If this happens, you can try suggesting smelling a food first; this may provide a bridge to tasting in the future.

2. Use cooking to raise smart kids. There are so many lessons that can be taught while cooking. Math concepts like counting, measurement, and fractions naturally unfold when navigating a recipe with kids. Explaining how food changes with temperature or how certain foods can help our body be healthy provide great lessons in science. While cooking with your child, practice new vocabulary as you describe how food looks, feels, and tastes. Following a recipe from start to finish helps build the skills for planning and completing projects.

3. Make cooking part of the family culture. The family meal can start in the kitchen as you cook together. Family meal preparation is an opportunity to celebrate your cultural heritage by passing down recipes. Help your kids find new, seasonal recipes to add to your repertoire and family cookbook. Cooking together and prioritizing health over the convenience of processed food are great ways to lead by example and help your children buy into a culture of wellness. Building daily and seasonal traditions around cooking together helps strengthen your family’s commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

4. Keep it safe. Teach kids the importance of staying safe while cooking by showing them how to hold kitchen tools safely, how to use oven mitts to protect hands from heat, and how to turn appliances on and off safely. Always supervise children when cooking to ensure they are sticking with safe and age-appropriate tasks. The best way to keep cooking safe is to know your child’s abilities and his or her stage of development. A four-year-old child, for example, may not be ready to sauté vegetables over a hot pan, but may have the fine motor skills to rinse fruits or tear salad leaves. Keeping safety in mind, it is not difficult to get kids—even toddlers—involved in the kitchen.

5. Ask for input. Children feel more included in mealtime when they are asked to be a part of meal preparation. Collaborate with your kids when selecting recipes for main dishes or sides. Let them help you make the shopping list and find groceries in the store or farmers market. When cooking together, let children offer a critique of the foods you are preparing. Together you can decide what ingredients you should add to enhance the flavor. Talk about how people enjoy different tastes, and share your preferences with each other. Letting children be “in charge” of details like how to set the table will help them feel invested in mealtime.

Over many years, cooking as a family will help develop a happy, adventurous eater with some pretty valuable life skills—and plenty of happy memories in the kitchen. With enough practice, your child will someday be able to cook YOU a delicious meal!


Author: Nimali Fernando, MD, MPH, FAAP. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Helping Kids Stay Active & Eat Healthy During COVID-19

​​The pandemic has cut kids off from friends, nutritious school meals, sports and routines. With virtual learning and few activities outside the home, it’s no surprise kids are moving less and snacking more.

If your family has been eating more processed, high-calorie food and spends a lot of time on screens, you are not alone.

Increased Health Risks

The pandemic has put more children at risk of obesity. Children with obesity are more likely to have problems if they are infected with COVID-19.

The virus can affect children’s breathing, immune system, metabolism and cause inflammation. Those with obesity also can develop high blood pressure, liver problems or diabetes. Having these health issues puts them at high risk if they get COVID-19.

Black and Hispanic children and children living in places with high poverty rates are more at risk of obesity and COVID-19 illness.

Many parents are struggling to make sure their kids eat healthy foods, stay active and stick to a regular bedtime.

What Parents Can Do

Eating well and exercising can help children cope with stress and stay healthy. Parents can support healthy eating habits by offering their children a lot of fruit and vegetables, creating a schedule for meals and snacks, and keeping healthy food in your home. Motivate kids to get moving by limiting their screen time after they are done with virtual learning for the day. Model healthy habits by making sure you eat well and exercise, too.

How Your Pediatrician Can Help

If your situation seems too hard or you are worried about your child’s weight gain in the past year, seek help. Your child’s pediatrician can provide:

  • counseling for mental health issues or substance use.
  • screening for eating disorders.
  • help managing stress.
  • a personalized plan to manage obesity.​
  • help connecting you with resources that can assist with food, housing, child care and other support, such as 211.org​.​

Source: AAP News Parent Plus, ”Keeping kids active, eating healthy hard for parents during pandemic” (American Academy of Pediatrics Copyright © 2020). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Fat, Salt and Sugar: Not All Bad

Forcing children to eat food doesn’t work. Neither does forbidding foods. When children think that a food is forbidden by their parents, the food often becomes more desirable.

It’s important for both children and adults to be sensible and enjoy all foods and beverages, but not to overdo it on any one type of food. Sweets and higher-fat snack foods in appropriate portions are OK in moderation.

The following is information about fat, sugar, and salt and dietary recommendations based on recommendations from the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Encouraging Healthy Eating for a Healthy Heart

Childhood is the best time to start heart healthy eating habits, but adult goals for cutting back on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are not meant generally for children younger than 2 years.

Fat is an Essential Nutritent for Children. Fat supplies the energy, or calories, children need for growth and active play and should not be severely restricted.

Dangers of High Fat Intake. However, high fat intake—particularly a diet high in saturated fats—can cause health problems, including heart disease later in life. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperatures and are found in fatty meats (such as beef, pork, ham, veal, and lamb) and many dairy products (whole milk, cheese, and ice cream).

For that reason, after age 2 children should be served foods that are lower in fat and saturated fats.

Healthier, More Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Foods for Children Over Age 2:

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Lean meat (broiled, baked, or roasted; not fried)
  • Soft margarine (instead of butter)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Low-saturated fat oils from vegetables
  • Limiting egg consumption

The General Rule on Fats

As a general guideline, fats should make up less than 30% of the calories in your child’s diet, with no more than about one-third or fewer of those fat calories coming from saturated fat and the remainder from unsaturated (polyunsaturated or monounsaturated) fats, which are liquid at room temperature and include vegetable oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and olive.

Some parents find the information about various types of fat confusing. In general, oils and fats derived from animal origin are saturated. The simplest place to start is merely to reduce the amount of fatty foods of all types in your family’s diet.

Note: Whole milk is recommended for children 12 to 24 months of age. However, you child’s doctor may recommend reduced-fat (2%) milk if your child is obese or overweight or if there is a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease. Check with your child’s doctor or dietition before switching from whole to reduced-fat milk.

Serve Children Foods Low in Salt

Table salt, or sodium chloride, may improve the taste of certain foods. However, researchers have found a relationship between dietary salt and high blood pressure in some individuals and population groups. High blood pressure afflicts about 25% of adult Americans and contributes to heart attacks and strokes.

Take the Salt Shaker Off the Table. The habit of using extra salt is an acquired one. Thus, as much as possible, serve your child foods low in salt. In the kitchen, minimize the amount of salt you add to food during its preparation, using herbs, spices, or lemon juice instead. Also, take the salt shaker off the dinner table, or at least limit its use by your family.

Check Sodium Levels in Processed Foods. Processed foods often contain higher amounts of sodium. Check food labels for levels of sodium in:

  • Processed cheese
  • Instant puddings
  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned soups
  • Hot dogs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salad dressings
  • Pickles
  • Certain breakfast cereals
  • Potato chips and other snacks

Sugar in Your Child’s Diet: More Than Just a Sweetener

Caloric sweeteners range from simple sugars, like fructose and glucose, to common table sugar, molasses, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. Although the main use of sugar is as a sweetener, sugar has other uses. For example, sugar can be used as a preservative, can change the texture of foods, and can enhance flavors and add color.

Sugar Supplies Energy. Sugars in foods, whether natural or added, provide calories—the fuel that supplies energy necessary for daily activities. And if given the choice, many children would probably request sugary foods and beverages for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—research shows that humans are naturally drawn to sweet tastes.

Too Much Sugar Means Too Many Calories. Parents should keep in mind that calories from sugar can quickly add up and over time can lead to weight gain, and sugar also can play a role in the development of tooth decay.


Source: Healthy Children, Fit Children: Answers to Common Questions From Parents About Nutrition and Fitness (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Are Your Kids Hungry or Just Bored?

Children (as well as adults) often use food for reasons other than to satisfy hunger. Children often eat in response to their emotions and feelings. If your child seems hungry all the time, use the following tips to get a better idea of what is really going on.

What Triggers Hunger?
If your child is eating 3 well-balanced meals and 1 snack a day but still claims to be hungry, there may be other reasons beyond hunger that make him or her want to eat.

What You Can Do
Ask yourself this: Does your child sometimes reach for food when experiencing any of the following?

  • Boredom
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Frustration
  • Insecurity
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue
  • Resentment
  • Anger
  • Happiness

Does your child eat at times other than regular mealtimes and snacks? Is your child munching at every opportunity?

Do you reward your child with food (does an A on a test sometimes lead to a trip to the ice cream shop)? This can inadvertently contribute to your child’s obesity.

When your child is doing things right, do you tell him or her? Words of approval can boost a child’s self-esteem. They can also help keep a child motivated to continue making the right decisions for health and weight.

How are you speaking to your child? Is it mostly negative? Is it often critical? It’s hard for anyone, including children, to make changes in that kind of environment.

Healthy Alternatives
If you suspect your child is eating out of boredom, you may need to steer him or her toward other activities as a distraction.

What You Can Do
Make sure your child is eating 3 well-balanced meals and 1 snack a day. This will prevent feelings of hunger between meals.

Help your child choose other things to do instead of eating, such as:

  • Walking the dog
  • Running through the sprinklers
  • Playing a game of badminton
  • Kicking a soccer ball
  • Painting a picture
  • Going in-line skating
  • Dancing
  • Planting a flower in the garden
  • Flying a kite
  • Joining you for a walk through the mall (without stopping at the ice cream shop)

Offer healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, fruit, light microwave popcorn, vegetable soup, sugar-free gelatin, and fruit snacks. Snacks such as chips and candy bars have empty calories that will not make your child feel full.

You pick the snack. When children are allowed to pick their own snacks, they often make unhealthy choices. Talk to your child about why healthy snacks are important. Come up with a list of snacks that you can both agree on and have them on hand.

Remember
Your own relationship with food and weight, dating back to your childhood, can influence the way you parent your own child. One of your biggest challenges is to determine whether your child is eating for the right reasons.


Source: Pediatric Obesity: Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment Strategies for Primary Care (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.