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Ask the Expert: Child Diets

How much food is too much for your child?

Many people have been put on a diet in one way or another, whether they need to cut back on some foods or to consume more vegetables. With a culture that struggles with obesity, should children be put on diets? Dr. Angela Schulz, a pediatrician at Baptist Medical Group-Wolf River Pediatrics, is this month’s expert on the topic. BMG-Wolf River Pediatrics, located at 6215 Humphreys Blvd, Suite 300, is accepting new patients. For more information or to make an appointment, please call 901-227-9521

1.     What should a child’s daily diet consist of?

For a child one year of age and older, the diet should consist of a variety of nutritious foods that your family likes. Choose from all food groups (fruits and vegetables, protein, dairy, and grains).

In general, a child’s plate should consist of ¼ plate protein (meat, fish, poultry, beans), ¼ plate whole grains (bread, pasta, rice, corn) and ½ vegetables and salad, with fruit for dessert and fat free or low-fat milk to drink.

Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov for children two years of age and older, answer questions about age, gender and activity level, and you will get a daily food plan along with tips for healthier eating. For children between one and three years old, three meals a day and up to four snacks a day is common. For older children three meals a day and two snacks is recommended.

For infants younger than one year old, breast milk is best but formula feeding will also provide good nutrition. It is recommended that infants who are breastfeeding take supplemental Vitamin D. With guidance from your baby’s pediatrician, introduce solids after four to six months of age.

2.      Should diets be considered for children? How can you determine if your child needs to be put on a special diet?

If your child is not growing appropriately, your pediatrician will need to evaluate the child for the cause. If it is determined that your child’s diet is not adequate for healthy growth, the pediatrician will make recommendations for changes in your child’s diet. Always consult your pediatrician before making any radical changes to your child’s diet.

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3.      How can diets affect children psychologically or emotionally?

A good healthy diet appropriate for a child’s needs does not adversely affect children, but being overweight or underweight can cause social, medical and educational problems for children. We are seeing an increase in Type 2 Diabetes in children because of obesity, and some young children have even been diagnosed with hypertension.

Children who are not at a healthy weight often are targets of bullies. This hurts the children’s self-esteem and affects their emotional development. These children may have less energy than other children, which can cause them to do less well in school and participate less in fun afterschool activities.

A good healthy diet can help a child achieve a healthy weight, improve or eliminate adverse medical conditions, help them feel energetic enough to improve their grades and allow them to compete successfully in after school activities. A healthy diet can help a child to achieve more satisfaction out of life.

4.      What is the best way to discuss dieting with children? How can diets be encouraged without pushing children toward developing an eating disorder?

Tell the child that the whole family is going to eat better, and make your child a partner when shopping for healthy foods. Choose nutritious foods that your family likes. Unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat or poultry and dairy products, are best, and these are the foods generally found around the perimeter of the supermarket.

Have your child help you prepare the meals. Steam, broil, bake or grill foods instead of frying them. Season foods with herbs and spices rather than sugar, salt or fat. When introducing a new food, remember some children may need to be exposed to the food eight to 10 times before accepting it. Parents should serve the food and be mindful of portion size, using a measuring cup initially until it is easy to estimate the correct portion.

It is best for the whole family to eat the same healthy diet and for parents to be good role models.

5.     What types of foods are needed most for children as they are growing and developing?

Foods from all food groups are important for optimal growth and development. Milk is most important for bones and teeth in early childhood and for good calcium absorption into bones during adolescence. Children should drink milk three times a day. Protein sources, such as meat, poultry, rice, beans and peanut butter, are important for muscle growth.

Water with fluoride is important for enamel formation on teeth in children older than six months of age until teeth are completely formed.

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