Healthy childhood eating takes understanding

Susan Smith – Special to The Garden Island

Every time I meet a new mom and she finds out I am a dietitian, one of the first questions I get is, “What should my child be eating?”

While most people may think they know instinctively what to feed their children, the answer is not always so easy. In addition to cultural food choice differences, perceptions of appropriate body sizes vary for children. Most children, when left to their own senses, will stop eating when full. Obviously, in today’s world with rampant childhood obesity issues, this is not always happening. To help prevent this overeating which leads to obesity and other health issues like diabetes and heart disease — or the opposite, malnutrition, caused by undereating — it is important to understand appropriate serving sizes and amounts of healthy foods that should be consumed every day.

Most people are familiar with the old food guide pyramid, but not all are familiar with the food guide pyramid for kids at www.mypyramid.gov. The basics for kids from ages 6 to 11 are listed, as are estimated amounts for adults, based on activity levels. All portion sizes for ages 6 to adult are the same; that portion amount is the usual portion size for those under age 6.

Basically, there are six major food groups with recommended amounts of each food group for daily consumption. Most people go wrong by having too many servings overall and some people skip entire food groups. Too many servings usually results in extra calories and extra weight. Skipping groups usually results in vitamin, mineral and/or nutrient deficiencies.

The group that requires the largest consumption is breads and cereals. For example, a cup serving of cereal, pasta, or rice is an adult-size serving. For kids under 5, 1/2 cup is a serving. For all ages, a minimum of 6 servings per day is recommended. This group provides B vitamins, carbohydrate, some protein and fiber.

The next largest consumption should be vegetables, with 3 to 5 servings per day. A 1/2 cup serving of cooked veggies or 1 cup of raw veggies is an adult serving; 1/4 or 1/2 cup is the child’s serving. This group brings vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, some protein and fiber.

The next group is milk. Cow, soy, or rice milk can meet the required 2 to 3 servings per day. For adults, it is three 8-ounce servings, and for kids, it is two 8-ounce servings. Cheese and ice cream do not meet the milk requirement, since they provide protein and fat; cheese is considered a meat and fat and ice cream is considered a bread and fat. The milk group actually provides calcium, protein, carbohydrate and potassium.

Fruits are the next group, at 2 to 4 servings per day. A tennis-ball sized piece of fruit, 1/2 cup of fresh fruit, or 4 oz of juice is an adult serving; 1/4 is the child’s serving. This group brings vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate and fiber to the diet.

Contrary to most people’s diets, the meat group is one of the smallest portions one should consume daily. A total of 6 ounces per day is the adult portion. This is equivalent to the size of both palms of the hand or two decks of cards. Many people overconsume on this food group, mistakenly thinking protein is needed in large amounts. In reality, carbohydrates is needed in amounts second only to water, followed by fat and then protein. The meat group mainly provides protein, fat, B vitamins and iron.

Lastly, the fat group provides mainly fat and is not given a recommended amount, since most people overconsume with fried foods and added fats like butter and bacon. One tablespoon per day usually is adequate for adults.

Keeping a food log and counting servings is the key to a healthy diet at any age. Give yourself and your child a head start by providing all six food groups with adequate water daily.

• For questions about this article, call Susan Smith of Easter Seals at 245-7141. For ideas and resources on how to understand and enrich your child’s development, call Anna Peters, Kaua‘i Good Beginnings Coordinator at 632-2114 or Cathy Shanks, PATCH at 246-0622. This article is provided by the Kaua‘i Good Beginnings Council Public Awareness Committee comprised of PATCH, Healthy Start, Department of Education; PCNC & PSAP & DOH: Maternal and Child Health, Easter Seals and GBA.

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