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How to Help Them Outgrow 'Kid' Food

July 26, 2017

According to the National Institutes of Health, on any given day one-third of children and 41 percent of teens eat from a fast-food restaurant. They also report that the restaurant meals often served to kids contain too many calories.

The typical "kid food" being offered tends to include chicken nuggets, fries, macaroni and cheese, burgers and pizza. The problem is that these meals often provide empty calories and don't provide enough nutrition. They also keep the kids wanting the same types of foods at home, with parents often feeling pressured to provide them.

One expert, a board-certified pediatritican who dubs herself Dr. Yum, says it's time to ditch the "kid food" and start giving kids better options.

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Take your child to a farmers' market and let her pick out a fruit or vegetable to try.

"Most food is kid-friendly. Kids just need to learn how to eat it," says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Va.-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. "Kids who are taught healthy eating habits, which include eating a variety of healthy foods, will be far better off now and in the long run. They will be learning healthy habits that will last a lifetime."

Here are six reasons to ditch the pizza and pouches and get your kids back to real food:

1. Kids can learn to eat "real" food. Most parents overestimate the amount of food children need. When a toddler takes two bites of their entree, parents don't realize they may have eaten enough. Parents then may be more likely to reach for those addictive snacks like crackers and gummy fruit bites to fill their child's belly. Parents need to adjust their expectations for what their child should eat. Check with your pediatrician for nutrition guidelines and to see if your child is meeting expectations for growth to ensure his food intake is on track.

2. Restaurant kids' meals are a waste of money. When eating out, say no to kids' meals, which are usually variations on foods such as pizza, burgers, chicken nuggets and sweet drinks. Instead, order a healthy, similarly priced appetizer and/or share your entree with your little one (restaurant meals are so oversized that chances are good that the serving is too big for you anyway). Alternatively, order a few entrees "family style" and ask the server to bring extra plates for whole family to sample. This encourages kids to be adventurous and get used to trying new foods.

3. "Kid-friendly" foods are misleading. Recent studies of toddler foods show that many actually have more sugar and salt than what is recommended by experts. Food companies know that parents worry about nutrition, and know the buzz words to attract those worried parents. It's easy to make food choices based on the promise of "more protein" or "high in calcium." But reading the nutrition label will give you the big picture on whether a food is right for your child. Think about the whole foods that might be used to get the same benefit (like a handful of nuts for protein instead of a protein bar).

4. Kids need nutritious food to thrive. While pizza and macaroni and cheese may fill a child up, kids need fruits, vegetables and whole grains to provide the necessary vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients for optimal development. Furthermore, an important part of a child's development is oral motor skills (lips, tongue, teeth and palate) that allow for speech, safe feeding and swallowing. Relying too heavily on foods like pouches with purees may allow kids to lag behind in oral motor development and may lead to picky eating.

5. You don't have time to be a short order cook. Making two or three meals to satisfy everyone's preferences is exhausting. Teach kids to eat what you are eating to save time and money and to encourage adventurous eating. Check out the Doctor Yum Project's recipes on doctor Many of them have a "baby food shortcut" that shows families how to adapt a family meal for a baby.

6. Nutrition shouldn't be hidden. Kids who are very hesitant eaters may benefit from a few hidden veggies, but in general, parents should help kids learn to love healthy foods in plain sight. Lead by example, prepare them together, grow a garden and visit a farmers' market where they can pick out a couple of things to try. The more variety they are exposed to and realize that they enjoy, the better their eating habits will be.

"If kids can get involved in the food process, from shopping to preparing it, and they can learn about why eating healthy is so important to them, they are more likely to do so," adds Heidi DiEugenio, a director at the Doctor Yum Project. "This will help them avoid the obesity problems, chronic health issues, and they will have a better opportunity to live a healthier life throughout their adulthood."



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