Whenever September rolls around, I recall being stranded in Dallas during the time of the 9/11 attack in 2001. I was unable to get a flight home for several days. My husband was at home caring for our two energetic young children.
I had been at a nutrition conference that ended abruptly for all practical purposes. Like the rest of the country, nearly all of us attendees were glued to our TV sets in our hotel rooms.
When I finally was able to get a flight home, I was met at the airport as usual by my husband, our then-6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, who was carrying a jumbo bag of potato chips about half her size. Her mouth was surrounded by melted chocolate. Our son was lobbying for control of the chips, but she was being feisty.
My harried husband looked at me a little sheepishly. “The soda pop is in the car,” he said, then added, “but it’s diet pop.”
“OK,” I replied as I picked up my chocolate-faced little daughter. I almost burst out laughing for the first time in a week.
I was so tired after being stranded in Dallas, and so thankful to be home, that we left it at that. I reminded myself that there’s room in the diet for occasional treats, but the important thing is that the overall diet remain healthful.
When providing food for children, parents and children have a division of responsibility, according to child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter. The caregiver’s responsibilities for young children include selecting and buying food, preparing the meals, presenting the food, ensuring pleasant meal times and defining appropriate behavior for meals.
The caregiver is not responsible for how much – or even if – the child eats. Children need to have some latitude to make their own decisions about food choices, so be sure that healthful food choices are available.
When preparing food for children, remember they’re not mini-adults. Remember, too, that they’re more likely to follow what you do, rather than what you say. If you’re extolling the virtues of fresh vegetables while chomping on a brownie, they’ll likely go for the chocolate at the next opportunity.
Children do, however, need the same variety of foods based on “MyPlate.gov,” but their portion sizes are generally smaller. Children can be overwhelmed by adult-size portions.
Overweight among children continues to be an issue in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that adult diets should be imposed upon children. Children under age 2 should not follow a low-fat eating plan because fat in the diet is needed for the development of their nervous systems and body cells.
Between ages 2 and 5, the fat intake in children’s diets may be reduced gradually. This can be accomplished in part by switching from whole to low-fat milk and by incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet. To help moderate calories in the diets of anyone over age 2, try these strategies:
- Choose lean cuts of meat.
- Choose low-fat or nonfat versions of dairy products.
- Read and compare Nutrition Facts labels.
- Instead of solid fats, use oils.
- When preparing food, trim visible fat from meat.
- Use cooking methods such as broiling, roasting, baking, steaming or grilling to cook foods.
- Spoon fat from soups or meats after they have been chilled.
- Substitute low-fat yogurt, sour cream or cottage cheese for sour cream and mayonnaise.
Here’s a health-promoting twist on a kids’ favorite, macaroni and cheese.
Make-over Macaroni and Cheese
1 box macaroni and cheese (with the powdered cheese sauce)
2 tablespoons skim milk
2 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
Cook the noodles according to the package directions, omitting salt. Drain, then add milk and cheese instead of butter or margarine called for on the package. Mix well to coat evenly. Add contents of the cheese sauce packet; mix well. Serve immediately.
Makes four 1/2-cup servings. Each serving contains 230 calories, 5 grams (g) fat, 35 g carbohydrate, 12 g protein and 500 milligrams of sodium.