The Missing Nutrients
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently released disturbing statistics that question the quality of the average American child’s diet. In particular, they found that most children are getting too much saturated fat and excess calories, and not enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains. As a result, your child’s diet may be lacking several key nutrients that are essential to their health, including calcium, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium.
The USDA has found that most children do not get enough fiber in their diets. We all know that fiber can help keep our digestion regular, but according to the Mayo Clinic, fiber can also reduce your child’s risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. At a time when the incidence of adult-onset diabetes is increasing among children, fiber has become even more important.
You might think you’ll never get your child to eat more fiber, but you would be surprised how easy it is to tempt children with high-fiber snacks and meals. For an after-school snack, give your child popcorn, apple slices with peanut butter or a cup of fresh raspberries or strawberries drizzled with chocolate syrup. According to the Mayo Clinic, two cups of air-popped popcorn has 2.3 grams of fiber, while one apple has 4.4 grams and a cup of raspberries has a whopping 8 grams of fiber.
You can also sneak fiber-rich foods into your family dinners. When making tacos, add kidney or black beans to the ground beef — one cup of kidney beans offers 13.1 grams of fiber. Using whole-wheat pasta instead of the white variety will also up the fiber in your child’s diet.
If your child doesn’t currently eat much fiber, be sure to introduce it into his diet slowly and encourage him to drink lots of water.
Potassium is another nutrient the USDA finds is lacking in the average child’s diet, mainly because our kids aren’t eating enough fruits, vegetables and dairy products. According to the National Institutes of Health, potassium is crucial to a number of bodily functions and plays a large role in regulating blood pressure. They recommend that children get between 3 to 4.7 grams of potassium per day, depending on their age.
So how do you get your child to eat more fruits and vegetables? Chop a sweet potato into small pieces, lightly coat with cooking spray and bake until crispy. Your kids will love these orange French fries, but they’ll also be consuming nearly 700 mg of potassium. Mix plain, nonfat yogurt with fresh raspberries and drizzle with honey for a potassium-rich and high-fiber treat. Plain yogurt is a great source of potassium, with 579 mg of potassium per 8 ounces. Bananas, cantaloupe and honeydew are also rich in potassium, and are easy to chop into kid-friendly finger food.
Our children are also lacking calcium in their diets, according to the USDA. They recommend that parents make a concerted effort to increase their children’s calcium intake, particularly for children over the age of 9. We all know why calcium is important and children especially need this nutrient for healthy growth.
The most obvious way to improve your child’s calcium intake is to increase their dairy intake through sources like nonfat yogurt, lowfat milk and lowfat string cheese. Serve milk with meals — even lowfat chocolate milk is a better option than soda or “juices” that don’t actually contain any fruit or nutrients. If your family avoids dairy products for cultural or personal reasons, be sure your child is eating fortified cereals (preferably made with whole grains and low in sugar) and fortified soy or nut milks. While you may have difficulty getting your child to eat spinach, collard greens or sardines, you can try sneaking these foods into meals. Try adding cooked spinach or greens to lasagna, pasta sauce and meatloaf. If your child doesn’t like the taste of spinach, try cooking fresh spinach — it has a milder flavor than the frozen stuff.
Your child is probably also lacking vitamin E, a crucial nutrient that provides protective antioxidant benefits against free radicals. The recommended intake of vitamin E for children varies by age, but ranges from 6 mg for ages 1 through 3, up to 15 mg a day for boys and girls over the age of 14.
Luckily, there are some quick and easy ways you can increase the vitamin E in your child’s diet. Sprinkle wheat germ over your child’s cereal in the morning — he may not even notice it, but you’ll have added 2.3 mg of vitamin E in just two tablespoons. Wheat germ can also be added to pancake and waffle mixes. Almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter are also good sources of vitamin E. In fact, one ounce of dry-roasted almonds provides a whopping 7.4 mg of vitamin E. If your child turns up his nose at almonds, try substituting almond butter for the peanut butter in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Finally, the USDA is also concerned that our children are not getting enough magnesium. This mineral is essential for bone health, and it helps keep the immune and cardiovascular systems working properly. Children should be eating anywhere from 80 to 410 mg per day, depending on their age.
In addition to their high vitamin E content, almonds are also a good source of magnesium; so consider adding dry-roasted almonds or almond butter to your child’s diet. Cashews, soybeans and spinach are also good sources. For dinners, choose brown rice over white rice, and throw some black-eyed peas into chili, soups or stews to increase your family’s magnesium intake.