Feeding kids in our crazy media environment can be downright confounding. One week, news headlines may say that a certain food is "bad." The next week, it's touted as a superfood. To clear up the confusion we asked experts to give us the bottom line on what advice to take—and what to ditch, pronto.
Myth #1: Kids should clean their plates. Nope! Forcing food may reinforce negative food behavior and can lead to weight gain. "A caregiver's role is to provide healthy foods to choose from, but he or she shouldn't dictate how much of that food a child eats," notes Maggie Moon, RD, a dietitian in Los Angeles. "As long as the options are healthy, giving kids the choice of which foods to select, and how much of them to eat, keeps them in tune with their natural hunger cues."
Myth #2. Kids shouldn't eat soy. Tofu, edamame, soy milk, and other soy-based foods are fine in moderation—and, for girls, may even reduce risk of breast cancer. "Soy is healthy, a complete vegetarian protein source, and widely consumed by all ages in some traditional diets," says Moon. Plus, soy is one of the few fiber-rich protein sources available. Concerned about GMOs? Then buy the organic version. Read more about kids and soy.
Myth #3: Picky eaters should have special meals. Don't be a short-order cook! Consider serving meals buffet style and allowing your child to choose from a selection of nutritious foods, as Regan Jones, RD, co-founder of the food-blog photo-sharing site Healthy Aperture, attempts with her own children. Offer at least one dish that each person likes, and introduce new foods frequently. Place leftovers on the table for even more options.
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Myth #4: You should hide veggies in your kids' food. This provides extra nutrition but doesn't make your kid aware of the benefits of veggies. Instead, prepare and showcase delicious vegetables. Model eating an arugula-topped slice of pizza or a forkful of pesto-topped spaghetti squash—and show that you like it. Your child may be more willing to try and accept the foods because of your example. It may take time, but don't give up. Get easy recipes for more appealing veggies.
Myth #5: Kids' food must be "kid-friendly." Feed children chicken nuggets and steamed broccoli, and that's what they'll want. Suggesting that "kid-friendly" recipes have to be things like cookies and mac 'n' cheese perpetuates picky eating and ultimately limits kids' palates, says Diana Rice, RD, staff dietitian with the non-profit public health campaign The Kids Cook Monday. She suggests instead seeking recipes that are simple enough for parents and children to cook together. "My kids eat what I eat—I cook one family meal," adds Kathy Siegel, RD, a dietitian in the New York City area.
Myth #6: Babies should eat bland foods only. Get them liking garlic, pepper, and other flavors from the start! "An emerging area of research is showing that infancy is the time that children are most open to accepting new flavors," says Rice. "Exposing them to the bold flavors we find in so many healthy foods—such as bitter green vegetables, garlic, and fish—can help them develop preferences for these foods later in life." Early in your child's feeding routine, introduce as many new flavors as possible. Breastfeeding? Unless your baby has a known food allergy or other dietary restriction, you don't need to limit what you eat—getting those flavors to your child via breast milk will help with food acceptance.
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Myth #7: When feeding your family, you should only shop around the perimeter of the grocery store. Plenty of healthy foods—like beans, low-sodium canned veggies, and frozen fruit—are in center aisles! Pick up your fresh produce, milk, and yogurt on the perimeter, then head to the center aisles to get your fill of other nutritious picks. Minimally processed canned and frozen foods are great to keep on hand for in-a-pinch meals.
Myth #8: Eggs are evil. Gone are the days of fearing egg yolks. When the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans came out earlier this year, the years-old dietary cholesterol restriction of 300 mg daily was lifted. The yolk contains eyesight-boosting lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as brain-benefiting choline, and protein. So add the whole egg to an omelet or frittata. Get recipes for five easy egg dishes.
Myth #9: Kids should be frequent snackers. Children need some snacks but not lots. "For kids snacking, it goes back to developing healthy habits that will benefit them later in life," says Rice. "Do adults need snacks in between every single meal? No, and that habit likely contributes to excess caloric intake. Kids will do fine on three round meals and maybe one healthy snack per day." If your child is hungry when mealtime hits, that may be a good thing, as it teaches him to listen to his appetite and eat portions of food that are satisfying. "Break the snacking habit by offering fruits and vegetables when kids ask for a snack," says Rice. "If they're really hungry, they'll eat it!"
Myth #10: Kids "need" juice. Serve the whole fruit—you'll get more cholesterol-helping fiber for less calories and sugar. For 95 calories, a medium apple contains 4.4 g of fiber and 19 g of sugar, while a cup of juice has 114 calories, 0.5 g of fiber, and 24 g of sugar.