A broader perspective: Experts now recommend a whole-diet approach to childhood nutrition

By Rebecca Long Pyper

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new policy for children’s nutrition, encouraging a whole-diet approach and broader perspective when deciding what’s best to feed kids.

Previously more focused attention was encouraged, where parents and caretakers considered things like amount of sugar, fat and specific nutrients in specific foods independent of each other; now experts are saying it’s best to adopt an overall look, one that judges the quality of whole diet rather than foods separate and distinct.

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One sweet distinction in the new recommendation addresses sugar and fats. “A good diet is built on highly nutritious foods from each of the main food groups,” said Dr. Robert Murray, the lead author on the new policy, which was published the end of February. “No ingredient should be banned. A small amount of sugar or fat is okay if it means a child is more likely to eat foods that are highly nutritious.”

In recent years AAP nutrition recommendations have resulted in schools serving healthier fare to kids who take “hot lunch”; last year 92 percent of school districts reported meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture school-meal standards issued in 2012, notes www.aap.org. But that hasn’t necessarily changed the quality of lunches brought from home; since many prepared foods are heavy in white flour, salt, sugar and processed ingredients, it takes planning to assemble healthy lunches, and that’s likely one reason for the policy change.

“I think the AAP’s main goal is to reduce the amount of processed foods in the diets of children,” said District 6 WIC director Kathy Puckett Kathy Puckett. “We are in an age that demands convenience. Unfortunately, boxed and frozen heat-and-serve main-dish-type foods tend to have a lot of preservatives and lack nutrients we find in whole foods such as fruits and veggies.”

Since kids are not eating enough produce, especially vegetables, Puckett said it’s best to balance easy and “fun” foods like pizza with salad or carrots — “don’t just have an entrée with a drink; add fruits and veggies,” she said.

The same goes for parents packing lunches for their kids. AAP recommends the following:

·      Choose a range of foods from the food groups: fruits, vegies, grains, low-fat dairy and protein.

·      Provide a variety of foods, rather than the same things every day.

·      Avoid highly processed foods.

·      Send appropriate portion sizes.

·      Use small amounts of sugar, salt and fats with nutritious foods to encourage kids to eat them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now acknowledges that small amounts of sugar, salt, fats and oils are acceptable as a means to making healthier foods more enjoyable for children. Here are a few ways District 6 WIC director Kathy Puckett Kathy Puckett recommends working fruits and veggies into kids’ diets with less of a fight:

• Serve a dip. Peanut butter is a healthy fat most kids love. Cream-cheese spreads can be enticing with celery or can be sweetened to make fruit dip. All kinds of healthy fruit dips can be made with whole-fat or reduced-fat yogurts.

• Quench their thirst. A glass of milk has healthy fat in it, and low-fat chocolate milk is a hit with kids.

• Remember the power of cheese. String cheese is a fat source that provides other good nutrients, and kids tend to like cheese and crackers. Whole-fat or low-fat cottage cheese can be added to fruit salads that have a cream base.

• Make smoothies with veggies, fruits and dairy products like yogurt or even ice cream — just make sure the higher portion of ingredients is fruits and veggies. And adding avocado to a smoothie can make it creamier and introduces heart-healthy fat.

• Substitute olive oil for butter when possible; it’s better for your heart.

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