NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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A Heart Healthy Diet for Kids

A Heart Healthy Diet for Kids

 

            Building a healthy, balanced diet can be challenging. It’s important for kids to know how to make healthy choices and get the right amount of foods from each food group. The American Heart Association’s daily food recommendations for children emphasis’s the importance of fruits and vegetables for children.

            Children’s growing bodies require good nutrition, and fruits and vegetables contain a multitude of vitamins, minerals and other healthy compounds. Citrus fruits and strawberries are rich in immune system-boosting vitamin C. Carrots are loaded with eye-healthy vitamin A and spinach is a good source of iron, a mineral that helps prevent anemia.  Apples contain 16 different polyphenols, which are antioxidants with health-promoting properties. Eating fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors will provide a wide range of nutrients that help keep kids healthy.

            Fruits and vegetables also play a role in combating childhood obesity. Fruits and vegetables are high in filling fiber, but low in fat and calories. Encouraging kids to eat fruits and vegetables instead of sugary snacks and fat-laden fast food can help children avoid obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 percent of kids ages 6 to 19 are overweight, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, respiratory problems and depression. A USDA study of 3,064 kids ages 5 to 18 linked higher fruit consumption to healthier body weights.

            High-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, help the digestive system function properly. Constipation in kids can often be eased by eating more high-fiber prunes, apricots, plums, peas, beans and broccoli, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. As fiber passes through the digestive system, it absorbs water and expands, which triggers regular bowel movements and relieves constipation.

            Thanks to their natural sugars, fruits are sweet.  Fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits can all be healthy choices - just be sure to compare food labels and choose products lowest in added sugars. Choose frozen fruits that are 100% fruit. Canned fruit should be packed in water, its own juice or light syrup only (no heavy syrup). One serving of fruit is equal to one medium piece of fruit, two smaller pieces or one cup of chopped fruit.  The recommended servings per day for fruits is 1.5 cups for ages 4-13 and 2 cups for boys ages 14-18 with girls ages 14-18, 1.5 cups. For kids under 6, limit juice to only a half-cup per day at most and only serve 100 percent juice, not juice drinks with added sugar.

            To increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, shop with your kids and let them prepare vegetable and fruit dishes. A child who makes the green beans himself may be more likely to eat them. Stock the kid-level shelves in your fridge with baggies of cut-up veggies and fruits and fruit cups. Explore new and even more colorful ways to serve fruits, such as the following Green Monster Smoothie.

 

Big Green Monster Smoothie

Makes six (6) 4-oz. (½-cup) servings.

 

Ingredients

1 green apple, cored and cut into large chunks (leave skin on)

1-2 handfuls of washed spinach

¼ large cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks

1 kiwi, peeled and cut into chunks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup low-fat milk (or milk substitute or water)

2 teaspoons honey

1 cup ice cubes

 

            Place all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until thoroughly blended. When blended to desired consistency, pour into cups and serve

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