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Health & Fitness

Live chat: Feeding your kids, kindergarten through college

Times Staff Writer

2007-09-17 16:02:32.0 Administrator2: Hello and welcome to the Nutrition Chat with Susan Bowerman!

2007-09-17 16:02:50.0 Administrator2: We'll begin in a moment-- please feel free to submit your questions!

2007-09-17 16:05:15.0 Administrator2: Let's get started!

2007-09-17 16:06:06.0 Administrator2: Susan, what's the most important thing when feeding your kindergartner (or young child)? Getting them to eat, period (even if it's mac and cheese), or forcing them to eat healthy (even if they throw a fit)?

2007-09-17 16:07:00.0 Susan Bowerman: I think it's very important not to go to war with your kids over food. Kids, of all ages, can be picky eaters. But, we do know that there are certain things that do work well in getting kids to eat more healthfully....

2007-09-17 16:07:35.0 Susan Bowerman: First of all, get them involved in the shopping and preparation. Kids take much more interest when they're involved. If they are old enough, shopping is a great time to teach them how to read labels...

2007-09-17 16:08:05.0 Susan Bowerman: Then, when you are preparing foods, that's an opportune time to talk about nutrition - how healthy the foods are, how pretty the fruits and vegetables are to look at, etc....

2007-09-17 16:09:01.0 Susan Bowerman: But if your child is very picky, the best thing you can do is to set a good example - by eating well yourself. You can also make sure that you offer healthy foods (maybe even with those that are not-so healthy) and keep offering them. Familiarity often will result in kids trying new things.

2007-09-17 16:09:20.0 shaghin: Is a lot of fiber as important in kid's diet as it is in adult diet?

2007-09-17 16:10:51.0 Susan Bowerman: Fiber is important for children, but their requirements are less than adults, since they are smaller. The guidelines are that younger children should have about 5 grams of fiber plus their age - so if they are ten years old, then about 15 grams per day. With very young children, you don't want to push fiber too much - it can upset the stomach, and a high intake of high fiber foods could be too filling, and they may actually run a little short on calories.

2007-09-17 16:10:54.0 Susan Brink: What about older kids, say teens, who may have a long history of rejecting vegetables and new foods?

2007-09-17 16:12:45.0 Susan Bowerman: It gets harder as kids get older, because their habits have gotten well-established. As with younger kids, even teenagers are more apt to eat raw/crunchy vegetables than they are cooked ones. Often times it's a texture issue. The other thing that you can do, if you enjoy cooking, is to sneak some veggies into commonly prepared items like soups, stew and pasta sauce. It's good for the whole family, and most people won't even notice. You may be surprised, though - peer pressure can sometimes work in a good way. I've seen teens suddenly start eating healthier foods if their friends are doing it...

2007-09-17 16:12:51.0 Administrator2: I've talked to a few parents who say their kids LOVE fruits and vegetables because they're not used to having processed sugar in their diet. No candy, so an apple seems like a treat! Do you think that's a system that would work for most kids?

2007-09-17 16:14:39.0 Susan Bowerman: I would certainly endorse this concept, and it's a great one. The problem with our sugary diet is that our taste buds are so used to so much sugar in the food supply, that we end up craving super-sweet foods. But with highly sugared foods, all you taste is the sugar. I think that people of all ages can learn to enjoy the fruit as a replacement for other treats. Buy fruits that are in season, and as close to ripeness as possible to get the most flavor.

2007-09-17 16:14:42.0 Susan Brink: How important is milk in a young child's diet if the diet is otherwise pretty balanced and nutritious?

2007-09-17 16:16:25.0 Susan Bowerman: Milk and other dairy products like cottage cheese and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium, and so they do play a role in a well-balanced diet for children. If kids reject milk, I'm not opposed to a little bit of flavoring in milk if it will make it more palatable, but I'd try to avoid that if possible. If kids just won't take in dairy foods, there is no reason they can't get their calcium from a supplement, or from calcium-fortified foods, or a combination of foods and supplements, which would be ideal in this case.

2007-09-17 16:16:42.0 Administrator2: I've known a few young teenagers that decide to become vegetarian, but replace meat with junk food, french fries and stuff. What advice can you give parents who want to support their children but also want to make sure they get enough nutrients?

2007-09-17 16:19:01.0 Susan Bowerman: I've seen this many times, myself, and it's distressing. Kids may decide to become vegetarian, but have no idea how to go about it, and so they just cut out the protein foods they had been eating, but they don't replace them with healthy plant sources of protein. As parents, one thing we can do is to try some of these protein alternatives at home to introduce them to the kids - have a 'veg' night once a week and try veggie burgers, or a stir-fry with some tofu, something like that. Another super-easy thing to do is to make protein smoothies in the morning with milk or soy milk, soy protein powder and fruit. Great way for kids to start their day. I think it's also important to impress upon them that just because they aren't eating meat doesn't automatically mean their diet is healthy....

2007-09-17 16:19:28.0 Susan Bowerman: It's very important that they include plenty of fruits and vegetables, and still avoid a lot of fats, sweets and salt - just as they should if they were omnivores.

2007-09-17 16:19:32.0 Susan Brink: Do you have some advice for the parents who struggle every mealtime to get their kids to eat. Should they insist on a clean plate? Should they bribe with promises of dessert? How can parents avoid a nightly tense scene at the table?

2007-09-17 16:20:48.0 Susan Bowerman: I don't think that insisting on a clean plate is productive. Kids, left to their own devices, usually know when they have had enough to eat, and will stop when they are comfortable. I also don't think it is a good idea to set up the 'dessert as reward' scenario - I think too many people grow into adults who then continue to reward themselves with sweets....

2007-09-17 16:22:31.0 Susan Bowerman: If you offer a reasonably healthy well-balanced selection of items in the home and at the table, and if you let your child serve him or herself, you may have fewer battles. Some parents actually serve dessert at the same time as they main meal, because they feel it de-emphasizes its importance as a reward. If it's something healthy like pudding or a bran muffin, you might try this - most parents who have done this have told me that their kids will still eat their whole dinner, even if they have the pudding first.

2007-09-17 16:22:51.0 Administrator2: Just how bad are most fruit juices? Is it absolutely necessary to make sure you're giving your kids 100% real fruit juice?

2007-09-17 16:24:01.0 Susan Bowerman: If you are going to serve juice, I would certainly recommend 100% fruit juice. However, I think it's also important to recognize that excessive fruit juice consumption can also mean a high calorie intake. It's best to keep juice servings down, and encourage children (and adults, for that matter) to eat their fruits, rather than drink them.

2007-09-17 16:25:02.0 Administrator2: What about other beverages? For instance, how much soda (if any) is okay?

2007-09-17 16:26:55.0 Susan Bowerman: I would encourage parents not to bring sodas home, even no-calorie sodas. If these drinks are not available, then kids just don't get in the habit of drinking them. If they have a soda now and again at a restaurant, it's not a big deal, but I think soda consumption should really be discouraged. Sodas provide huge amounts of sugar and calories and are a big problem for teeth.

2007-09-17 16:27:55.0 Administrator2: What do you think of fast-food restaurants' "healthy options" (like veggie burgers, expanded salad menus, etc.)? Are these a good thing, or is it better to just stay away from fast-food altogether? It seems like it might be just too easy to get a healthy salad, and while you're at it, a big apple pie or something for dessert. : )

2007-09-17 16:29:32.0 Susan Bowerman: I applaud the fast food chains for making these items available. There's no question that the majority of people who go to a fast food restaurant aren't looking for health food, but I think it's great that they have these expanded options for kids and adults alike. Many kids enjoy going to these restaurants, and now parents can feel that it's okay to take them. Having these healthier foods endorsed by the fast food chain may actually make them more appealing to kids....

2007-09-17 16:30:59.0 Susan Bowerman: As to your other question about having a healthy meal and then topping it off with dessert - a lot of people do this.... and you should try to resist, if you can! I've seen so many people who, for instance, will drink unsweetened tea and a healthy lunch, and then have a big dessert because they saved their calories for it. That's not exactly the' nutritional balance' we dietitians speak about!

2007-09-17 16:31:08.0 Susan Brink: Do people have to raise their food budget amount to get a healthy diet? Fresh and healthy foods seem to cost more.

2007-09-17 16:32:52.0 Susan Bowerman: This is an interesting question, and it is true that the least expensive items in our food supply are fat and sugar. There is the perception that fruits and vegetables are more expensive, but it may help to think about how much nutrition you are getting for your food dollar, rather than just how much 'volume' of food you are getting. We are all so programmed to want 'value', which we tend to equate with large portions - and so to make portions larger with more fat and sugar makes us think we're getting a better deal.....

2007-09-17 16:33:34.0 Susan Bowerman: On the other hand, if you look at the nutrients you get for your dollar spent on fruits and vegetables, they are a tremendous bargain. It is often less expensive to buy foods that are frozen, and they are nutritionally comparable to fresh (sometimes they are even better)...

2007-09-17 16:34:37.0 Susan Bowerman: So, you can buy frozen veggies or fruits to incoporate into the diet, which may cost less. Sometimes foods at your local farmer's markets are less expensive, sometimes not. But if you find a bargain there, take advantage, stock up, and see if you can prepare seasonal items into other dishes and freeze them....

2007-09-17 16:35:31.0 Susan Bowerman: And canned or processed foods like 100% natural applesauce, canned tomato prodcuts, canned corn and canned beans, for instance, are less expensive and can be incorporated into the diet.

2007-09-17 16:35:36.0 Administrator2: What's your idea of a perfect brown-bag lunch? Say, if you're sending a ten-year-old off to school...what items would you pick that are healthy, well-liked by kids, relatively easy to prepare, and fit in a lunch box?

2007-09-17 16:38:11.0 Susan Bowerman: Kids like foods in reasonably small portions, and they like variety. So, things that are great in the lunch box include: individual string cheeses, small sandwiches (cut them into quarters, or make them on lowfat crackers for a change); you can also make sandwiches into a wrap, and cut into small pieces. Individual cups of fruit are well-liked, although I'd opt for fresh whenever you can. A perfect lunch would probably be a sandwich on whole wheat bread of turkey, tuna, or other lean meat, some baby carrots with a little fat-free ranch dressing, a piece of fruit, a carton on lowfat milk and pudding for dessert.

2007-09-17 16:39:09.0 Administrator2: What about parents sending their kids to college? In my experience, health food is usually more expensive than junk food (a big consideration for "starving students"), and that on-campus cafeteria is very convenient, but maybe not chock-full of healthy options...

2007-09-17 16:40:38.0 Susan Bowerman: Yes, this is another time that parents get concerned about their kids - when they are on their own for the first time. First, I think you have to remember that you are sending them off, hopefully, with some knowledge of what healthy eating is, and you have to trust that they wont

2007-09-17 16:40:50.0 Susan Bowerman: entirely subsist on junk food.

2007-09-17 16:41:12.0 Susan Bowerman: But in my experience, the dining halls actually have a pretty good range of options - despite what your kids may be telling you....

2007-09-17 16:41:47.0 Susan Bowerman: The problem actually isn't the dorm food usually, it's the food that's consumed away from campus, at parties, and of course alcohol intake starts to play a role....

2007-09-17 16:42:24.0 Susan Bowerman: You can't follow your children around the cafeteria, but you can gently ask if they have a salad bar, can they take some whole fruits with them to snack on in between meals, etc.,

2007-09-17 16:43:20.0 Susan Bowerman: If your kids live off-campus, then money does become an issue. Here is where a few lessons in quantity cooking might help. If kids can learn to cook up a few healthy dishes with their friends on the weekends and freeze for later, they will then have something nutritious available a few times a week. Cooking in bulk usually saves money, too.

2007-09-17 16:43:28.0 Administrator2: So there's hope to avoid the "freshman 15", then?

2007-09-17 16:44:07.0 Susan Bowerman: Yes, there certainly is. As I wrote last week in the Health section, the Freshman 15 is a bit over-inflated - it appears that the average weight gain for college kids their first year is more in the 4-9 pound range....

2007-09-17 16:44:46.0 Susan Bowerman: That's not necessarily a good thing - it's less than 15 pounds of course, but not a trend we want to get started. Kids sometimes let exercise fall by the wayside when they go to college, and this is a big problem....

2007-09-17 16:45:23.0 Susan Bowerman: Exercise is such an excellent stress reducer, and we know that habits that get established at this age tend to continue into adulthood - so it's a good time to get the exercise habit well-ingrained, and hopefully couple it with a reasonably healthy diet.

2007-09-17 16:45:35.0 Administrator2: By and large, do you think that school lunches (elementary, middle and high school) are becoming healthier? Do we still have a long way to go? And is it still better to send your kids to school with a lunch you've packed yourself?

2007-09-17 16:46:48.0 Administrator2: Hey chatters-- we'll be wrapping up in a few minutes-- so send in any last-minute questions you have for Susan now!

2007-09-17 16:48:32.0 Susan Bowerman: I imagine this varies a lot among districts, and between public vs private schools. It's been a while since my kids were in the public school system, but the one big difference I noticed when they were in school was that the cafeterias tend to do more 'heating' than 'cooking'. So the foods and choices are a much different than they used to be. The schools are, of course, mandated to serve a reasonably well-balanced array, and I think they do the best they can. Certainly for children who participate in school lunch and breakfast programs, this may be their best meal of the day. However, if your child complains about the choices at school, or if you feel that the choices are less than optimal, then of course sending a home-made lunch is a good way to go. You will have a bit more control over when your child will eat for lunch, and your kids might be more likely to eat what you have prepared.

2007-09-17 16:48:39.0 Audrey: Is too much fiber bad for a person?

2007-09-17 16:49:12.0 Susan Bowerman: Hello Audrey, and thanks for joining. It's possible that people can consume too much fiber - although it's somewhat difficult to do through just foods alone.....

2007-09-17 16:49:36.0 Susan Bowerman: Some people will consume high fiber diets and then consume fiber supplements on top of that - figuring that if 'some is good, more is better'.

2007-09-17 16:50:28.0 Susan Bowerman: With extremely high fiber diets, you run the risk of binding up minerals in foods, so they won't be absorbed as well. The recommendations for most adults is that they consume about 25-30 grams of fiber a day, from a combination of soluble fibers and insoluble fibers.

2007-09-17 16:50:46.0 Administrator2: Some friends are raising their baby (currently under a year old) vegan...any advice for making sure he gets everything he needs in his diet as he gets older?

2007-09-17 16:52:08.0 Susan Bowerman: Your friends might do well to consult with a Registered Dietitian, if they haven't already, to make sure their baby is getting everything he needs. Getting adequate protein on a vegan diet can be challenging, and since a vegan diet will be rich in plant foods that are bulky and filling (and since one-year old children can't eat much at one sitting)...

2007-09-17 16:52:37.0 Susan Bowerman: it's possible that this child may not get enough protein or calories. A registered dietitian can help them to plan an adequate diet for their little one.

2007-09-17 16:52:49.0 Administrator2: Thanks!

2007-09-17 16:55:12.0 Susan Brink: I know a teen who seems overly concerned about her weight. I don't want her to develop an eating disorder. What advice would you give her.

2007-09-17 16:56:38.0 Susan Bowerman: Many young women are concerned about their body image and about their weight - we know from studies that some kids attempt to diet even in grade school. The most important thing we try to impress upon these girls is that they want to take the best possible care of the bodies that they have, and to accept their general size and shape if it's reasonable....

2007-09-17 16:58:11.0 Susan Bowerman: In other words, give your body the rest and nutrition that it requires for growth, and make sure that you exercise your body regularly to keep yourself lean and well-toned. But it's so important for young girls to understand that the have a particular shape and size that is in their genetic makeup, and if they are big-boned, so to speak, they will never achieve the waif-look that they see in magazines and on television.

2007-09-17 16:58:13.0 jo: Is milk the best source of calcium for kids? What is they are lactose intolerant?

2007-09-17 16:59:13.0 Susan Bowerman: If kids are lactose intolerant, they can drink lactose-free milk, or they can drink soy milk, which is usually fortified to the same levels as cow's milk. Soy milk is usually well-accepted by kids.

2007-09-17 16:59:21.0 Administrator2: Thanks all for coming to the chat, and thank you, Susan! Stay tuned for the next Nutrition chat!

2007-09-17 16:59:25.0 Administrator2: If you missed any of today's chat, you can find a transcript at

2007-09-17 16:59:41.0 Susan Bowerman: Thanks to everyone. See you soon. Susan

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