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Nutrition Smarts

Kids and Nutrition
An interview with Keith-Thomas Ayoob

The start of the school year means kids are on the go with new studies and activities. This presents an even bigger challenge for parents seeking healthy solutions for their children's diets. FoodFit asked pediatric nutrition expert Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob what parents can do to ensure their kids are eating nutritiously. He offers great ideas for improving your child's diet without driving yourself crazy.

Fuel for Learning

A well-nourished child can concentrate better and has better memory skills. Dr. Ayoob says evidence that nutrition makes a big difference for kids is most obvious with breakfast. Kids "seem to do better on memory tests...math tests...and they seem to be much more focused on their school work."

Ayoob actually sees kids walk into his office at 9:30 a.m. drinking soda because "their parents say they didn't have time for breakfast." That excuse doesn't work for him. Ayoob emphasizes that eating nutritiously doesn't have to be time consuming and suggests that a quick breakfast can be as simple as a glass of milk with a piece of fruit and half a bagel. This can be grabbed as your kids are walking out the door and takes less time than a soda stop at the corner store.

Picky Eaters

Many parents complain that their children either won't eat or will only eat the same foods day after day. These parents are concerned that their children won't gain enough weight or aren't consuming important nutrients. On picky eaters, Ayoob has this advice: "...the worst thing to do is to force-feed kids. That's just going to create a negative association with food and eating." He suggests offering food to kids in a very matter-of-fact manner and avoiding associating stress with mealtime. Parents shouldn't be short order cooks. A parent's job "is over once they present a good, balanced, nutritious diet."

While it's sometimes fine to offer an alternative (like chicken with or without sauce), Ayoob cautions against offering too many options. Providing one or two alternatives at a meal allows kids to feel like they have choices, but too much freedom can be problematic. And what if they refuse everything? Ayoob's advice is reassuring, "If the child chooses not to have anything that's OK, kids will skip a meal occasionally but it's not something to worry about." If your child does skip a meal, don't let him snack on less nutritious items; always steer him back to a well-balanced meal when they're ready.

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