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When it comes to nutrition and healthy eating, it seems that a lot of what we read is confusing and contradictory, and separating fact from fiction is no easy task especially when you’re a busy parent.
Let’s take safely introducing nuts to babies, which is a new food philosophy that can make healthy eating tricky.
When my kids were babies—which was only a few years ago—I was told to wait to feed them nuts because of the risk of food allergies. Now that advice has changed and parents are encouraged to feed nuts to their babies early on.
Unless you’re a nutritionist, chances are, you don’t have time to sift through the research and figure out what’s true and what’s not. Although I can’t guarantee that a new study won’t come out tomorrow and influence how we should feed our kids, here are 15 kids’ healthy eating myths that you should stop believing today.
1. Healthy eating is time consuming
Serving healthy meals definitely takes time to plan, prep and cook—definitely more time than opening up a box of chicken nuggets or ordering take-out.
If you work, have more than one kid at home, care for an aging parent, and have other obligations, your time is even more limited.
A myth about healthy eating however, is that it’s too time consuming but I want to assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.
With easy, simple strategies like meal planning, batch cooking and sticking to the basics, it is possible to serve healthy meals everyday.
2. The Keto diet is healthy for kids
Low-carb diets like keto are all the rage for adults looking to lose weight, but in recent months, it’s shocking to see how many bloggers are posting keto diet recipes for kids.
When it comes to refined carbohydrates like those found in white breads, pastas and rice and processed foods, I agree, they should be limited.
These types of carbs break down into simple sugars easily, cause blood sugar levels to spike and don’t satiate hunger—which might be one of the reasons your kid is always hungry.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, provide kids with the energy they need and they support their muscle growth and brain development. They also take longer to break down, which keeps blood sugar levels steady.
Complex carbs are also high in fiber which satisfy hunger and prevent constipation.
So instead of cutting carbs, offer a variety of foods with complex carbohydrates. These include:
- Vegetables like pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes
- Fruits like berries, apples and pears
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
Related: Is Keto Safe For Kids?
3. Sneaking vegetables is the best way to encourage healthy eating
Pureeing vegetables and sneaking them into sauces, baked goods, and smoothies can definitely give your kids the nutrition they need and otherwise wouldn’t get.
Yet sneaking every type of vegetable they eat into their meal isn’t going to make them into healthy eaters.
Our goal as parents is to raise kids who not only accept but LOVE to eat healthy.
And one of the ways to do that is to give them plenty of opportunities to smell, touch and taste vegetables in their whole form.
Sure, they may not love everything you serve, but they must have plenty of chances to learn what they like and dislike.
So while I don’t see anything wrong with green smoothies or adding a vegetable puree into a meal for extra nutrition, whole vegetables should make up a bulk of their plates.
4. Kids should eat kid-friendly foods
I get it: it’s really easy and convenient to open a box of macaroni and cheese and serve it to your kids. It’s quick and easy and you know they’ll eat it.
I’m not saying that I don’t rely on some Annie’s macaroni and cheese when I don’t feel like cooking or we’re short on time, but here’s the thing: if you’re serving kid-friendly foods because you know your kids aren’t going to eat the healthy dinner you made, they’re missing out.
Without plenty of opportunities to taste and experience new types of food, they won’t develop the preference for healthy fare—and the picky eating behaviors will continue.
5. Healthy eating includes drinking milk
Milk is a good source of calcium and protein as well as vitamins A, B6, B12, magnesium, niacin, selenium and zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Yet one of the biggest kids’ healthy eating myths is that kids need to drink milk for calcium.
The truth is that there are far better sources of calcium than milk, and they also don’t contain growth hormones, allergenic proteins and antibiotics. Some include:
- Chia seeds
- Black turtle beans
- Sardines (my kids love them!)
- Sesame seeds
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
Research also shows cow’s milk is inflammatory and linked to a host of diseases.
In fact, in February 2019, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to update the new guidelines to include a warning about the health dangers of dairy.
6. “Gluten free” means healthy
If your kids are on a gluten-free diet because of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease or another reason, it can definitely be a healthy way to eat.
Yet just because the food label says gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
So many gluten free foods sold in stores contain artificial ingredients, sweeteners and food dyes you don’t want your kids eating.
If you’re going gluten free, do it the healthy way and make sure your kids eat mostly whole foods including fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and gluten-free grains like oats and quinoa.
7. Yogurt is a health food
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, which can satisfy hunger and prevent weight gain.
It’s also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B12 as well as probiotics, the healthy bacteria that boosts gut health and strengthen the immune system.
Yet many yogurts, those that are marketed to kids or otherwise, are also sneaky sources of sugar.
Yogurts with pretzels, candy and crushed cookies are obvious sources, but those that are blended with fruit can also be high in the sweet stuff.
Read labels carefully and stick to brands with less than 11 grams of sugar, according to nutritionist Joy Bauer.
Siggi’s is one of my favorites for kids. Or serve plain Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit for a hint of sweetness and fiber.
Related: 10 Foods High In Probiotics For Kids
8. Kids who refuse to eat are picky eaters
When kids refuse to try a new food they’ve been introduced to once or even several times, it doesn’t mean they’re picky eaters.
Repeatedly introducing foods to kids is an effective way to prevent picky eating.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it can take between 8 and 15 times of introducing a new food for a child to accept it.
Plus, a December 2007 study in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that when mothers introduced a vegetable their infants initially disliked, by the 8th day of serving it, their intake of it increased rapidly. And by the 8th exposure, their intake was similar to that of a vegetable they liked. Nine months later, 63 percent of the infants were still eating the originally disliked vegetable.
Introduce tiny bites of new foods alongside your kid’s favorite foods.
Also, instead of serving the food the same way over and over again, try a different cooking method (roasted vs. steamed), or serve it alone and mixed in (but not hidden!) with another food your kid enjoys eating.
9. Kids should only get dessert if they eat their dinner
When you’re frustrated with your picky eaters, you can beg, plead and negotiate—and bribe them with dessert but it’s not a long-term strategy for healthy eating.
Allowing them to have dessert after a certain requirement has been met, i.e. take two more bites or eat all of your vegetables, teaches them that dessert is more desirable than healthy food.
It’s also something they start to believe as they get older—just think about how most adults view dessert.
Bribing kids with dessert also interferes with their hunger and satiety cues. Telling a kid he must eat some or everything on his plate is a pressure tactic that doesn’t allow kids to recognize when they’re not hungry or when they’re full and makes mealtimes a negative experience.
Can we encourage healthy eating? We sure can. But just like anything else, we can’t make our kids do what they don’t want to.
So instead of trying to enforce “food rules,” serve healthy foods and encourage healthy habits.
If you decide to serve dessert, which by the way can be fruit, a muffin, or yogurt, for example, kids should be allowed to have it no matter what or how much they ate.
10. Store-bought baby food is just as good as homemade
Although many of the store-bought baby food brands don’t have preservatives or additives, open them up and you’ll smell—and taste—the difference.
In 2015, Good Morning America found that water was the most predominant ingredient in Plum Organics’ baby food and other ingredients like fruits, vegetables and meat, were in smaller quantities.
Store-bought baby food may also contain less than 20 percent of the recommended levels of many minerals and micronutrients, a 2012 study out of the U.K found.
There are some exceptions, however.
Once Upon A Farm uses fresh, whole, organic foods to make their cold-pressed, refrigerated baby food. There are also companies that deliver homemade baby food to your door.
Making homemade baby food definitely takes more time then opening up a jar but it’s also one of the best things you can do for your baby.
You know exactly what’s going into your baby’s meals and you can choose food that is organic, local, from the farmer’s market and in-season so it’s fresher and more affordable.
13. Kids shouldn’t eat eggs everyday
For many years in the U.S. experts said we should limit the amount of eggs in our diets because the saturated fat they contain was linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Experts now agree, and studies (here and here) show that there’s not enough data to support that theory. Studies also show that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have much of an effect on blood cholesterol.
A January 2015 study in the American Heart Journal found eating up to one egg per day is not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Earlier this year, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating eggs can increase cardiovascular disease risk and death. Yet experts say the study has limitations and eating eggs in the context of a healthy diet is fine.
14. All processed food is bad and prevents healthy eating
You already know that kids should eat less processed foods and more real, whole foods.
Most processed foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, saturated fat and artificial ingredients you can’t identify or pronounce. They also lack fiber and the vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.
Although highly-processed foods, which are those that that have sweeteners, oils, flavors, colors and preservatives should be avoided, not all processed foods are bad for kids.
Minimally-processed foods like bagged salads, washed and pre-chopped fruits and vegetables, or canned beans for example, can be healthy, encourage healthy eating and make your life easier.
15. Chocolate milk is healthy for kids
In schools, serving chocolate milk is seen by proponents as a way to encourage kids to drink milk when they otherwise wouldn’t. In recent years, it’s also been promoted as a post-workout recovery drink for athletes.
While chocolate milk is a good source of protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals, it’s also high in sugar: 24 grams or more sugar than a Mr. Goodbar!
Suffice to say, chocolate milk isn’t something kids should be drinking regularly, but can be served as an occasional treat.