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Give Your Child a High Five for Fiber

Getting enough fiber is just as important to your child's health as it is to yours. Fiber helps regulate your child's digestive system by promoting regular bowel movements. Adequate fiber also helps keep cholesterol and blood sugar levels low and may help reduce your child's risk for certain cancers later in life. An added bonus is that fiber helps fill kids up without filling them out.

There's an easy way to figure out how much fiber your child needs. For kids ages 3-18, just add 5 to their age to determine the number of grams of fiber they should eat each day. For example, an 11-year-old child needs 16 grams of fiber per day (11 + 5).

Children who learn to enjoy a variety of fiber-rich foods are more likely to carry this habit into adulthood. Good sources of fiber include whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils), nuts and seeds. Here are some everyday tips to help "fiber up" your child's eating routine.

Give Them the Whole Grain

Foods made from whole grains contain all three parts of the grain, including the fiber-rich bran layer. To find foods made with whole grains, look at the product's ingredient list. The first ingredient should include the words "whole grain" or "whole" such as whole wheat, oats, rye, cornmeal or barley. Other whole grain foods include brown rice, bulgar (cracked wheat) and popcorn. (TIP: Read labels carefully! Just because a product contains the ingredient "wheat flour" or bread is brown in color, doesn't mean it is a whole grain food.)

  • Serve up whole grains for breakfast, such as whole grain varieties of cereal, waffles, muffins, bagels or toast.
  • Use whole grain breads as a base for sandwiches.
  • Make favorites like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with whole grain pasta.
  • Substitute whole-wheat flour for half of the white flour in breads, muffins, biscuits, cookies, pancakes or waffles.
  • For snacks, offer popcorn, low-fat granola made with whole oats or snack mixes made with whole grain cereal.
  • Foster adventurous eating by serving some less common whole grains, like buckwheat, quinoa, triticale, millet and whole-wheat couscous.

Promote the Produce Habit

When it comes to fiber, fruits and vegetables are big winners. Most of the fiber in fruits and vegetables is found in the edible skins, seeds and pulp. Your child will be well on the way to getting enough fiber by eating 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 1 ½ cups of fruit each day (based on MyPyramid's recommendations for an 1,800-calorie diet).

  • Top cereal and pancakes with fresh or frozen fruits like berries, peaches or bananas.
  • Toss dried fruits like raisins, apricots, plums and cranberries, into cookie dough, muffin batter or snack mixes.
  • Offer cut-up raw fruits and vegetables as snacks. Make these crunchy munchies more fun with dips like peanut butter, yogurt, low-fat ranch dressing or salsa.
  • Sneak small-chopped veggies like carrots, celery and peppers into sauces, soups and casseroles.

Let Them Eat Legumes

  • Dried beans, peas and lentils are packed with fiber. To save cooking time, buy canned varieties.
  • Serve legume-packed dishes like chili, lentil soup and split-pea soup.
  • Add refried beans to cooked taco meat.
  • Make baked beans flavored with a little brown sugar.
  • Mash canned kidney, pinto or black beans and mix them with ground beef or turkey for burgers and meatloaf.

Toss in Some Nuts and Seeds

Eaten as a snack or added to other foods, nuts and seeds are a tasty way to boost the fiber in your child's diet.

  • Sprinkle chopped nuts, such as walnuts, over cereal, yogurt or ice cream. Sunflower or sesame seeds go well with most salads.
  • Add chopped or ground nuts to cookies and muffin batter.
  • Spread nut butters on breads, crackers, apple chunks and celery sticks.
  • Buy nuts, like peanuts or pistachios, in the shell—kids love to crack them open.

One way to learn how much fiber foods contain is to check the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods. It tells you the number of grams of fiber in one serving of the product and the size of a serving.

For information on MyPyramid:
Conquering MyPyramid for Kids!
MyPyramid for Kids! The Food Group Grand Tour

For information on reading food labels:
Figuring Out Food Labels

Reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Panel, 2006