Can fiber be fun? Sure. Forget the dark breads and cereal that resembles twigs. Instead, think of corn chips and guacamole, a bowl of cereal with sliced bananas or strawberry smoothies.
Thanks in part to the new dietary guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration, the spotlight is shining more brightly on fiber—or more accurately, on fiber-rich foods, which include other healthful substances such as vitamins, minerals, “good” fats and antioxidants.
Fiber plays a role in preventing heart disease and probably cancer. Even more relevant for kids, fiber can help in the battle against obesity and diabetes—two conditions that increasingly afflict young people. So, as a parent, it’s important to think about fiber when you’re buying and preparing food.
There are two kinds of fiber, neatly illustrated by the apple. Soluble fiber—found in apple pulp—absorbs water. Insoluble fiber is found in the peel. Soluble fiber is linked most to weight control—it helps make you feel full—and controls blood sugar. That’s good news if your child refuses to eat the skin on the apple. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation and may play a role in helping prevent bowel cancer.
There’s really no need to measure or track the kinds of fiber your family eats, though. Just serve plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
Older kids and adults should aim for 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. Most Americans get about half that amount. For younger kids, the rule of thumb is to add five to their age. So a 6-year-old child needs about 11 grams of fiber daily. And though most Americans don’t eat enough fiber, it’s easy—and delicious—to add fiber to your family’s diet.
For many children, the biggest dose of fiber comes in their bowl of cereal at breakfast. It’s no stretch to find whole-grain and fiber-rich cereals that kids will eat. The nation’s biggest breakfast cereal maker, General Mills, recently converted its entire line of cereals into whole-grain products. Other cereal makers haven’t followed suit, but they do offer cereals that are whole grain and kid friendly.
One easy way to further boost the fiber content of family meals and snacks is to eat more whole fruit and drink less fruit juice. A cup of apple juice has virtually no fiber, while an apple (with skin) provides about 3 grams.
High- and low-fiber foods aren’t always obvious, though. Grapes, despite being eaten with the skins, are not a good source of fiber. Avocados, despite their buttery texture, are.
Salad veggies such as lettuce and cucumbers don’t provide much fiber, so it’s a good idea to toss a chopped apple or a handful of grated carrots into the lettuce mix.
For a fun meal that contributes a good amount of fiber, try serving “spaghetti” that’s really a veggie (see recipe). My kids aren’t big squash lovers, but they do like spaghetti squash—mainly because it’s fun. Winter squash rakes easily into strands that resemble spaghetti. It’s sweet and a bit crisper than acorn and butternut squash.
Virginia Van Vynckt, mother of two, has written extensively about food and nutrition, and is the author of Feed Your Kids Right the Lazy Way.
Served Like Spaghetti
Makes 4 to 5 servings. This supplies about 3 grams of fiber per serving, based on 4 servings.
1 medium spaghetti squash (3-4 pounds)
1 jar (26-27 ounces) of your favorite marinara or meat sauce for pasta (or 4 cups of homemade sauce)
1 cup grated carrots
Grated Parmesan cheese
Pierce the spaghetti squash in several places and microwave on high for 8 minutes. Turn and continue microwaving another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the squash feels slightly soft when pressed and can be pierced easily with a knife. (Or, bake the squash in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 1-1¼ hours.)
While the squash is cooking, heat the pasta sauce and add the grated carrots.
Let cool slightly, then cut the squash in half with a large, sharp knife. Be careful of steam, and don’t let kids do this part. Scoop out and discard the seeds.
Use a fork to “rake” the squash lengthwise into long, spaghetti-like strands. (Kids like doing this.)
Mound the spaghetti squash on plates and top with the sauce and grated cheese.