Chicago nutritionist debunks top 5 nutrition myths for kids

This month’s Good Sense Eating recipe

Between the Internet and misinformed friends and day care providers (maybe even Grandma!), there’s plenty of nonsense floating around about feeding children. Let’s explore some of the biggest ones.

Myth: Children need special kid-friendly foods.

Reality check: Kids can learn to eat almost everything mom and dad do.

Some experts blame the food industry for its brilliant marketing convincing us that little ones will only eat kiddie foods-highly processed, sugary, salty or so-called fast foods.

It’s also a myth that they prefer bland food. Children brought up in Mexico or India eat spicy food starting when they are toddlers.

Allow your little one to experiment with food. You may think of this as “wasting” it or bad manners, but playing with, and even spitting out, food is part of the overall sensory experience. Remember, many of the foods he’s tasting are brand new to him. Even the same food prepared in a different way-such as cooked carrots versus raw-can be totally foreign to a little one.

Myth: Parents decide how much a child should eat.

Reality check: It’s the parent’s job to provide healthful food. And it’s the child’s job to decide how much to eat, according to renowned feeding specialist, Ellyn Satter (

Part of the problem? Many adults don’t know what a proper portion looks like for themselves. So they may need even more help identifying the right amount for their children.

Myth: Children need constant snacks.

Reality check: While some snacking is beneficial, kids today typically snack all day long. According to a recent study of 31,000 children age 2 to 18, kids eat an average of three snacks every day, with desserts and sweetened beverages the major source of calories.

What should your child’s snack be? “Snacks shouldn’t be so-called ‘snack foods.’ They should be foods you would serve at any other meal, not a pile of orange fish-shaped crackers and a sugary juice drink,” according to registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, a mom of three and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. She says a quarter of a sandwich and a half glass of milk or 100 percent orange juice would be a better choice.

Myth: Sugar-sweetened foods cause “hyper” kids.

Reality check: Sugar does not cause hyperactivity.

Children who indulge in sugary treats during parties may appear to get wilder than usual. But there are no scientific studies to prove sugar equals hyperactivity. In fact, sugars, like all carbohydrates, actually have a slight calming effect. It’s actually the holiday, birthday party or special activity that tends to get kids overly excited.

Myth: Veggie haters have nutrient deficiencies.

Reality check: “Veggies are not the end all, be all,” says Jill Castle, a registered dietician and child nutrition expert who blogs at Just The Right Byte, and who’s also a mother herself. Many fruits supply the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients kids need to grow well.

“While we want all kids to eat a variety of both fruits and vegetables, this is a work in progress. In the meantime, make sure fruit options make an appearance at meals and snacks-you’ll please your child and ease your worries,” she says.

Still it doesn’t hurt to serve vegetables in a child-friendly manner. Serve them raw, cut into attractive shapes, call them fun names and serve alongside a dip.

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, practices nutrition in Naperville. She invites your questions and column ideas. Contact her at or follow her on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition.

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