Fiber and Your Child
Few kids would say they crave a good fiber-rich meal. Although the thought of fiber might bring gags and groans from kids, many appetizing foods are actually great sources of fiber — from fruits to whole-grain cereals.
Foods with fiber are not just for the senior-citizen crowd. They're beneficial to everyone because they're filling, which helps discourage overeating — even though fiber itself adds no calories. Along with adequate fluid intake, fiber helps move food through the digestive system and can help relieve and prevent constipation. It also may lower LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) and help prevent diabetes and heart disease.
Figuring Out Fiber
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. In packaged foods, the amount of fiber per serving is listed on food labels under total carbohydrates.
Some of the best fiber sources are:
- whole-grain breads and cereals
- green peas
- legumes (dried beans, split peas, lentils, etc.)
A high-fiber food has 5 grams or more of fiber per serving; a good source of fiber is one that provides 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving. Here's how some fiber-friendly foods stack up:
- ½ cup (118 milliliters) of cooked beans (kidney, white, black, pinto, lima) (6.2-9.6 grams of fiber)
- 1 medium baked sweet potato with peel (3.8 grams)
- 1 whole-wheat English muffin (4.4 grams)
- ½ cup (118 milliliters) of cooked green peas (4.4 grams)
- 1 medium pear with skin (5.5 grams)
- ½ cup (118 milliliters) of raspberries (4 grams)
- 1 medium baked potato with skin (3 grams)
- 1/3 cup (79 milliliters) of bran cereal (9.1 grams)
- 1 ounce (28 grams) of almonds (3.5 grams)
- 1 small apple with skin (3.6 grams)
- ¼ cup (59 milliliters) of dried figs (3.7 grams)
- ½ cup (118 milliliters) of edamame (3.8 grams)
- 1 medium orange (3.1 grams)
- 1 medium banana (3.1 grams)
- ½ cup (118 milliliters) canned sauerkraut (3.4 grams)
How Much Should Kids Get?
- Toddlers (1-3 years old) should get 19 grams of fiber each day.
- Kids 4-8 years old should get 25 grams a day.
- Older girls (9-13) and teen girls (14-18) should get 26 grams of fiber a day.
- Older boys (9-13) should get 31 grams and teen boys (14-18) should get 38 grams per day.
Adding Fiber to Your Family's Diet
Here are some creative, fun, and tasty ways to incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your family's diet:
- Make oatmeal (a whole grain) part of morning meals.
- Choose whole-grain cereals that have 3 grams or more fiber per serving.
- Make pancakes with whole-grain (or buckwheat) pancake mix and top with apples, berries, or raisins.
- Serve bran or whole grain waffles topped with fruit.
- Offer whole-wheat bagels or English muffins, instead of white toast.
- Top fiber-rich cereal with apples, oranges, berries, or bananas. Add almonds to pack even more fiber punch.
- Mix kid-favorite cereals with fiber-rich ones or top with a tablespoon of bran.
Lunch and Dinner
- Make sandwiches with whole-grain breads instead of white.
- Make a fiber-rich sandwich with whole-grain bread, peanut butter, and bananas.
- Serve whole-grain rolls with dinner instead of white rolls.
- Use whole-grain pastas instead of white.
- Serve wild or brown rice with meals instead of white rice. Add beans (kidney, black, navy, and pinto) to rice dishes for even more fiber.
- Spice up salads with berries and almonds, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, and beans (kidney, black, navy, or pinto).
- Use whole-grain (corn or whole wheat) soft-taco shells or tortillas to make burritos or wraps. Fill them with eggs and cheese for breakfast; turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and light dressing for lunch; and beans, salsa, taco sauce, and cheese for dinner.
- Add lentils or whole-grain barley to soups.
- Create mini-pizzas by topping whole-wheat English muffins or bagels with pizza sauce, low-fat cheese, mushrooms, and pieces of grilled chicken.
- Add bran to meatloaf or burgers. (But not too much bran or your family might catch on!)
- Serve sweet potatoes with the skins as tasty side dishes. Regular baked potatoes with the skins are good sources of fiber, too.
- Top low-fat hot dogs or veggie dogs with sauerkraut and serve them on whole-wheat hot dog buns.
- Pack fresh fruit or vegetables in school lunches.
Snacks and Treats
- Bake cookies or muffins using whole-wheat flour instead of regular. Or use some whole-wheat and some regular flour, so that the texture of your baked treats won't be drastically different. Add raisins, berries, bananas, or chopped or pureed apples to the mix for even more fiber.
- Add bran to baking items such as cookies and muffins.
- Top whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter or low-fat cheese.
- Offer air-popped popcorn — a whole-grain food — as a midday treat or while kids watch TV or movies. (However, only give popcorn to kids over 4 years old because it can be a choking hazard.)
- Top ice cream, frozen yogurt, or low-fat yogurt with whole-grain cereal, berries, or almonds for some added nutrition and crunch.
- Serve apples topped with peanut butter.
- Make fruit salad with pears, apples, bananas, oranges, and berries. Top with almonds for added crunch. Serve as a side dish with meals or alone as a snack.
- Make low-fat breads, muffins, or cookies with canned pumpkin.
- Leave the skins on when serving fruits and veggies as snacks or as part of a meal.
Make gradual changes that will add up to a diet that's higher in fiber over time. And keep offering a variety of foods that are good sources of fiber — fruits like pears and berries; vegetables like spinach and green peas; lentils and kidney, white, or black beans; and whole-grain breakfast cereals and breads. Kids will get the fiber they need, and you'll set the tone for a lifetime of healthy eating.