Promoting good eating habits in kids requires patience and creativity. It is important for your child to be sensible and enjoy a wide variety of food, but not to overdo any single type. Sweets and high-fat snack foods are acceptable in moderation. Even food groups that have had a negative reputation, such as fats, have a place in a child’s diet. Did you know that there are healthy fats for kids?
As with carbohydrates in recent years, fats have been wrongly accused of being “bad.” While it’s true that too much fat can be a bad thing, certain kinds of fat can actually be good for your child and are an important part of a healthy diet.
Here’s what you need to know about healthy fats for kids.
How Important are Healthy Fats for Kids?
Fats are nutrients in food that the body uses to build nerve tissue (including the brain and nerves) and hormones. The body also uses fat as fuel.
If fats aren’t burned as energy or used as building blocks for other things, they’re stored by the body in fat cells. This is the body’s way of thinking ahead: By saving fat for future use, the body is able to prepare for times when food might be scarce.
Fat gives food flavor and texture, but it’s also high in calories. And excess amounts of fatty foods can cause many health problems.
For kids, desserts, and snacks (including potato chips, chocolate, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, and cookies) are a significant source of fat. Kids also get fat from whole-milk products and high-fat meats, such as bacon, hotdogs, and fatter cuts of red meat.
Of course, fast food and takeout meals tend to have more fat than home cooking; and in restaurants, fried dishes are the highest in fat content. Fat also often “hides” in food in the form of creamy, cheesy, or buttery sauces or dressings.
Despite the prevalence of fat in many kinds of food, there’s no need to be overly concerned.
Fat is an important part of a healthy diet if kids eat healthier types of fat at the recommended daily amounts.
Encouraging Kids to Eat Fat in a Healthy Way
Childhood is the best time to start healthy eating habits, but adult goals for cutting back on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are not meant for children younger than two years old.
When it comes to encouraging kids to eat healthily, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
Fat is an essential nutrient for children
Contrary to popular belief, fat is an essential nutrient with a host of important functions within the body. It is essential for supplying the body with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, which helps produce healthy cell membranes.
Fats also help improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble antioxidants (such as lycopene and beta-carotene).
Understand the dangers of too much fat
While fat has a role to play in a healthy diet, high fat intake — particularly a diet high in saturated fats — can cause health problems, including heart disease later in life.
For that reason, once over the age of two, children should be served foods that are lower in fat and saturated fats.
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found in fatty meats (such as beef, pork, ham, veal, and lamb) and many dairy products (whole milk, cheese, and ice cream).
The following are some types of fatty food that are acceptable for your kids:
- Lean meat (broiled, baked, or roasted; not fried)
- Soft margarine (instead of butter)
- Low-saturated fat vegetable oils
- Eggs (in limited amounts)
Know the rule of using healthy fats for kids
When it comes to healthy fats for kids, as a general guideline, fats should make up less than 30% of the calories in your child’s diet, with no more than about one-third or fewer of those fat calories coming from saturated fat and the remainder from unsaturated (polyunsaturated or monounsaturated) fats.
These unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and include vegetable oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and olive.
Transfat is a kind of unsaturated fat that can increase “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lowers “good” cholesterol (HDL) and needs to be avoided. Check your labels and avoid trans fat. In general, oils and fats derived from animal origin are saturated.
Whole milk is recommended for children 12 to 24 months of age. However, your child’s doctor may recommend reduced-fat (2%) milk if your child is obese or overweight or if there is a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease.
Check with your child’s doctor or dietitian before switching from whole to reduced-fat milk.
Healthy eating starts with having heart-healthy food in your kitchen. They help lower cholesterol and keep your blood pressure in check.
Good nutrition is essential for a child’s healthy growth and development. This includes healthy fats for kids, as well as managing portions, and cultivating a healthy relationship with food as early as possible.
Learn more about child health and nutrition, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.