If there’s anyone in the world who focuses almost as much attention on our children’s diets as parents do, it’s the dietitians who help parents deal with kids’ digestive problems. If you’re wondering how to set your child up for good digestive health now and later on, ask a dietitian.
There’s a very simple formula for building a healthy digestive system: fiber, fluid, and exercise.
“If a child is missing out on one or more of those things, they’re probably going to run into some problems,” says Louise Goldberg, RD, LD, owner of An Apple A Day Nutrition Consulting in Houston, Texas, and formerly a dietitian at the Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Houston Medical Center.
Building Block 1: High-Fiber Foods
Let’s start with fiber. How much should your child be getting, and where can you find it?
Leading health organizations recommend that both kids and adults should get about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they eat. That usually means that little ones ages 1-3 should get about 19 grams of fiber per day, and kids ages 4-8 should eat around 25 grams of fiber daily.
Most dietitians consider a food high in fiber if it contains at least 3-5 grams per serving. If you’re an adult, you might be able to get that by sprinkling bran flakes on your morning yogurt, but that’s not likely to appeal to a 5-year-old. Some of the most kid-friendly high-fiber foods include:
- Apples and pears -- with the peel on, please!
- Beans of all kinds. Try a three-bean chili with kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans, all of which have at least 16 grams of fiber per serving.
- High-fiber cereal. Kids may not flip for muesli, but many of them like raisin bran-type cereals, which contain about 5 grams of fiber per bowl.
- Sandwiches on whole-grain bread or wraps, or made with a whole-grain English muffin.
- Baked potatoes – preferably with the skin on. Make it fun by setting up a “baked potato bar” and letting your kids choose toppings like shredded cheese, light sour cream, broccoli, and chopped green onions or sprouts.
- Any kind of berry with seeds. Kids love berries and often gobble them like candy. “One of the highest-fiber berries, raspberries, has just as much fiber in a handful as you’ll find in a whole apple,” Goldberg says.
- Yogurt. Although yogurt isn’t necessarily a high-fiber food on its own, it’s generally good for digestive health. “Yogurt contains probiotics, healthy bacteria that are good for the gut,” says Beth Pinkos, MS, RD, LDN, a dietitian for the department of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, nutrition and liver diseases at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island. “The Greek yogurts that are popular now are particularly good, high in probiotics and in proteins.” You can also add to yogurt’s fiber content by tossing in some granola, if your child won’t protest the surprising crunch in the middle of the smooth.