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Good Eats for School-Age Kids

How you feed your kid now can inspire healthy eating habits for a lifetime.

Foster a Healthy Weight continued...

Even better, take a walk or bike ride with your son or daughter. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children need 60 minutes of daily physical activity.  Many youngsters don't come close.

Television and computer games are partly to blame for kids' sedentary habits. Limiting screen time goes a long way toward good health. Studies show that children who watch less than two hours of television daily are more likely to be physically active and have a better diet than kids who watch more, Ostrowe tells WebMD.

Inadequate physical activity and excess calorie consumption, particularly from the high-fat and sugar-laden foods kids favor, add up to extra body fat that a school-aged child may never lose. A study in the British Medical Journal illustrates the importance of establishing habits that encourage a healthy weight at a young age. Researchers who tracked nearly 6,000 British adolescents for five years found that if a child was overweight by age 11, he was likely to be so at age 15, too. Many overweight teens go on to become overweight adults.

Build Strong Bones

Foods such as sweetened soft drinks, french fries, and candy are usually to blame for the extra calories that result in overweight. To make matters worse, these choices take the place of more nutritious foods. For example, children who drink more soft drinks, such as soda and sports beverages, drink less milk, says Ostrowe.

Excluding calcium-rich beverages such as milk leads to a shortfall in calcium and vitamin D at a time when your child needs more than ever.

By age 9, calcium needs increase to 1,300 milligrams a day. MyPlate recommends 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk for everyone 9 and older to help satisfy the need for calcium and vitamin D, which works with calcium to promote fracture-resistant bones in adolescence and beyond. Females form about 90% of the bone mass they will ever have by age 18, and males achieve that by age 20.

Drinking milk is the easiest way to build bone because it provides both calcium and vitamin D, says Christina Economos, PhD, associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Eight ounces of yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese each contain as much calcium as a glass of milk. (However, most yogurt and hard cheeses lack vitamin D.) Orange juice and soy beverages fortified with calcium and vitamin D are other worthy bone-building beverages.

Children who do not get enough dairy or alternatives may need supplemental calcium and vitamin D. See your pediatrician or a registered dietitian if you're concerned.

Kids in the Kitchen

How do you get kids to buy into good nutrition? Getting children involved in food choice and preparation is one of the best strategies for helping them eat right, says Economos, herself a mother of two.

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