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Kids vs. Vegetables -- Can Parents Prevail?

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WebMD Health News

March 3, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Night after night, the vegetables grow cold, unloved and untouched, on the plate. It's virtually a rite of passage for American children. "If it's green, they just won't eat it," says one frustrated parent. "There's something about that color."

Yet the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics advocate a heart-healthy diet for kids over age 2. What's a concerned parent to do? Is there a magic method of getting kids to eat right?

First, here's the type of diet parents should target. "All children after age 2 should get between 20 and 30% of their calories from fat, and less than 10% should be saturated fat," Susan Baker, MD, PhD, who leads the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition, tells WebMD. "Before age 2, there shouldn't be any restriction at all because brain cells are essentially growing and tremendous amounts of brain is fat."

If there is a family history of heart disease, children may need dietary counseling, says Baker, who is a professor of pediatrics at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. "You don't want to be dogmatic about it, but at about 5 years of age, you need to discuss it with your pediatrician."

The Bogalusa Heart Study, a 25-year study of one Louisiana community's eating habits, showed that most children are eating a slightly healthier diet than they did a generation ago. But they're still eating more fat than they should. And they aren't exercising enough to burn off the calories they consume, Theresa Nicklas, DrPH, LN, formerly a researcher with the study, tells WebMD.

"Obesity is an epidemic," says Nicklas, now a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine's Children's Nutrition Research Center. "Over the past two decades, obesity has doubled in children. We're seeing obese children with early signs of heart-disease risk factors, early-onset type 2 diabetes. We're treating adult diseases in children."

Don't have high-fat snacks in the house, and don't eat fast food every night, Nicklas says. "Moderation is key. You don't have to give up hamburgers and French fries; you just have to be smart about how often and how much you eat."

Get kids going with a healthy breakfast of cold cereal, skim milk, fruit, whole-wheat toast and peanut butter, or whole-grain waffles, she advises. Smart snacks include low-fat milk, graham crackers, apple slices or celery with peanut butter, and dried fruit. Also, high-fiber oatmeal, pasta, fruits and vegetables are essential.

Proximity is everything. Putting sliced apples or carrots within arm's reach in the fridge -- better yet, on the kitchen counter -- almost ensures that kids will eat them, Tom Baranowski, a behavioral nutrition professor at Baylor/Children's Nutrition Research Center, tells WebMD. "Parents tells us they've brought the good stuff into the house, that the kids will eat it if they want it. That's not enough. If the carrots are still in the bag unwashed, but cookies are readily available, guess which Johnny will reach for?"

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