Most kids don’t get enough fiber in their daily diet -- and that can lead to a host of digestive problems, the most obvious of which is constipation. Fiber doesn’t get digested by the human body, so it moves through your digestive tract and cleans up the pipes -- allowing a smoother, easier passage for waste products.
So one of the best ways to keep your child regular and promote his digestive health is to feed him plenty of fiber. Instead of sitting him down at the counter with a big bowl of bran flakes, try these dietitian-approved, kid-friendly snacks and lunch items that will go down easy in every way.
Homemade Trail Mix
Help kids make their own trail mix by putting out bowls of dried fruit, nuts, or seeds along with a higher-fiber cereal, and mixing them up into to-go containers or plastic bags, recommends 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. (Just be sure to minimize the sugary “treat” ingredients, like chocolate chips or other candies.)
Flavorful Fruits and Veggies
Many fruits and vegetables are high in fiber --particularly with the skin on. If your child resists them, try making them fun by spearing fruit and veggie slices onto a kebab, or making a face with sliced-up fruits and veggies, suggests 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.
“You can use raisins for eyes, baby carrots for a nose, and celery for eyebrows, and an apple slice for a smile,” she says.
Remember not to give carrots to children younger than 3 or raisins to kids younger than 4 as they can be a choking hazard.
Kids who resist fiber-rich fruits and veggies may also be more adventurous if they can dip them in something first -- like yogurt, peanut butter, salad dressing, or hummus.
Having trouble getting your child to try that whole-wheat fiber cereal? Try mixing up a couple of high-fiber cereals with a small amount of one of the less good-for-you options that your child may be drawn to in the cereal aisle.
“Kids like to mix and match cereals like little chemists,” says Pinkos. “Look for a high-fiber cereal that has 3 to 5 grams of fiber per serving, and then let them mix it up with just a little bit of one of the junkier ones.”
Sandwich in Some Fiber
Just as with cereal, the whole-grain breads or wraps you’re using for your kids’ sandwiches should have at least three grams of fiber per serving.
“Check the package -- just because it’s called ‘whole grain,’ that doesn’t always translate to fiber,” says Goldberg. “And don’t be fooled by red- and green-colored wraps -- that doesn’t necessarily translate to fiber either.”
Add Color With Berries
In addition to being colorful and sweet, “berries with seeds are very high in fiber, and kids usually love them,” says Goldberg.
Perhaps the highest-fiber berry is the little raspberry. They can be expensive, but it doesn’t take much to amp up the fiber. “Just a quarter cup has about the same amount of fiber as almost an entire apple,” she says.
Grab Some Granola
The granola bar aisle at your local supermarket is probably packed with high-fiber bars. They’re easy to pack and often appealing to kids.
“Kids really like some of the flavors they have now,” says Pinkos. But take care if your child starts treating the bars like candy. “Don’t let them go crazy and go from eating a low-fiber diet to three high-fiber bars a day, because they’ll become gassy and uncomfortable.”
Some kids may not mind -- they may even enjoy it -- if you stir some high-fiber granola into their yogurt. Others may rebel against the unexpected crunch. But Goldberg says you can often sneak a little flaxseed into yogurt, applesauce, or a smoothie without your child noticing.
Pop Some Popcorn
What kid doesn’t like popcorn? It’s rich in fiber, and as long as you avoid the heavily salted and buttered varieties, it’s pretty healthy in general as well. “You can also try making popcorn balls with dried fruits and nuts, assuming your child is old enough for these,” says Pinkos.
3 Snacks to Skip
There are some foods that tend to cause, rather than ease, constipation in children. Two particularly “binding” snacks that are often a big hit among kids are bananas and cheese. There’s no problem with either in moderation, but if your child is having trouble in the bathroom these days, you might try cutting back on the cheese sticks.
Another barrier to good digestive health: heavily processed foods. “For good digestive health, minimize your reliance on refined foods like white sugar, white flour, and white breads and pastas,” advises Goldberg.