By Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
When it comes our kids and their diets, worrying about whether they're getting enough fiber probably isn't tops on the list. We think more about how much sugar or fat they're getting, whether they're drinking their milk, or how we can get them to eat their vegetables.
But most kids - and adults - fall short when it comes to fiber intake. Adults should be eating in the neighborhood of 30 grams a day, but the average grownup only eats about a third of that. And recent surveys tell us that kids aren't getting near the fiber they need, either.
Our busy lifestyles are part of the problem. When we're on the go, we're less likely to eat the high fiber foods that are more typically found at home - like fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains.
Just like adults, kids need fiber to keep the digestive tract running smoothly. High-fiber foods are great for calorie control, too, since they're bulky and filling. With many kids consuming more calories than they need from processed foods, fats and sugars, the high-fiber habit should be encouraged early on. They're likely to carry this habit into adulthood, too, which can help with lifelong weight management.
The general rule for figuring out how much fiber your child needs is this: For kids older than 2, just add 5 to their age in years - a 5-year old, for example, should take in 10 grams of fiber a day, a 10 year old needs 15 grams. By the time kids hit the age of 15, their needs start to go up. Teens and adult women need 20-25 grams a day; adult men need more - in the range of 30-35 grams.
Take a look at food labels for fiber content - it will help you to find higher fiber breads, cereals, crackers, and other grain products. Use whole grain breads for sandwiches, offer whole grain cereals (like shredded wheat and oatmeal) and try whole grain pasta instead of the refined variety. Switch up your side dishes, too, with other tasty whole grains like brown rice, millet or quinoa. Beans are great sources of fiber, and canned beans are really convenient for tossing into salads, chili and soups.
For any cooking and baking at home, you can use what's called â€˜white whole wheat' flour, which is becoming more widely available. It's whole grain, but it looks and tastes more like white flour, so it's a bit more kid-friendly.
Fruits and veggies don't have food labels - but they're some of the best sources of fiber around. If fruit juice is usually on the breakfast table, replace it with whole fruit, and send your kids off to school with some fresh fruit for lunch or snacks. Kids will snack on crunchy raw veggies if they're available, so keep some baby carrots, celery sticks or raw cauliflower and broccoli handy with some low fat ranch. If your kids are game, hummus dip is great with veggies, too, and since it's made from beans it's also high in fiber.
But here's a hint - if you want your kids to eat more fruits, veggies, whole grains and beans, you might want to just tell them these foods will help them grow big and strong. To some kids, fiber is something they associate with old age and constipation.
Susan Bowerman is a paid consultant to Herbalife.