Fiber and Your Child

Few kids would say they crave a good fiber-rich meal. Although the thought of fiber might bring gags and groans from kids, many appetizing foods are actually great sources of fiber — from fruits to whole-grain cereals. And kids are probably eating them without even knowing it.

Not just for the senior-citizen crowd, foods with fiber are beneficial because they're filling and, therefore, discourage overeating — even though fiber itself adds no calories. Plus, when combined with adequate fluid intake, high-fiber fare helps move food through the digestive system and may protect against gut cancers and constipation. It may also lower LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) as well as help prevent diabetes and heart disease.

Figuring Out Fiber

Listed on food labels under total carbohydrates, dietary fiber is found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. Some of the best sources are:

  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • apples
  • oranges
  • bananas
  • berries
  • prunes
  • pears
  • green peas
  • legumes (dried beans, split peas, lentils, etc.)
  • artichokes
  • almonds

A high-fiber food has 5 grams or more of fiber per serving and a good source of fiber is one that provides 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving. Here's how some fiber-friendly foods stack up:

  • 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of cooked navy beans (9.5 grams of fiber)
  • 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of cooked lima beans (6.6 grams)
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato with peel (4.8 grams)
  • 1 whole-wheat English muffin (4.4 grams)
  • 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of cooked green peas (4.4 grams)
  • 1 medium raw pear with skin (4 grams)
  • 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of raw raspberries (4 grams)
  • 1 medium baked potato with skin (3.8 grams)
  • 1/4 cup (59 milliliters) of oat bran cereal (3.6 grams)
  • 1 ounce (28 grams) of almonds (3.3 grams)
  • 1 medium raw apple with skin (3.3 grams)
  • 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of raisins (3 grams)
  • 1/4 cup (59 milliliters) of baked beans (3 grams)
  • 1 medium orange (3 grams)
  • 1 medium banana (3 grams)
  • 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) canned sauerkraut (3 grams)

A simple way to determine how many grams of fiber a child older than 2 years should eat each day is to add 5 to the child's age in years (i.e., a 5-year-old should get about 10 grams of fiber). After the age of 15, teens and adult women should get about 20-25 grams of fiber per day. Adult men should get 30-38 grams of fiber a day.

Adding Fiber to Your Family's Diet

Here are some creative, fun, and tasty ways to incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your family's diet:

Breakfast

  • Make oatmeal (a whole grain) part of morning meals.
  • Choose whole-grain cereals that have 3 grams or more fiber per serving.
  • Make pancakes with whole-grain (or buckwheat) pancake mix and top with apples, berries, or raisins.
  • Serve bran or whole grain waffles topped with fruit.
  • Offer whole-wheat bagels or English muffins, instead of white toast.
  • Top fiber-rich cereal with apples, oranges, berries, or bananas. Add almonds to pack even more fiber punch.
  • Mix kid-favorite cereals with fiber-rich ones or top with a tablespoon of bran.

Lunch and Dinner

  • Make sandwiches with whole-grain breads (rye, oat, or wheat) instead of white.
  • Make a fiber-rich sandwich with whole-grain bread, peanut butter, and bananas.
  • Serve whole-grain rolls with dinner instead of white rolls.
  • Use whole-grain pastas instead of white.
  • Serve wild or brown rice with meals instead of white rice. Add beans (kidney, black, navy, and pinto) to rice dishes for even more fiber.
  • Spice up salads with berries and almonds, chickpeas, cooked artichokes, and beans (kidney, black, navy, or pinto).
  • Use whole-grain (corn or whole wheat) soft-taco shells or tortillas to make burritos or wraps. Fill them with eggs and cheese for breakfast; turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and light dressing for lunch; and beans, salsa, taco sauce, and cheese for dinner.
  • Add lentils or whole-grain barley to soups.
  • Create mini-pizzas by topping whole-wheat English muffins or bagels with pizza sauce, low-fat cheese, mushrooms, and pieces of grilled chicken.
  • Add bran to meatloaf or burgers. (But not too much bran or your family might catch on!)
  • Serve sweet potatoes with the skins as tasty side dishes. Regular baked potatoes with the skins are good sources of fiber, too.
  • Top low-fat hot dogs or veggie dogs with sauerkraut and serve them on whole-wheat hot dog buns.
  • Pack fresh fruit or vegetables in school lunches.

Snacks and Treats

  • Bake cookies or muffins using whole-wheat flour instead of regular. Or use some whole-wheat and some regular flour, so that the texture of your baked treats won't be drastically different. Add raisins, berries, bananas, or chopped or pureed apples to the mix for even more fiber.
  • Add bran to baking items such as cookies and muffins.
  • Top whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter or low-fat cheese.
  • Offer air-popped popcorn — a whole-grain food — as a midday treat or while kids watch TV or movies. (However, only give popcorn to kids over 4 years old because it can be a choking hazard.)
  • Top ice cream, frozen yogurt, or regular yogurt with whole-grain cereal, berries, or almonds for some added nutrition and crunch.
  • Serve apples topped with peanut butter.
  • Make fruit salad with pears, apples, bananas, oranges, and berries. Top with almonds for added crunch. Serve as a side dish with meals or alone as a snack.
  • Make low-fat breads, muffins, or cookies with canned pumpkin.
  • Leave the skins on when serving fruits and veggies as snacks or as part of a meal.

However you choose to incorporate fiber, don't push it on your family. Make gradual changes that will add up to a diet that's higher in fiber over time. And keep offering a variety of foods that are good sources of fiber — fruits like pears and berries, vegetables like beans and peas, and whole-grain breakfast cereals and breads. Kids will get the fiber they need, and you'll set the tone for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2009

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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