How to Get More Fiber into Your Kid’s Diet

It’s not rocket science, says a former executive chef

Luke James Food (August 27, 2015)

One of the most damaging trends in nutrition over the last 50 years is the massive downsizing of meals cooked from scratch. Food processing removes vital nutrients, experts say, and adds too much sugar, salt and chemicals. Before you know it, Junior is chowing down on glow-in-the-dark toaster tarts, and everyone’s wondering how come he’s sick and obese.

One of the biggest losses from this trend is fiber, aka "roughage." Fiber helps move food through the digestive system, prevent constipation and lower cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic. It also helps kids (and everyone) stay full longer, contributing to a healthy weight, and may help prevent Type 2 diabetes by controlling blood sugar.

According to the National Fiber Council, most kids get half (or less) of the recommended daily amount of fiber.

Chris Skrocke, a former executive chef at the historic Pacific-Union Club at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, says home-cooked meals are a great place to start. “This isn’t rocket science; it’s only become a problem because people have stopped cooking real foods from scratch,” he says. ”The average person eats out four times a week or more, and it’s hard to push fiber when Junior only wants chicken nuggets, fries and a soda.”

Ready to up your child's fiber quotient? Skrocke offers these tips.

1. Model the kind of eating what you want to see

mom daughter vegetables mom daughter vegetables Photo: Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock

“Veggies are tougher (than many foods) because kids balk sometimes and parents surrender,” says Skrocke, who teaches culinary arts for the Mission Valley Regional Occupational Center in Fremont, California. “But if you eat fiber rich foods, the kids will too. Part of that starts with shopping. Take your kid with you and explain the choices you're making.”

2. Don’t try to dress up veggies as something they’re not

colorful veggie plate colorful veggie plate Photo: FamVeld/Shutterstock

“Putting broccoli into a tater-tot is probably not going to solve your problem,” Skrocke says, “and now you may have new ones because of the fat and chemicals. I’m against adding ranch dressing and other really unhealthy stuff to veggies as it makes for a poor trade-off. Okay, the kid is getting fiber, but that’s another 200 calories for the day.”

3. Get the kids to help cook

family cooking together family cooking together Photo: racorn/Shutterstock

Skrocke says this is ideal “to get kids to eat outside their comfort zone. Last year our class planted radishes in our garden. After harvest we roasted them with carrots, some onion and fresh thyme. The kids went nuts for it, and there were no leftovers.”

4. Keep it raw

little girl eating apple little girl eating apple Photo: Andrey_Kuzmin/Shutterstock

“Fruit already tastes good. A great apple is not made better by putting it in a cobbler with oats (for fiber). If you absolutely have to, maybe sprinkle a little cinnamon-sugar on some cut-up apples, but get them to eat the real thing. Grapes, nectarines, pineapple: kids will eat fruit because they crave the sugar as an energy source. Again, as little cooking and preparation as possible gives the most fiber.”

5. Make a tasty stir-fry.

veggie stir fry veggie stir fry Photo: Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

“Sweet veggies like carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and snap peas are great. If you mix them into a veggie roast or stir-fry with some broccoli or Brussels sprouts, all the better. Just make sure you put flavor in there. Steamed veggies with a smidgen of butter is boring for adults, why would a kid want it? There are spice mixes like Tajin that can be sprinkled on veggies to make them more appetizing.”

6. Read the ingredients on bread labels.

woman looking at bread woman looking at bread Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

“Yes, you’re getting fiber from bread, but the processing turns it into dietary sugar superfast,” he says. “Avoid processed bread with more than five ingredients: yeast, sugar, salt, whole grain flour and grains.”

7. Don’t forget to hydrate.

mom daughter drinking water mom daughter drinking water Photo: Sheftsoff Women Girls/Shutterstock

If kids don’t get enough water, fiber can be constipating. “Cut out the sodas: Water is key to making the fiber work properly,” says Skrocke. “Kids go around dehydrated all the time. A glass of water with breakfast, lunch and dinner will make all the difference for absorption and keeping the colon operating properly.”

8. Get back to staples.

whole grain linguine whole grain linguine Photo: Bochkarev Photography/Shutterstock

“If we had a return to healthier staple foods such as whole grain pastas, even learning to cook brown rice so it’s tasty and not a plateful of gravel, we could significantly add to the amount of fiber both parents and kids are getting,” Skrocke says.

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