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Helping Your Kids Get the Fiber They Need

Getting our daily dose of fiber is something we as adults think about as we get older. But fiber is as important for children, too. Often, children don't get enough.

Fibrous plant material that can't be digested by humans and is found in nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods—is one thing that's lacking in lots of children's diets.

Short-term problems like constipation and gastrointestinal distress are common complaints that may be improved by a high-fiber diet. Risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer may be decreased by a diet with adequate fiber.

The American Dietetic Association recommends a simple rule of thumb: The total number of fiber grams a child should consume each day should equal the child's age plus 5, starting at age 2. A 6-year-old, therefore, should have 11 grams of fiber a day.

How to get your child to go for the grams:

  • Keep your peel on. A baked potato with skin has around 3-5 grams of fiber—only 0.2 grams without.

  • Whole-grain foods have more fiber than refined, where the germ and hull have been removed.

  • Be creative. Top ice cream with fresh fruit; add wheat germ to pancake batter or meatloaf; add veggies to kid's favorite meals; add carrot shreds to lasagna, spaghetti sauce, chili or peanut butter; burgers and mashed potatoes are also great with added veggies like zucchini or carrot shreds.

  • Pass the peanut butter. Two tablespoons have about 2 grams of fiber. Spread some on an unpeeled apple for about 5-6 grams of fiber.

  • Steam your vegetables lightly to leave them crunchy. Boiling "leaches out" soluble fiber and some other valuable nutrients, leaving less in your food. Fresh and frozen vegetables have more fiber than canned.

  • Eat your beans. Pork and beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and black-eyed peas all are excellent fiber sources.

  • Let children pick and help prepare. They're more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables when you give them some choice.

  • Snack smart. Five cups of air-popped corn have about 7 grams of fiber (use butter and salt substitutes).