Following your lead, they'll love veggies


April 23, 1991|By Colleen Pierre

The National Cholesterol Education Program, which has found that American children have higher cholesterol levels than kids in other countries, recommends that children's diets become more healthful.

Now it's official . . . watching your kids' diets is as important as watching your own, especially if your family has a history of early heart disease.

The report on blood cholesterol levels in children, released last week by the National Cholesterol Education Program, says that heart disease is a family affair that begins in childhood.

Because of its findings -- including evidence that American children have higher cholesterol levels than kids in other countries and that arterial buildup does begin in childhood -- the panel recommends that children's diets become more health conscious.

The report calls for all children over 2 years old to eat balanced diets that include a wide variety of foods, with fat limited to less than 30 percent of calories, saturated fat limited to less than 10 percent of calories, and cholesterol limited to less than 300 mg a day.

But if the idea of closely controlling your kids' diets signals conflict in your household, relax.

Well, sort of relax.

The good news is that kids eat whatever is available. That puts you in control. If you buy and serve nutritious food, and eat it with joy and enthusiasm, your kids will follow along most of the time.

Kids bellying up to salad bars was unheard of 10 years ago. But these days, restaurants and delis are serving more nutritious alternatives to burgers and fries, and kids are growing up thinking such food is normal. They actually like it.

Obviously, the younger your children, the easier the transition to a low-fat diet will be because you have more control. Older kids with stronger eating habits are going to be harder to bring around. But that, too, is possible; the trick is, you have to believe in changing their diet the same way you believe in using a car seat, a cycling helmet or a toothbrush.

Still, the best approach is evolution, not revolution. Take the plunge slowly. Heart disease is the result of years of dietary abuse, heaped on top of a genetic weakness, not the result of eating any one specific food, having a bad day or even having a bad year.

Some families become chaotic trying to turn over a new leaf right away. Speed is unnecessary and unproductive. Sudden disruption in eating habits produces so much discomfort that changes seem impossible, and the project is abandoned.

Do wade in seriously, though. And begin now. Map out a plan to make gradual changes that permanently improve your family's eating style.

For help and encouragement in handling food issues with your kids, read "How to Get Your Kids to Eat But Not Too Much" by Ellyn Satter.

Here are some other tips:

* Before you change anything, do a realistic evaluation of your family's eating style. Look at consumption of fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in your families. First use the accompanying chart to find out how much fat is enough for family members, remembering that calorie needs vary with height, weight, growth stage and exercise level.

Observe family members eating normally, and estimate their consumption of fats and cholesterol based on food packaging TC information for fat and cholesterol content. For saturated fats, use the book "Eaters Choice" by Ron and Nancy Goor.

* Identify the foods that are the worst offenders, and gradually limit their use. Decrease how much meat you serve in a portion. Switch to lower-fat cuts of meat; occasionally substitute fish, chicken, turkey or a vegetarian entree for a red-meat meal.

Switch to low-fat or non-fat dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. Gradually replace regular mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream and salad dressing with low-fat versions.

* Give your children a double dose of what's good for them with fruits, vegetables and grains. Not only are they are a substitute for foods containing saturated fat, but they also contain soluble fiber which actually helps lower cholesterol.

* If you cut back on meats and fats, your kids are going to be hungry unless they fill up on something else. Don't panic if they occasionally leave the table hungry. If they don't have junk food to fill up on in between meals, they will eventually eat and enjoy what is served.

Offer potatoes, corn, other starchy vegetables and any vegetable that you and your kids will eat. (Most kids will eat raw vegetables, even if they won't touch the cooked versions.) Gradually make other fruits and vegetables available as an option. Most kids will eat them when they become familiar. Be sure to serve plenty of bread at each meal. When all else fails, kids will fill up on bread, a far better idea than filling up on high-fat meats.

* Enjoy some fun foods. Kids who eat well-balanced meals can afford some occasional treats, and the market place is now overflowing with great tasting fun foods designed to help you meet your dietary goals.

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