/p> Left to their own devices, kids will just naturally eat a healthy, balanced diet, right? Not unless you consider chocolate and pop essential food groups. This is just one of many myths that get parents in a stew over their children’s nutritional needs. We asked experts across the country (see our panel to the right) to help separate fact from fiction.
Myth #1 Sugar makes kids hyperactive
It’s the birthday party, not the cake, that gets kids bouncing off walls, says Simon. “The only thing sugar has been proven to do is cause cavities.” Parents tend to blame sugary foods for kids’ hyperactivity when the real culprit may be food additives (colouring and preservatives) in what they’re eating.
Tip While studies have disproved the notion that sugar is a stimulant for kids, that doesn’t mean they can snack on Dunkaroos with impunity. “You should still try to keep candy, chocolate and sweet drinks, including juice, to a minimum,” advises Simon.
Myth #2 Skipping breakfast is OK as long as your child makes up for it later
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day since it’s usually 12 to 14 hours since your little dynamo last ate. A nutritious breakfast replenishes your child’s energy reserves and fuels her brain cells, says Beck. “Studies have shown that kids who eat breakfast have better academic performance.”
Tip If your child doesn’t feel much like eating breakfast, serve something light like a fruit and yogurt smoothie and pack her a good-sized snack. See our story on teens Skipping Breakfast.
Myth #3 If you don’t give your children sweets, they’ll never develop a taste for them
A preference for sweets is built into our genes, and most children will like them whether they get them early in life or not, says Beck. While not allowing treats in the house will definitely curtail your child’s sweet tooth, that strategy could backfire as soon as he becomes more independent. “Your child may end up overdoing it with the sweet stuff because it’s something he never gets at home,” warns Beck.
Tip As a general rule, try to serve healthy treats, such as oatmeal cookies, fruit and frozen yogurt, and save the over-the-top ones for special occasions.
Myth #4 Picky eaters should be forced to try new foods
The fastest way to turn kids off any new food is to insist they try it. Your job as a parent is to offer a variety of healthy choices, says Gilgan. It’s up to your child to decide if and how much of any given food he wants to eat.
Tip Give your picky eater lots of opportunities to sample new foods. And be patient. “Start with a very small serving size so he isn’t overwhelmed and if he’s not interested, call it a day,” advises Beck. “Then try offering it again in a few days or a week, maybe served up differently.”
Myth #5 Children will just naturally eat a balanced diet
Most kids would dine exclusively on starch and sugar if they could get away with it, says Chuey. “It’s unusual to hear a parent say, ‘I can’t get my kid to eat bread and crackers,’ but they will say, ‘My child won’t eat meat, or vegetables or fruit.’”
Tip Little Johnny is keeping an eye on what you eat, so try to be a positive role model. “If you’re eating balanced meals, your child will learn to eat balanced meals too,” says Chuey.
Myth #6 Feeding a baby cereal early on will help her sleep through the night
As tempting as it may be to bulk up baby’s bottle after yet another sleep-deprived night, an infant’s digestive system is simply not mature enough to handle solids. (The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends waiting until six months before starting first foods.) Introducing solids too soon can also lead to a higher risk of food allergies and intolerance. And it doesn’t work anyway, say the experts. There is no scientific proof for the claim that cereal in the bottle will help an infant increase total sleep.
Tip Babies are born with a natural mechanism for knowing how much food they need, says Chuey. “You need to respect their natural hunger cues.”
Myth #7 Children hate vegetables
On the contrary, kids tend to quite like sweeter-tasting vegetables such as corn, peas and sweet potatoes, says Gilgan. Try not to let your own distaste for turnips or string beans influence your child. “When I was introducing my toddler to veggies, my husband pointed out that I was giving her only the ones that I like,” laughs Gilgan.
Tip Bring on the veggies when your child is hungriest, which is often around 3:30, after school, advises Chuey. “Put out a colourful plate of three or four vegetables with dip, and you might be surprised at how much they’ll eat as opposed to cooked squash at dinner.”
Myth #8 Chubby children will outgrow their baby fat
Not necessarily: Your ample infant could become a pudgy tween if you’re not careful. Studies show that children who are overweight even once before their fifth birthday are five times more likely to be overweight by age 12.
Tip Have your child measured for height and weight by her doctor on a regular basis, advises Gilgan. “It’s important to keep an eye on how she’s developing. Then, if there’s a problem, you can make small changes like increasing the amount of physical activity or switching to two percent or skim milk.”
Myth #9 A children’s multivitamin will compensate for a limited diet
A multivitamin isn’t going to make up for a consistently poor diet. “I’ve heard it said that taking vitamins without eating a balanced diet is like using deodorant without taking a shower,” says Chuey. “It’s temporary coverage.” And foods contain a variety of nutrients and other healthy compounds that supplements can’t duplicate.
Tip If you’re looking for nutritional insurance, encourage your child to eat more whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and fewer empty-calorie foods. The more varied the diet, the more likely he is to be getting the nutrients he needs.
Myth #10 If I make sure my child eats everything on her plate, she won’t end up snacking on junk
Cajoling, bribing or ordering kids to clean their plates prevents them from learning to respect their natural hunger cues. And adult-sized portions can be overwhelming. “It’s better to give them a small portion, and they can ask for more, than to give them a huge plate and say, ‘Finish it,’” says Gilgan.
Tip Try to keep to a regular meal and snack routine to help your child establish good eating habits.