Do you know if your child is getting enough fiber? It is one of the nutrients, along with vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, that many children fall short on. Babies do not need a lot of fiber because it may interfere with nutrient absorption by speeding up the transit of food in the digestive tract. But after the age of one, you can be more strategic about adding fiber-rich foods to your child’s diet to prevent constipation and aid digestion by providing food for the beneficial bacteria that support the health of their digestive system.
Besides, fiber also helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and increase the satiety factor of meals so your little ones will be less likely to beg for snacks all day long!
But before you rush out to stock on all those “fiber-rich” kids’ snacks, make sure to not be misguided by nutritional labels. Many popular processed snacks with added fiber (e.g. granola bars) are more likely to contain artificially extracted chicory root fiber, inulin, and have none of the beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
How much fiber your child needs?
Depending on where you look, you may find some conflicting information on how much fiber is recommended for children. The reason for it is the lack of clinical studies on fiber intake that look specifically at children. Most recommendations, in fact, are a mere extrapolation of the data based on adult populations.
For example, here is the recommendation on the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) on fiber developed by the developed by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. As you can see an average toddler should be consuming 19 grams of fiber per day, according to this guideline.
Recommended Amount of fiber (DRI)
|6-12 months||No amount specified for children this young|
|1-3 years||19 grams/day|
|4-8 years||25 grams/day|
The American Academy of Pediatrics, on the other hand, brings the plank a bit lower by recommending parents to calculate the recommended amount of fiber by adding 5g to the age of their child. Based on this guideline, an average 3 year old will only need to consume 8 grams of fiber a day, which is a lot more achievable than the DRI of 19 grams a day.
If we look at the UK recommendations on fiber, developed by SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition), they fall somewhere between the DRI and AAP’s guidelines, with the recommendation of 15grams of fiber per day for a toddler:
|Age||Recommended amount of fiber (SACN)|
|>2 years||No specific recommendations, provide increasing amounts of whole grains, pulses, fruit and vegetables|
|5-11 years||20g a day|
So what can you do as a parent to help your child get enough fiber while we are waiting for more conclusive research on how much is optimal for them? I suggest serving fiber-rich foods a few times daily, without worrying about your child’s intake too much, unless they have specific conditions that may be related to their intake of fiber, like constipation.
Below are some strategies that will help you add fiber to your child’s eating plan, using small steps rather than dramatic dietary changes. If your child is a picky eater, even the smallest alterations to the options they accept may be difficult, so tread slowly and work at only 1-2 changes at a time. In most cases of selective eating, dietary changes take time and you may need to first work on your child’s relationship with food, meal and snack structure, positive mealtimes and lowering the pressure at meals first.
If your child is chronically constipated, make sure to talk to your doctor first as dietary changes may not be sufficient to clear out any fecal impaction the child may have.
Some good sources of fiber
- Oatmeal (½ cup cooked, 2 grams)
- Berries (½ cup, 4 grams)
- Whole-grain cookies or crackers (at least 3 grams per serving)
- Sweet potatoes with peel (½ of medium, 3.8 grams)
- Sliced apple (1 small, 3.6 grams)
- Almonds/Almond Butter (1 tablespoon, 1 gram)
- Whole Grain Bread (1 slice, 4.4 grams)
- Legumes (½ cup cooked, 6.2-9.6 grams)
Helping kids adjust
Adding a lot of fiber at once may result in digestive discomfort and even constipation, especially if the child does not drink enough water. To make the transition smoother, add only one fiber-rich food a day and make sure there is always water on the table at each meal and snack. To help kids get used to the new texture, you can mix half white and half brown rice, whole wheat and white pasta or high in fiber and low in fiber cereal.
20 ways I add fiber to my children’s diet
Here are some of the ways I make sure my kids are getting enough fiber. My younger one used to be constipated when she was very small because she was drinking too much milk and not eating enough solids with fiber. After this miserable experience, I am trying to stay on top of the game!
1. Including vegetables and/or fruit in every meal and snack.
2. Serving canned beans in salads and making bean-based soups and casseroles a few times a week.
3. Making smoothies for dessert or breakfast with frozen berries and yogurt or kefir
4. Using 100% whole wheat flour for baking muffins and pancakes. For pastries and cakes, we use 100% whole wheat pastry flour which has less gluten so results in fluffier products, but still delivers a good amount of fiber.
5. We do not eat a lot of breakfast cereal but if I happen to buy one, I make sure it has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
7. Keeping the dairy intake under 2-3 servings a day! Toddlers are notorious for loving their drinks at the expense of fiber-rich solids.
8. Baking potato wedges with skin, to preserve the fiber which otherwise gets discarded. To bake a nice batch of crispy potato wedges, scrub potatoes well under running water, cut into wedges about 1 inch thick at the bottom, season with salt, pepper and olive oil and bake in a preheated to 350F oven for about 35-40 minutes. Serve with tomato sauce or your favorite dip.
7. Using unpeeled potatoes and fiber-rich kale in this easy one-pot recipe.
8. Adding a few tablespoons of wheat or oat bran to the muffin and pancake mixture.
9. “Fortifying” the cheese sauce we use to make mac&cheese with pureed cauliflower.
10. Adding pureed vegetables like carrots, spinach and canned beans to the meat sauce we use for pasta and lasagna.
11. Mixing in vegetables like mushrooms into our meatballs and meatloaves.
12. Using whole wheat tortillas to make quesadillas.
13. Making whole wheat pita chips to go with homemade hummus.
14. Starting a meal with a pureed vegetable soup.
15. Making no-cook fiber-rich chia seed pudding for breakfast, snack or dessert.
16. Packing whole-grain salads in lunch boxes.
17. Making pizza at home with whole wheat dough and mushrooms as a topping.
18. Serving fresh fruit instead of fruit juice. An unpeeled apple has about 3.6 grams of fiber but a cup of apple juice (an equivalent of 3 apples) has none!
19. We love popcorn for snacks. Here is how we make ours on the stove.
20. Preparing this no-cook fiber-rich fruit– and veggie-based snacks to fuel the little ones between meals.
Tell me, what are your favorite ways to boost your kids’ fiber?