Digestive Health in Children: Kids can Eat Healthy

Written by Robert Dumont, MD
(February  2011)

Two little boys looking to the Sky.

“You are what you eat”.  This is especially true for our children, as they are also growing and becoming what they eat.  Sadly, many of our children are on what is called the Standard American Diet (SAD).  The SAD diet is high in sugar and calories, and low in fiber and nutritional value. 


A child’s diet can have serious implications for their health both as a child and in their adult years.   Aside from the rising problem of obesity, diet-related chronic diseases represent the single largest cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. These diseases (including heart disease) typically afflict 50–65 percent of the adult population and many are related to poor diets.  These chronic diseases were rare in our ancestors and are infrequently seen in less developed countries.  Our diet has been greatly altered over time and especially over the past 100 years.  No longer do we eat food but rather we eat “food like” substances.  Our choices can be either foods that are calorie dense and often nutrient deficient or foods that are nutrient rich and often not calorie dense.


As our children are dependent upon us to guide them in making healthier choices and establishing good dietary habits we have to lead by example and live a healthier lifestyle ourselves  -  including eating a healthier diet.  “Do as I say and not as I do” has never worked well.  By slowly changing our family’s diet we can ensure a healthier childhood and adulthood for our children and possibly even restore our own health by getting back to basics.



Dietary considerations to help in create a healthier diet for your children.


1.      Eat more whole natural foods and begin to buy and eat fewer processed foods.  Vegetables and leafy greens are probably the most glaring deficiency in our children’s diets. Plants and particularly green leafy plants are packed with a variety of nutrients including a broad range of vitamins, minerals, fiber and many phytonutrients which are not found in other foods.  Make fresh fruits and vegetables a greater part of the meal and snacks.  Eat and enjoy them yourself and keep offering them to your children, eventually they should begin to accept them. 


2.      Eat whole grains.  Grains are healthy foods; but they need to be whole grains so our children get the full nutritional value, including the fiber, the B vitamins and minerals.  Processed grains such as found in many breads, pastas and cereals are just empty calories and nutritionally poor.  However, even a diet high in whole grain foods can be a problem as they are packed with a lot of calories, so eat in moderation.  Also increase the variety of grains to include brown rice, quinoa, and amaranth.


3.      Beans are often a forgotten food.  High in fiber and protein they can be added to many different meals.  For the young child who doesn’t like most beans, try lentils.  These small healthy legumes are more acceptable by kids and can be added to many foods.


4.      Avoid added sugar, including fruit juices.  This means reading labels and choosing food wisely; but also it means getting back to eating more whole natural foods.   For our ancestors sugar was a rare treat and so it was eaten sparingly and very infrequently.  Now it is in almost every form of processed food in many different forms.  Whether it is high fructose corn syrup, or cane sugar, it’s still sugar and our consumption has increased significantly since the late 1970s.  Fruit juices labeled “natural” are mostly sugar water with some vitamins and minerals.  Water is still the best fluid to drink.   If your child is stuck on juice then slowly begin to water down the juice until it contains just a hint of flavor.


5.      Avoid the added oils and trans-fat and partially hydrogenated fats in processed foods.  Again this means reading labels, choosing food wisely and getting back to eating more whole natural foods.  Coconut oil is best to cook with.  Experiment with different healthy oils adding cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, sesame (tahini), flax, walnut, almond, macadamia, and avocado oils to meals.


6.      Drink plenty of water and reduce fruit juices and sugary drinks.  Eliminate carbonated drinks which not only add extra sugars and calories but the carbonation can acidify the body so even the 0 calorie carbonated drinks are not safe.  Tea (especially green tea) is also a nice alternative.


7.      Eat in a relaxed and calm atmosphere.  Eating in a relaxed calm manner is something often overlooked and is extremely important for good digestion.  Meal time is not a time for discussion of bad grades or airing family problems.  Save these issues for another time.


8.      Talk to your health care provider about multivitamins and other supplements such as vitamin D, probiotics and fish oil supplements.


9.      If your child (or adolescent) is vegetarian talk to your healthcare provider or dietician/nutritionist about adequate and balanced protein.


The Raby Institute has several providers who can assist with your child’s nutritional and digestive health.  Learn more about them online.  To schedule an appointment call the Raby Institute at 312.276.1212.

Dr. Chuck Dumont, MD  - Pediatrician

Dr. Katherine Lik, ND – Naturopath

Dr. Nikol Margiotta, DN - Naprapath


Click her for additional nutritional resources and suggested readings on this topic.



Early traditional Chinese medicine stemmed from Taoist masters who developed an extraordinary sense of the body and its workings through their many hours of meditation.