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February is Heart Health Awareness Month

Heart-Healthy Eating for Children

A diet high in fat in childhood may lead to the development of heart disease as an adult. A heart-healthy diet may help prevent or treat high cholesterol. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy children ages 2 and older follow a diet low in fat (30% of calories from fat).

A diet high in fat, especially saturated fat and trans-fat, may increase your child's risk for heart disease and obesity in adulthood. It's important to teach your child about healthy eating so that they can make healthy food choices as an adult. Do not put children younger than age 2 on a low-fat diet unless advised by your child's healthcare provider. Children younger than age 2 need fat in their diets to help with growth and development.

The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. MyPlate can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have developed the following food plate to guide parents in selecting foods for children aged 2 and older.

The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food categories:

  • Grains. Foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain are grain products. Make at least half of your family's grains whole-grains. Examples of whole-grains include whole-wheat, brown rice and oatmeal.
  • Vegetables. Vary your family's vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange vegetables, legumes (dry beans and peas) and starchy vegetables. Make half your family's plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen or dried and may be whole, cut up or pureed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no juice for children under 1 year old. For children ages 1 to 3, limit juice to 4 ounces per day. For children 4 to 6, limit juice to 6 ounces per day. For children 7 to 18, limit juice to 8 ounces or 1 cup of juice per day. 
  • Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk products, as well as those that are high in calcium.
  • Protein. Go lean with protein. Choose low-fat or lean cuts of meat and poultry. Vary your family's protein routine by choosing more fish, nuts, seeds, dried beans and peas.

Oils are not a food group, yet you can include some in moderation, like vegetable and nut oils. These contain essential nutrients. Don't use others, such as solid animal fats. A Mediterranean diet of vegetables, whole-grains, beans, fruits and olive oil lowers the risk for heart disease.

Keeping your family's salt (sodium) intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day lowers the risk for heart attack. Encourage your child to get plenty of physical activity along with eating a healthy diet. 

Try these suggestions for heart-healthy eating:

  • Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children by providing regular daily meal and snack times with social interaction and demonstration of healthy eating behaviors.
  • Involve children in the selection and preparation of foods. Teach them to make healthy choices by providing opportunities to select foods based on their nutritional value.
  • Select foods with these important nutrients when possible:  vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber. Select foods with these nutrients when possible.

To access the full article on heart-healthy eating for kids, click here.