Nutrition for Healthier Children

Children today are being diagnosed with medical conditions previously associated with middle-aged adults

Shmuel Shields, Ph.D., N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist ,

Nutrition for Healthier Children
Nutrition for Healthier Children
Shmuel Shields
Nutrition for Healthier Children
By Shmuel Shields, Ph.D., N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist
Family is an integral aspect of a Torah life. While we are making efforts to improve our diets and exercise more, we have a great opportunity to teach our children about making the right food choices. If taking care of our bodies is a mitzvah, then we want to educate our children in this mitzvah just like any other.  After all, our children represent Klal Yisrael’s future. We want to give them every advantage to help them fulfill their potential.

An alarming trend has arisen in recent years: children today are being diagnosed with medical conditions previously associated with middle-aged adults. Much of this can be attributed to poor diet that leads to obesity and diabetes and not enough physical activity.

Consider this fictional account based upon a true story: Ten-year-old Zissy was referred to me by her pediatrician for weight loss.  At 4 feet 6 inches and weighing 98 pounds, she was sluggish and teased by peers for being slow at running and jumping rope.  Zissy’s weekly food diary revealed a steady diet of her favorite foods: french fries, spaghetti, white bread, noodle kugel, ice cream cones, chocolate chip cookies, and potato chips.

I explained to Zissy the differences between “good carbs” and “bad carbs” and suggested substitutions for her simple carbohydrate cravings. Gradually, she agreed to try new alternatives—foods such as whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, baked sweet potatoes, and homemade whole-grain muffins. Over a six-month period, with ongoing family support, Zissy was able to change her eating habits dramatically. The ultimate results were most satisfying: age-appropriate weight loss and higher self-esteem.

Recently I gave a nutrition lecture for parents of children with significant sensory and behavioral issues.  Although the list of takeaway tips offered below was originally developed for that group, these strategies have application for all parents who are trying to expand their children’s diets.  Of course, every child is unique in terms of temperament and development, and the eating behaviors of even the same child will vary over time.  Keeping that in mind, here is my list of suggestions:

1. Rule out any medical factors or food allergies that could be causing a dislike of particular flavors or food groups.

2. Always avoid making food a source of conflict within your family.  Rather, think creatively and try to explore the possible causes behind a child’s dislike of new or particular foods.

3. Attempt to manage anxiety about a new food using a stepwise approach together – looking, smelling, touching, licking and tasting.  Try to have fun and play games to counteract fear and wariness.

4.  Mix the new food with a familiar and preferred food for the first taste by increasing familiarity.

5. Cut new foods into small bite-size pieces and use small amounts over time so they appear less threatening.

6. Give a child as many healthful choices as possible from a particular group to feel in control at mealtime, which can help avoid arguments and tantrums while encouraging a more varied and balanced diet.

7. Explore underlying sensory issues that contribute to a child’s experiences of being disturbed by certain textures, and think of creative ways to address them, such as blending foods together to even out their textures.

8. Approach sensitivity to tastes, colors, smells and textures by tackling them in a non-pressured manner away from the dining room table, such as encouraging the child to choose a new food at the supermarket and then deciding together how to prepare it.

9. Make meals as predictable and routine as possible, serving them at the same time every day, reducing potential stressors such as bright lights, and letting the child pick a favorite food to include at every meal or a favorite seat at the table.

10. Be a positive role model, consistently having healthier foods available at home and eating the foods you hope your child will eat.  A child may need repeated exposure to a new food before being willing to take the first bite.

Unfortunately, many children today are denied the opportunity to acquire a taste for healthy foods, having been inundated with fried, fatty, salty, and sugary snacks and meals. Here are just four healthier, tasty lunch menu alternatives: baked or roasted chicken instead of fried chicken; baked fries instead of french fries; soy, chicken or turkey dog on a whole-wheat bun instead of hot dog on a white bun; and whole-wheat pizza with a vegetable topping and a small-amount of low-fat cheese instead of the greasier standard pizza.
Hopefully, as more nutritious foods are integrated both in school and at home, I am confident that over time children will acquire a taste for these healthier choices.

Dr. Shmuel Shields is a N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist who works with children and adults.  His Torah-based book on health, L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, is available directly through the author, online, and at Jewish bookstores near you.  For more information, visit  To order directly through the author or for a consultation with Dr. Shields, contact him at or call (718) 544-4036.  Most insurance plans are accepted.  House calls, phone and e-mail consultations, and guest speaking can be arranged.