Most Americans eat less than HALF of the minimum daily recommendation for dietary fiber. Fortunately, a plant-based diet makes it pretty easy to get enough! Here’s what you need to know about fiber for your kiddos.
What Is Fiber?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, or chain of sugar molecules, from plant foods that the body cannot digest (aka it moves right through). Fiber is sometimes referred to as “roughage”. It’s sort of like the Drano for your body.
Fiber plays a really important role in maintaining overall health, especially digestive. It even helps prevent things like colon cancer, obesity, diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestines), constipation, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Much of our overall health starts in our gut, so it’s important to take care of it.
Fiber is considered a public health “nutrient of concern” by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, because most American do not consume enough of it. This makes sense because national surveys have shown that most Americans eat about half of the recommended daily servings for fruits and vegetables – and the ones we do eat are often soaked in added salt and fat.
What Does Fiber Do?
Fiber has a lot of jobs in the body. For example, it:
- Helps move food through the body and normalize bowel movements
- Supports gut health through fermentation
- Lowers cholesterol
- Promotes satiety and supports healthy weight maintenance
- Helps stabilize blood sugar levels
The Types of Fiber
There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.
Though plant foods typically contain both types of fiber, some are higher in one or the other. A widely varied plant based diet that incorporates a balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds will provide a healthy range of both types.
Soluble Fiber dissolves in water and plays a primary role in lowering blood sugar levels when eating and helping to lower cholesterol. Some foods high in soluble fiber include: oatmeal, lentils, beans, barley, oat bran, nuts, seeds, and peas.
Insoluble Fiber does not dissolve in water, and plays a large role in digestive regularity. Some foods high in insoluble fiber include: whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, carrots, corn, bran, lentils, and flax.
How Much Fiber Does My Child Need?
Fiber requirements vary slightly by age, and eventually level out at around 30 grams per day (minimum) for adults. Fiber needs for infants has not been determined as they will obtain the majority of their nutrition from breast milk or formula for the first 6-12 months of life.
Dietary Fiber Recommendations for Kids
Children, ages 1-3 years: 19 grams/day
Female, ages 4-8 years: 25 grams/day
Males, ages 4-8 years: 25 grams/day
What Does This Look Like?
To give you an example, here is the fiber content of some common foods on a plant-based diet:
1 medium apple, with skin: 4.5 grams
1 slice whole grain bread: 2 grams
1 medium banana: 3 grams
2 Tbsp peanut butter: 2 grams
1/4 cup green lentils: 5 grams
1/4 cup raw split green peas: 11 grams
1 cup canned green beans: 2.5 grams
1 packet homestyle oatmeal: 4 grams
2 Tbsp ground flax seed: 4 grams
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds: 3 grams
1/2 cup baby broccoli florets: 1 gram
How to Increase Fiber Intake
- Replace white breads and pastas with whole grain breads and pastas
- Replace fruit and vegetable juices with whole fruits and vegetables
- Sprinkle nuts and seeds onto pastas, soups and salads
- Provide raw vegetables and fruits as snacks in place of packaged food items like chips
- Add beans to soups, pasta sauces, on salads and on top of pizzas
- Leave the crust and skin on things like whole wheat breads, potatoes, zucchini, and raw fruits
Can My Child Eat Too Much Fiber?
It’s possible that your child may be eating more fiber than he or she actually needs. Because fiber plays a major role in satiety, it’s important that your kids find a healthy balance in how much they’re eating.
Signs that your child may be eating too much fiber:
- Complaining of feeling full too quickly or not eating enough at meals regularly
- Weight loss
- Significant changes in bowel habits (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, bloating or other stomach discomfort when eating)
- Growth plateau that doesn’t seem normal to you
Fiber can make kids feel full early, preventing them from getting enough calories from eating other, lower-fiber foods as part of a well balanced diet. Any concerns would warrant a visit to a pediatrician and/or registered dietitian (RD) for an assessment. An RD could help create a meal plan that incorporates an appropriate amount of fiber as well as increased calorie and fat intake.
How to Reduce Fiber Intake
If needed, there are some ways to reduce the amount of fiber your child eats without significantly changing caloric intake.
- Replace some whole grains and pastas with white, enriched grains and pastas
- Peel the crusts off of bread and the skins off of produce
- Use 100% fruit juices occasionally in place of whole fruits with their skins
The Poop Question
By now you might be wondering, how much is my kid supposed to be pooping? And you’re right that this does have something to do with fiber consumption. Bowel movements can be an excellent indicator of whether your child is eating enough, or eating too much, fiber.
Here are some general guidelines.
Most toddlers will poop at least once per day. Some kids may have multiple bowel movements every day. Some kids may not poop for a few days at a time.
How do you know if your kid is pooping enough? Check out their stool. (Don’t act like your kid doesn’t show it to you every time anyway). If it’s hard, dry, and painful, and your child isn’t having a bowel movement at least three times per week, this may be a sign of constipation. Kids will go through bouts of constipation on occasion – this is normal. If constipation lasts for more than two weeks, this could be a chronic condition and would warrant a call to the pediatrician. And in general, if you’re concerned at all about your kid’s bowel habits, just call the doctor.
High Fiber Meal & Snack Ideas for Kids
- Whole grain tortilla topped with marinara, vegan cheese and kidney beans
- Roasted chickpeas
- Trail mix made with nuts, seeds, raisins and dark chocolate
- Whole grain cereals or cereals made with beans and lentils as the first ingredients
- PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Raw carrot sticks with hummus
- Almond yogurt topped with ground flaxseed and pumpkin seeds
- Apple slices dipped in peanut butter and chia seeds
- Homemade granola bars with oats, nuts and seeds
- Oatmeal with hemp seeds, blueberries and almonds
- Whole grain crackers with bean dip
- Whole wheat toast with avocado, tomatoes and hemp seeds
- Grilled vegan cheese with spinach on whole grain bread
- Bean and vegan cheese quesadillas
- Whole grain spaghetti with marinara and lentils
Tell Me Below:
- What are some of your child’s favorite high fiber foods?
- What other questions do you have about fiber for kids?