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Serve these foods without a side of guilt

Posted 6/1/2017 by Janet Kramer, MPH, RDN, LD
Clinical Dietitian, Pediatric Nutrition Services, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital

Serve these foods without a side of guilt

Maybe you’ve only got 15 minutes to toss dinner on the table. You’ve got a grumpy eater who absolutely won’t go for broiled chicken, brown rice and broccoli. Or everyone’s too tired for anything except takeout.

The truth is, if your family eats healthy most of the time, nutritional “lapses” are no big deal – and can even teach kids important facts about food.

So throw away the guilt, and consult this list of what experts say is actually OK to eat – and why.

“Forbidden” foods. Macaroni and cheese, toast and jelly for breakfast, a burger and fries for dinner – serving these once in a while actually teaches kids an important food lesson: All foods fit into a healthy diet. “Banning some edibles can backfire, making them more alluring and even encouraging kids to overeat when they get their hands on them,” says Janet Kramer, MPH, RDN, LD, a clinical dietitian at Pediatric Nutrition Services, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

Janet Kramer, MPH, RDN, LD

Janet Kramer, MPH, RDN, LD

A spoonful of sugar on cereal. Let kids have a teaspoon of sugar on top of low-sugar, whole-grain breakfast cereal (add some fresh fruit, too). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, they’ll likely still get less sugar than they would from a highly-sweetened kids’ cereal. And a bit of sugar can encourage kids to try, and grow to like, healthy foods.

A little crunch at snacktime. Look to whole-wheat pretzels and baked tortilla or potato chips for parties or a brown-bag lunch.

Burger and fries. Got 10 minutes to spare between soccer practice and tuba lessons? The occasional fast-food meal did not lead to being overweight in a 2014 study of 272,035 kids and teens from 23 countries. Kramer suggests, “Go for a small burger or chicken sandwich, split a small order of fries, and pair them with low-fat milk and fruit. To add veggies to the meal, grab some carrot sticks. Or make up for the meal’s lack of veggies by eating a salad later.”

Juice boxes and (gasp!) flavored milk. It’s OK to please a kid’s sweet tooth once in a while with 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent juice (8 to 12 ounces for ages 7 to 18). The occasional small carton of chocolate- or strawberry-flavored milk isn’t a disaster, either. “While plain milk is preferable and flavored milk adds half the daily allowance for added sugars (per cup), flavored milk delivers the same bone-friendly calcium and other nutrients that plain milk does. Save it for an occasional treat,” says Kramer.

Dessert. It’s OK to enjoy desserts in moderation (remember, forbidden foods backfire). Rein in overeating by splitting a giant-sized dessert among several people.

For recipes and information on a variety of health and wellness topics, visit our health library at

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