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Tween Eating Habits
How can I help my daughter's body image? What if my son wants to be a vegetarian? By Connie Evers, M.S., R.D.
Tween Eating Habits
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Q: My pre-teen daughter always says that she's fat. How can I help her develop a healthy body image?

A: THIS PERCEPTION of fatness is common even among girls with little body fat. In one study of 494 girls ages 9 to 18, more than half thought of themselves as fat, whereas only 15 percent were overweight based on height and weight measures. Fear of fatness, an over-concern with food and binge eating were found to be common among girls by age 10.

Unfortunately, while there are many body types and growth patterns common among children, kids don’t usually see a wide variety of body shapes and sizes depicted in the media. Additionally, kids may hear adult role models — mothers, teachers and friends — obsessing about their own bodies.

Talk to your daughter about why eating a variety of nutritious foods is important to her growth, development and fitness. Stress good health over weight, and point to positive role models, such as normal-weight athletes. Assure her that she is growing according to plan and that there is no single best way to look.

If your daughter expresses an interest in dieting and other forms of weight control, seek advice from your pediatrician or a registered dietitian and, if necessary, ask fora referral to a trained counselor who specializes in disordered eating.

Q: My child wants to be a vegetarian. How can I make sure he gets all the nutrients he needs?

A: FIRST, DETERMINE what type of vegetarian he wants to be. Vegans eat only foods of plant origin, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes (e.g., beans, soy products, lentils and peanuts). Lacto-vegetarians include milk and dairy products, and Lacto-ovo-vegetarians include eggs and dairy products.

    Next, kids who adopt a strict vegan lifestyle have to pay particular attention to the following nutrients. Try these options:

  • Protein: Offer eggs, legumes, nuts, dairy, grains and vegetables.
  • Calcium: If your child shuns dairy, try calcium-fortified soy or rice beverages, calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified fruit juices, broccoli, bok choy, sardines, almonds and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals.
  • Iron: Sources include iron-fortified cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables and dried fruits.
  • Zinc: Found in legumes, hard cheeses, whole grain products, wheat germ, nuts and tofu.
  • Vitamin B12: Vegan children need a supplement or B12-fortified foods, including fortified soy milk, fortified nutritional yeast and some breakfast cereals.

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