In your practice, do you often recommend yogurt and why?
I am a big proponent of yogurt and recommend it to adults and children alike. It’s an excellent source of protein, calcium, and potassium, of which the latter two nutrients have been identified as nutrients of concern for underconsumption by the scientific advisory committee of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.
Besides the nutritional benefits of yogurt, I recommend it because it makes a very satisfying and satiating component of meals, especially breakfast and snacks. It’s also extremely versatile and there are various ways to use yogurt in the kitchen, especially as a replacement for higher-fat ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise, and butter. For example, I use yogurt in dips and sauces like my Lemon Yogurt Sauce and Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Sauce, in baked goods like my Chocolate Pear Bread, and as a base for creamy salad dressings like this Citrus Yogurt Vinaigrette.
What are the benefits of yogurt in kids’ nutrition?
Kids are notoriously picky, but many children seem to enjoy dairy-rich foods like yogurt, milk, and cheese, which is great since these are foods that are rich in the nutrients of concern previously mentioned – calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.
Yogurt is a great base for a nutrient-rich breakfast to start the day for kids who are going off to school and need a protein-rich breakfast to keep them satiated and their energy up through the morning. It’s also an easy and convenient snack that parents can send in the lunchbox or have readily available for kids when they get home from school.
One issue that I often hear about with yogurt is the sugar content of flavored yogurts and parents’ concern over the added sugars. While it’s ideal for kids to eat plain yogurt, it’s not always realistic as it can be too tart for many children’s palates. What I often recommend is for parents to mix plain yogurt with a fruit-flavored yogurt so that it’s not as tart, but also not as sweet. If that’s something parents don’t have the time to do, I’m not opposed to children eating a fruit-flavored yogurt because the nutritional benefits of yogurt are so great that I would rather children get those nutrients and cut the added sugar from elsewhere in the diet.
What is for you the most important thing kids should learn for healthy eating habits?
I think the most important thing for kids to learn is no different than what a lot of adults need help with – managing portion sizes and how to recognize hunger and fullness. While many kids have a preference for sweet and salty foods (namely baked goods, crackers, chips, etc), the downside to eating these foods is generally the amount they eat and that they don’t register their fullness because these foods are easy to overeat.
I’m a believer in Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in which caregivers are responsible for what, where, and when food is given to children, whereas children are responsible for whether they eat it and how much they eat. However, I think within this division of responsibility it’s important for caregivers to recognize when a child may be overeating and help the child learn some behavioral modifications to help slow down and register intake.
Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN is a registered and New York State-certified dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Nutritioulicious, a New York-based nutrition communications and consulting business with a focus on culinary nutrition. Jessica has extensive experience as a recipe developer, writer, editor, and speaker. She is the co-author of We Can Cook: Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Barron’s, 2011), the Culinary Corner columnist for Today’s Dietitian Magazine, and maintains the popular Nutritioulicious blog. Jessica has been featured as a nutrition expert on television and radio outlets, including NBC, Fox 5, and NY1, in national magazines like Prevention, Glamour, Fitness, and Woman’s Day, and on numerous health and lifestyle websites. Jessica has an MS in Nutrition and Dietetics and a BA in Psychology, both from New York University. She is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and various Dietetic Practice Groups of the AND, including Nutrition Entrepreneurs, Dietitians in Business and Communications, and Food and Culinary Professionals. In addition to her professional work, Jessica enjoys all things related to food and wine and spending time with her husband and twin daughters.
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