Adding Fibre to your Child’s Diet

Few kids would say they crave a good fibre-rich meal. Although the thought of fibre might bring gags and groans from kids, many appetizing foods are actually great sources of fibre — from fruits to whole-grain cereals. And kids are probably eating them without even knowing it.

Not just for the senior-citizen crowd, foods with fibre are beneficial because they're filling and, therefore, discourage overeating — even though fibre itself adds no calories. Plus, when combined with adequate fluid intake, high-fibre fare helps move food through the digestive system and may protect against gut cancers and constipation. It may also lower LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) as well as help prevent diabetes and heart disease.

Figuring Out Fibre

Listed on food labels under total carbohydrates, dietary fibre is found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. Some of the best sources are:

  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • apples
  • oranges
  • bananas
  • berries
  • prunes
  • pears
  • green peas
  • legumes (dried beans, split peas, lentils, etc.)
  • artichokes
  • almonds

A high-fibre food has 5 grams or more of fibre per serving and a good source of fibre is one that provides 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving. Here's how some fibre-friendly foods stack up:

  • ½ cup (118 millilitres) of cooked navy beans (9.5 grams of fibre)
  • ½ cup (118 millilitres) of cooked lima beans (6.6 grams)
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato with peel (4.8 grams)
  • 1 whole-wheat muffin (4.4 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 millilitres) of cooked green peas (4.4 grams)
  • 1 medium raw pear with skin (4 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 millilitres) of raw raspberries (4 grams)
  • 1 medium baked potato with skin (3.8 grams)
  • ¼ cup (59 millilitres) of oat bran cereal (3.6 grams)
  • 1 ounce (28 grams) of almonds (3.3 grams)
  • 1 medium raw apple with skin (3.3 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 millilitres) of raisins (3 grams)
  • ¼ cup (59 millilitres) of baked beans (3 grams)
  • 1 medium orange (3 grams)
  • 1 medium banana (3 grams)
  • ½ cup (118 millilitres) canned sauerkraut (3 grams)

A simple way to determine how many grams of fibre a child older than 2 years should eat each day is to add 5 to the child's age in years (i.e., a 5-year-old should get about 10 grams of fibre). After the age of 15, teens and adult women should get about 20-25 grams of fibre per day. Adult men should get 30-38 grams of fibre a day.

Adding Fibre to Your Family's Diet

Here are some creative, fun, and tasty ways to incorporate more fibre-rich foods into your family's diet:

Breakfast

Make oatmeal (a whole grain) part of morning meals.

Choose whole-grain cereals that have 3 grams or more fibre per serving.

Make pancakes with whole-grain (or buckwheat) pancake mix and top with apples, berries, or raisins.

Serve bran or whole grain waffles topped with fruit.

Offer whole-wheat bagels or muffins, instead of white toast.

Top fibre-rich cereal with apples, oranges, berries, or bananas. Add almonds to pack even more fibre punch.

Mix kid-favourite cereals with fibre-rich ones or top with a tablespoon of bran.

Lunch and Dinner

Make sandwiches with whole-grain breads (rye, oat, or wheat) instead of white.

Make a fibre-rich sandwich with whole-grain bread, peanut butter, and bananas.

Serve whole-grain rolls with dinner instead of white rolls.

Use whole-grain pastas instead of white.

Serve wild or brown rice with meals instead of white rice. Add beans (kidney, black, navy, and pinto) to rice dishes for even more fibre.

Spice up salads with berries and almonds, chickpeas, cooked artichokes, and beans (kidney, black, navy, or pinto).

Use whole-grain (corn or whole wheat) soft-taco shells or tortillas to make burritos or wraps. Fill them with eggs and cheese for breakfast; turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and light dressing for lunch; and beans, salsa, taco sauce, and cheese for dinner.

Add lentils or whole-grain barley to soups.

Create mini-pizzas by topping whole-wheat English muffins or bagels with pizza sauce, low-fat cheese, mushrooms, and pieces of grilled chicken.

Add bran to meatloaf or burgers. (But not too much bran or your family might catch on!)

Serve sweet potatoes with the skins as tasty side dishes. Regular baked potatoes with the skins are good sources of fibre, too.

Top low-fat hot dogs or veggie dogs with sauerkraut and serve them on whole-wheat hot dog buns.

Pack fresh fruit or vegetables in school lunches.

Snacks and Treats

Bake cookies or muffins using whole-wheat flour instead of regular. Or use some whole-wheat and some regular flour, so that the texture of your baked treats won't be drastically different. Add raisins, berries, bananas, or chopped or pureed apples to the mix for even more fibre.

Add bran to baking items such as cookies and muffins.

Top whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter or low-fat cheese.

Offer air-popped popcorn — a whole-grain food — as a midday treat or while kids watch TV or movies. (However, only give popcorn to kids over 4 years old because it can be a choking hazard.)

Top ice cream, frozen yogurt, or regular yogurt with whole-grain cereal, berries, or almonds for some added nutrition and crunch.

Serve apples topped with peanut butter.

Make fruit salad with pears, apples, bananas, oranges, and berries. Top with almonds for added crunch. Serve as a side dish with meals or alone as a snack.

Make low-fat breads, muffins, or cookies with canned pumpkin.

Leave the skins on when serving fruits and veggies as snacks or as part of a meal.

However, you choose to incorporate fibre, don't push it on your family. Make gradual changes that will add up to a diet that's higher in fibre over time. And keep offering a variety of foods that are good sources of fibre — fruits like pears and berries, vegetables like beans and peas, and whole-grain breakfast cereals and breads. Kids will get the fibre they need, and you'll set the tone for a lifetime of healthy eating.