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Whole Foods

Child Nutrition Basics


Updated August 25, 2008

Buying more fruits and vegetables is a great way to get kids in the habit of eating whole foods.

Buying more fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to get your kids in the habit of eating more whole foods.

Photo: Michael Bradley / Getty Images
From eating at fast food restaurants to eating unhealthy snacks at home, kids eat a lot of junk food. Paired with a pervasive lack of exercise, poor eating habits are helping drive the current childhood obesity epidemic.

Eating more whole foods is a good way to replace many of the processed snacks and foods that have a lot of extra sugar, fat (including trans fat), salt, and other things added to them and a lot of good things taken out, such as fiber.

In addition to not having any additives that you might want to avoid, many whole foods have a low glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index, including many processed grains (such as white rice or white bread), can quickly increase blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal, and this can lead to increased risk for childhood obesity.

What are Whole Foods?

Fruits and vegetables are great examples of whole foods. They are unprocessed, unrefined, and can be eaten without any additives or modifications. For example, a serving of baked fish would be a whole food, while a fish stick wouldn't be.

Whole foods can include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes (beans, soybeans, peas, lentils)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Milk
  • Whole grains
  • Meats, chicken, and fish
  • Eggs

Whole Foods Diet

Is a whole foods diet right for your kids?

Many parents may initially think that it isn't, but that is probably because of common misconceptions about a whole foods diet that have lead them to quickly dismiss the idea.

You should now know what a whole foods diet is -- eating more unprocessed foods. But what isn't it? It isn't about being a vegetarian or eating organic (unless you want it to be), and it doesn't have to be a diet in the sense of that is all you eat.

Instead, when feeding your kids, think about offering more whole foods instead of processed foods.

Need some ideas?

How about:

  • 100% fruit juice, instead of soda or a fruit drink (although keep in mind that fresh fruit is better than fruit juice)
  • skinless chicken breast, instead of chicken nuggets
  • baked potato, instead of French fries
  • whole wheat bread, instead of white bread
  • oatmeal, instead of a sugary breakfast cereal
  • cooking with whole wheat flour, instead of white flour
  • sandwich with whole wheat bread and slices of leftover chicken or lean meat, instead of processed cold cuts, which can have a lot of added salt
  • eating whole wheat pasta
  • offering fresh whole fruit as a healthy snack, instead of potato chips, fruit snacks, or candy

In general, just try to choose more fresh whole fruits and vegetables and other unprocessed foods when you prepare your child's meals.

Raw Milk

Although many purists would likely only consider raw milk to be a whole food, remember that health experts don't recommend that kids drink raw milk that hasn't been pasteurized. Kids should also avoid unpasteurized fruit juices, including unpasteurized apple juice and apple cider.

Raw milk and juice can be contaminated with bacteria and are too big of a danger for kids to be drinking. Another big danger of drinking raw milk is that some people may overlook is that raw milk is very low in vitamin D. In addition to being pasteurized, processed milk that you routinely buy in a store is typically fortified with vitamin D, which is important for keeping bones strong.


The pediatric obesity epidemic: causes and controversies. Slyper AH - J Clin Endocrinol Metab - 01-JUN-2004; 89(6): 2540-7.

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