Both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber (fibre) is plant based food that is not fully broken down by the digestion process and helps to give children regular bowel movements as long as they are fully hydrated (see our 'HYDRATION' article here). Fiber is likely to have definite health benefits too because in adult studies fiber has been shown to help with lowering of cholesterol and blood pressure and reduces chance of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Remember, dairy products and meat don't have fiber, only plant based food has fiber such as wholegrain cereals, brown rice, kidney beans, fruit and vegetables.
As well as eating nutritionally healthy foods (low GI carbs, lots of fruit and vegetables, lean meat etc.) it is important to encourage your children to eat lots of fibre too by eating whole grains, wholemeal breads, beans, nuts and seeds when old enough. As mentioned previously it is also vital to ensure children drink lots of water and exercise too when increasing their dietary intakes otherwise constipation could ensue.
The key is to find high fibre foods that your children like. Fruit, nuts and raisins are often popular choices. These can be chopped up and added to breakfast cereals or yoghurts as well as given as part of a lunch time snack and even as a dessert after the evening meal. If your children don't like high fibre cereals, just give them a mix of their normal cereal with a small amount of high fibre cereal. Increase the proportion of fibre slowly over time. For lunch make sure you use wholemeal bread or maybe have a combination of 1 slice of each. At the beginning, it is all about compromise and slowly introducing fiber. For the evening meal add small amounts of brown rice or pasta to the white version and slowly increase the amount of brown over time. For spaghetti bolognese or chilli you can add kidney beans. Always replace fruit juices with real fruit which is far healthier.
The best way to increase fiber intake to your children is to have a plan to increase slowly over the course of say 6 months. If you commit to adding a small amount each month your child won't notice or complain too much! You need to increase water intake too to help balance this.
Recommended Fiber Levels for Children
The recommended fiber levels given by the Queensland Government is age dependant with 1 year old children recommended to take 14g of fiber per day rising to 28g per day for an 18 year old boy. Some recommended levels are higher than this too (19g - 38g). To put this in perspective, a slice on wholemeal bread is typically 2g of fibre and a banana approx 3g of fibre. So the recommendation is for children to eat lots of fiber rich food.
Dietary fibre is really important for a child's health and is commonly overlooked. Try and hit the recommended targets by ensuring you consider fibre as an essential element to the food equation for your child. Make sure hydration is increased too and your child will soon start reaping the benefits.
This is based on information issued by the Queensland Government by age and typical fibre values from food. The suggested 'Meal Plan' can be quite a useful starting point.