Ask the Dietitian: Healthy Fats for Kids

Q: My husband and I eat a very low-fat vegan diet, but our pediatrician wants our 2-year-old daughter to include foods like peanut butter and vegetable oils in her diet. Is it safe for kids to eat these higher-fat foods? [Question featured for Every Kid Healthy week.]

 Ginny Messina, R.D.: 

Although adults can thrive on a range of fat intakes, low-fat intakes aren’t recommended for children. This is especially true for toddlers (ages 1 through 3 years) who require between 30 and 40% of calories from fat. Higher-fat foods help children meet needs for calories and essential fats, and also help with nutrient absorption.

If your daughter is weaned, the best choice to replace breast milk is regular, unflavored full-fat soymilk. Other foods that provide healthy fats for little ones include tofu, tempeh, finely chopped nuts, peanut butter, nut and seed butters, avocado, chopped olives, and vegetable oils. Try mixing 1 ½ teaspoons of ground flaxseed or 2 teaspoons of ground walnuts into cereals or other grains for a snack that meets your child’s daily need for essential omega-3 fats.

Although some convenience foods like veggie burgers, falafel, and baked tofu can be fast, healthy choices for children, if your little one balks at strong flavors, consider making your own so you can adjust the seasonings.

Here are a few ideas for fast snacks that provide healthy fats for toddlers:

  • Whole-grain crackers or cucumber rounds spread with cashew cheese
  • Missing-egg salad (mashed tofu, vegan mayonnaise, chopped celery) on crackers or bread
  • Falafel
  • Baked tofu cubes
  • Hummus or any kind of bean spread in mini pita triangles
  • Baked potato wedges topped with mashed avocado
  • Peanut butter and sliced bananas on bread
  • Sunflower seed butter with apple slices
  • Veggie burgers
  • Shredded carrot, peanut and raisin salad
  • Oatmeal mixed with ground flaxseed or ground walnuts

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