Fat is one of the most misunderstood macronutrients, more commonly viewed as Enemy #1 than as the helpful, essential and irreplaceable building block that it is. In most cases, restricting fat is not only unnecessary for our kids but could actually be dangerous to their growth and development!
In the FAQs below, you’ll find out exactly what you need to know about fats in your kids’ diet: why fats are so fundamental, what the different types of fats are and which foods are rich in the healthy fats required for early brain and nerve development.
1. What Is Fat?
Fat is a necessary macronutrient that serves to fuel our bodies’ mental and physical activities. When stored in the body, fat provides a protective layer that insulates us (to help maintain our stable, warm temperature) and cushions our internal organs.
In our day-to-day diet, fat also plays an important role in appetite control. Fat contains more calories per gram than any other macronutrient (including carbohydrates or proteins), which means that it takes longer for our bodies to digest. As a result, fat is responsible for giving us that “fullness factor” that makes us feel satiated. People who assume that fat is “bad” are often surprised to learn that it’s actually what helps prevent us from consuming too many calories!
2. Does Eating Too Much Fat Make Us Gain Weight?
The answer here is yes and no. Fats are necessary to the human body and, when eaten in the right proportion and type, they provide an important signal for us to stop eating. This is true for both kids and adults!
The problem is when we consume too much fat, ignoring or resisting the fullness cues that it sends to our body. Any fat that is not used for energy or otherwise consumed through bodily processes will be stored for later use. Excessive dietary fat can then build up as fat cells in the body—leading to weight gain and the many associated long-term health risks, including heart disease and chronic illness.
Even though eating too many fats can indeed lead to unhealthy weight gain, it’s important to be mindful how we talk to our kids about weight. Associating fats with “getting fat” can send the wrong message and lead to feelings of shame and self-consciousness for our kids. Stick around for FAQ #7 to get some positive tips on teaching your kids about fats!
3. Do Kids Have Different Fat Needs Than Adults?
Yes! Fat is extremely important for healthy growing bodies, especially for neurological development and healthy brain function during infancy. For this reason, fat should be one of the major components in a baby’s diet. Nurture Life’s Stage 3 Baby Meals never restrict healthy fats, instead balancing healthy sources of fat, such as salmon, with veggies and complex carbs.
As our little ones age out of infancy, fat remains a crucial part of balanced meals for kids of all ages. Not only does fat continue to build essential nerve tissue and hormones, but also it is utilized as fuel to keep our kids’ bodies and minds active.
Daily Fat Recommendations by Age
- Babies and toddlers ages 1–3: about 30–40% of total calories from fat
- Children ages 4–18: about 25–35% of total calories from fat
- Adults 18+: about 25–35% of total calories from fat
Stressing out over achieving a specific percentage of fat in our children’s diet is not necessary (and probably not the best for your own sanity, either!). The important thing to remember is that healthy fats should not be restricted in kids’ diets, especially for infants and toddlers under 2 years old.
What exactly are those “healthy” fats, you might be wondering?
4. What Are the Different Types of Fats?
There are three major types of fats:
- Unsaturated fat: Unsaturated fats are considered “healthy” fats and include monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Common sources of unsaturated fat include nuts and seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
- Saturated fat: Typically found in animal products, common sources of saturated fat include animal fat, red meat and full-fat dairy products like butter, cheese, cream and ice cream.
- Trans fat: Trans fats are found in fried foods and hydrogenated oils (oils that are solid at room temperature). Fast food is typically the highest source of trans fat, but it may also be found in prepackaged baked goods, snacks and shortenings.
Saturated and trans fats are linked with elevated cholesterol and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids (a type of unsaturated fat) may promote healthier cholesterol balance and decrease the risk of heart disease.
At Nurture Life, our meals for kids focus on healthy fats from a variety of plant and animal sources, and we never cook with trans fats or deep-fry any of our food. Read more about our exceptionally high nutritional standards here.
5. What Are Good Sources of Healthy Fats?
Healthy fats are found in plants (avocados, olives, nuts and seeds) in addition to fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), and vegetable oils (canola oil, olive oil). Foods with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, flaxseed and chia seed.
6. How Can I Get a Better Balance of Fat in My Child’s Diet?
Because fats are essential to growth and development, we never want to restrict or outlaw them altogether! Instead, it’s best to focus on limiting unhealthy fats while increasing healthy fats.
Limiting Unhealthy Fats
- Eat less red meat. Red meat is typically higher in saturated fat and can often be substituted with healthy alternatives such as white meat poultry, beans, lentils or tofu. If you have a picky eater in the house, start by blending the ingredients together to slowly reduce the amount of red meat consumed overall.
- Snack wisely. Switch out snacks like potato chips, crackers and microwave popcorn with healthier junk food alternatives. If you continue buying pre-packaged snacks, be sure to check the label for trans fats!
- Cut down on fast and fried food. Stick with the healthier fast food options near you, or order Nurture Life meals to keep in the fridge when you need something quick (that you’ll also know is balanced!).
Boosting Healthy Fats
No need to revamp your entire family meal plan! Just look for easy opportunities to add more of the healthy sources of unsaturated fat listed above:
- Dice ¼ of an avocado on top of rice and beans.
- Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over whole wheat pasta.
- Serve ¼ cup of almonds as an afterschool snack.
- Spread 2 tablespoons of all-natural peanut butter (or a kid-approved peanut butter alternative) over a sliced apple.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds into your oatmeal.
- Try pre-made meals for kids like Teriyaki Salmon with Rainbow Veggie Rice, Chicken Meatballs with Pasta & Vegetables or Egg Bite with Mini Pancakes & Sweet Potatoes
7. How Can I Teach My Child About Fat?
Great question! At Nurture Life, we’re all about empowering our kids to understand their own bodies and establish their own healthy eating habits. Feeding our kids well is a great foundation…but teaching them how to eat well is a gift that will last a lifetime.
Your kids may be too young to care about the scientific names for different types of fats, but they can still learn the most important lessons from a very early age! Try using kid-friendly language to explain why fat is important:
- It gives us energy to do our favorite activities, like playing with friends, building pillow forts or going on family jogs.
- It helps our brains grow big so we can read our favorite books or brainstorm super-cool inventions.
- It tastes good, but we don’t need a lot! Just a little bit adds flavor to other naturally delicious foods like veggies and whole grains.
- It helps us listen to our bodies and tells us when we feel full and energized—rather than too tired or too stuffed to play. (You could even make a family game out of “listening to your tummy” at mealtime! Go around the table and check in with your bodies aloud to teach your kids how to eat mindfully based on real hunger and fullness cues.)
Of course, the best way to teach your child about fat and to build a positive relationship with food is to model the behavior yourself. You don’t have to make a big deal out of fats, turn any particular food into a “no no” or resort to scare tactics about heart disease and obesity. Instead, keep a relaxed, pressure-free attitude about food and focus on sharing healthy meals made of real, wholesome ingredients that your kids can identify and learn to love.
If you need some help in that department, Nurture Life has ready-to-enjoy meals for the entire family—with each age range’s meals thoughtfully balanced by our team of registered dietitians. Our healthy kids meals focus on the right balance of fat for your baby, toddler or kids’ developmental needs.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about incorporating more healthy fats into your child’s diet! Connect with our child nutrition experts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.