It’s back-to-school time and back to heavily scheduled days of after-school activities, homework, sports, music lessons, and more. With all there is to juggle in a day, it’s tempting to believe some of the myths about nutrition that may promise to make it easier and faster to feed our children well.

We checked in with Seattle Children’s nutrition team to find out the truth behind some of the more common nutrition myths.

Here’s what we learned:

Myth #1

My child takes a daily multivitamin, so they’re getting all the nutrients they need.

Fact

Multivitamins provide only some of the vitamins and nutrients a child needs for good health.  Multivitamins are intended to supplement a balanced diet, not substitute it. Children (and adults, too) need the nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, protein, and complex carbohydrates. And, certain nutrients, such as Vitamin C and Potassium, are easily found in fruits and vegetables, but not in significant amounts in a basic multivitamin.

What parents can do

Continue to give your child a multivitamin, but encourage them to eat a variety of foods. Use food color as a guide. Generally speaking, the more naturally colorful the food, the more nutrients it has. By keeping their diet colorful, you’ll not only give them the nutrients they need, but the variety will keep them interested in food. Think colorful vegetables such as carrots, spinach, broccoli, eggplant, and kale; fruits such as red grapes, oranges, mangoes, and apples; and lean meats, salmon, dark or yellow tuna, shrimp, and poultry for protein. Even snacks such as almonds, walnuts, and whole-grain crackers have more color than highly-processed chips.

Myth #2

If I give my child non-fat food, they won’t become overweight.

Fact

Our bodies need fat: it nourishes the developing brain and protects our organs. It also helps us feel satisfied after a meal. Fat is helpful in giving flavor and taste.  If your child doesn’t feel satisfied after a meal, they may consume more food that may be low in nutritional value and high in sugar and sodium to make up for it, which could lead to excessive weight gain. Some examples of “good fats” include nuts, seeds, olive oil, and lean meats.

What parents can do

Stick to low-fat options rather than non-fat options, such as low-fat yogurt and milk. Many non-fat foods have added sugar and sodium to offset the loss of taste from the lack of fat in them.

Myth #3

My child plays a lot of sports so they need to have extra carbohydrates in their diet.

Fact

If your child has a well-balanced diet, then there is no need for them to change it while they’re training for a sport. It’s not necessary to load up on extra carbohydrates before a game  that may last only an hour at the end of the day. If they’re participating in extended games, such as weekend-long tournaments where they’re playing for hours at a time, then adding extra carbohydrates to a meal prior to the game makes sense.

What parents can do

Make sure your child has a good mix of protein and carbohydrates throughout the day so they’re well-fueled for after-school and weekend sports. If they’re playing sports for hours at a time on the weekend, then adding more complex carbohydrates, such as pasta or potatoes, to their dinner the night before a game will help them sustain their energy throughout the game the next day. To help them maintain the energy they need to stay in the game, try the following:

  • Provide your child or teen with three meals and two-three snacks per day, especially on event days.
  • Bringing food from home can help eliminate the need for convenience and fast food at the last minute.
  • Teaming up with other parents can help ensure that there are plenty of well-balanced meals and snacks available for the team at longer events such as soccer tournaments and swim meets.
  • Provide your child or teen with plenty of water. Sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade should be used during play that lasts longer than 60 minutes.

For more information about how to help your young athlete stay healthy and strong, watch:  Keeping Young Athletes in the Game: A Seattle Children’s Hospital Special.

Myth #4

I can’t control what my teenager eats; they’re old enough to decide for themselves what to eat.

Fact

Education about nutrition begins at home. As a parent, you can still control what they eat for breakfast and dinner. Yes, they are independent enough to make or buy their own lunch, but you can provide healthy choices for at least two meals a day.

What parents can do

Set an example for your child about how to eat a well-balanced diet. Studies have shown that children are more likely to develop good eating habits if their parents have demonstrated them at home. In addition to using color as a guide to choose foods, also keep in mind portions: fill one-half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and round out the other half with protein on one quarter and carbohydrates on the other quarter. Involve your teenager with meal preparation so they can see the fruits of their efforts and possibly develop an interest in food.

Myth #5

My child eats a good lunch and dinner, so it’s OK for him to skip breakfast.

Fact

Your child needs three meals per day that are a mix of protein and complex carbohydrates. This is especially true if your child plays sports. If they skip breakfast, they will not have the stamina and energy for a game late in the day.

What parents can do

If carving out time for breakfast seems just too much, consider having some quick, healthy protein on hand, such as hard boiled eggs or low-fat yogurt to pair with carbohydrates such as whole grain toast or plain instant oatmeal. Round it out with a piece of fruit or a small glass of juice.

Myth #6

Each of my children has very different tastes in food. I need to prepare a multiple meals to get them all to eat!

Fact

Try to make one meal for the whole family.  With kids of varying ages and appetites it can be a real challenge to find a meal that appeals to everyone, but it can be done.

What parents can do

Don’t be a short order cook for your family!  Instead, prepare a meal (in this case, dinner) that has at least one food that each child likes. This may be a far cry from your current reality, but try it even one day a week to start;  change takes time.  They don’t need to like everything on their plate, just one food item. One may like the chicken; the other may like the mashed potatoes. Regularly preparing only one meal for the entire family will make the transition to introducing new food to your children much easier in the long run. And remember, it often takes as many as 15-20 attempts before a child may try a new food. Stick with it!

If you’d like to arrange an interview with a  pediatric dietitian, please contact the Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at press@seattlechildrens.org.