Healthy Eating for Babies, Children and Teens

Take a tip from Italian pediatricians on the subject of healthy baby food. When it’s time for babies to transition to solid food, they recommend Parmigiano Reggiano as a “first food” with high-quality, easily digestible proteins. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that babies are at least 8 months before cheese is introduced.

High-quality Proteins, Basic to Baby Nutrition

Parmesan is gentle on a baby’s delicate digestive system because, during the long aging of this cheese, the proteins are broken down by enzymes into easy-to-digest free amino acids.

Calcium Rich, Lactose-free

Dairy products are the richest source of calcium, an essential nutrient that plays an important part in baby nutrition. Even infants and toddlers who have trouble digesting dairy products can generally eat Parmigiano Reggiano because the aging process renders it completely lactose-free. To build strong bones, infants 6 to 12 months of age need healthy baby foods supplying 260 milligrams of calcium per day. That number almost doubles for toddlers. Parmesan also supplies vitamin B12 as well as contributing other valuable vitamins and minerals.

Healthy Baby Food Ideas

babyGrated Parmesan, stirred into puréed foods or sprinkled over rice or pasta dishes, helps fulfill a baby’s nutrition requirements. Plus, little ones love the taste of Parmigiano Reggiano! Use it to flavor and melt into foods they are eating. You might even consider giving your baby a fruit and cheese course by stirring grated Parmesan into puréed apples or pears. By introducing healthy baby foods that are also delicious, you are helping your child form good habits of eating. Serve prepared baby foods or, using a food processor, blender or food mill, purée your own. Many parents find it convenient to fill ice cube trays with fruit and vegetable purees—it’s easy to pop out a couple of cubes to thaw in a microwave. Healthy baby foods such as a two-potato purée seasoned with Parmesan can be gourmet treats for parents as well as their baby.  And they can take satisfaction in the fact that, as their child grows older, he or she will enjoy an ever-larger range of foods at the family table.

Improving the eating patterns of children and teens is recognized by many as a national priority. Obesity, which is on the rise, has a strong connection to serious diseases such as Type II diabetes. Proposed solutions include:

  • Encouraging children to eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods.
  • Substituting nutrient-rich foods for “empty calorie” foods and beverages such as juice drinks, soda, and fatty or sweet snacks.
  • Creating opportunities for children to be more active physically.

Boosting Calcium Intake

girl2A varied diet, rich in calcium and low in fats and sugars, helps children maintain a healthy body weight and grow strong bones. Children need at least three servings of dairy foods or other sources of calcium each day. Parmigiano Reggiano® cheese is an example of a natural food that provides this needed nutrient. Outdoor play and sports are beneficial not only as a form of exercise but for exposure to the sunlight that supplies vitamin D—critical to the proper absorption of calcium.

Healthy Eating, Ages 4 to 8

At this stage of life, children need 1000 milligrams of calcium per day. That daily need for calcium could be fulfilled by an 8-ounce glass of milk (276 milligrams), a cup of yogurt (296 milligrams) and an ounce of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (330 milligrams). That same ounce of cheese fulfills nearly 50 percent of the 19 grams of protein needed by children ages 4 to 8. Parents have a good deal of control over the diet of infants and toddlers.  But once beyond these early years and in school, children make more eating decisions on their own. That’s why it’s important for parents to set a good example in their own eating habits, and to find time to gather at the family table for healthful meals.

Healthy Eating, Preteens and Teens

girl3During these rapid-growth years, children need a well-balanced diet that provides sufficient calcium and protein. Because bone mass approaches maximum density by the age of 30, a diet lacking in calcium could lead to health problems in the future. Adolescent girls are the most likely not to get the recommended intake. Preteens need about 34 grams of protein during the preteen years. Girls 14 to 18 need about 46 grams, boys 14 to 18 need 52 grams. As in their earlier years, preteens and teens benefit when parents serve as models by eating a well-balanced diet and by establishing a routine that includes eating family meals together whenever possible.

Nutrient-rich Foods

Whole foods such as Parmesan cheese can improve the diet of a preteen or teen by contributing calcium and protein, as well as vitamins and minerals. They might enjoy eating a chunk as a healthy mid-morning or afternoon snack. Grated Parmesan adds great flavor to a salad or plate of pasta. To make an easy toaster-oven treat, bake pita pizza topped with marinara sauce and grated Parmesan.