If you've ever potty-trained a toddler, you know the value of fiber in the diet. And if you haven't, let's just say that regular, easy-to-pass "movements" make life easier for everyone—baby/toddler/kid and parent. Fiber is the crown jewel nutrient for keeping us regular—young, old or in-between.
But fiber's talents aren't limited to just moving things along as they should within the walls of your GI tract. Fiber is also filling, so it can help kids stay satisfied after a meal (c'mon, no parent wants to re-open the kitchen for snack hour right after mealtime has ended). Getting plenty of fiber can help keep cholesterol in check. It promotes good gut health. Fiber-rich foods are often also naturally rich in vitamins, minerals and good-for-you compounds like antioxidants. (See our list of the best healthy foods for kids).
The (crappy) thing is, most of us don't get enough fiber—kids included. Our sub-par fiber intakes are a result of our less-than-stellar commitment to eating adequate fruits, veggies and whole grains.
Kids' fiber needs vary with age (ranging from 19 grams a day for 1- to 3-year-olds up to 26 and 38 grams for teenage girls and boys, respectively). One easy rule of thumb is to simply add 10 to your child's age. Do you have a 6-year-old? Aim for 16 grams each day.
Another simple solution, if tracking fiber grams isn't your MO, make sure your kids eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. At that amount, it's quite likely they'll hit their fiber target.
But to help your children get the fiber they need, "you don't need to break out the bran cereal or prunes," says Jenna Helwig, food director for Parents magazine. "For many kids, fruit is the key. It's usually very popular and often less suspect than whole grains and veggies. Besides prunes, other yummy options are raspberries, pears, pomegranate seeds and avocado (yup, a fruit!)."
So, with that said, we've pulled together a list of high-fiber foods that are also kid-approved. We'll admit it is fruit-heavy, but you'll see we broke out of the apple-pear-banana rut to give a list of delicious, easy and high-fiber options for your kids and toddlers.
Almost all kids love cereal. A fiber-packed ready-to-eat cereal can deliver anywhere from 3 to 14 grams of fiber per serving. Shredded wheat (frosted is more kid-friendly, but also a little higher in sugar) clocks in with 6 grams of fiber per serving. A 1-cup serving of Cheerios has 3 grams of fiber, not shabby for an oat-based cereal that kids gobble up. Choose a cereal that isn't too sweet—ideally one with under 7 grams of sugar per serving and at least 3 grams of fiber.
Pictured recipe: Raspberry Yogurt Cereal Bowl
A cup of raspberries has a whopping 8 grams of fiber. Fun fact: this is roughly the amount it takes to make raspberry fingers (you know, when the little ones cap the tip of each of their fingers with a raspberry). Raspberries are particularly high in fiber compared to other fruits. When they're not in season, you can buy frozen raspberries and use them in smoothies and muffins, or thaw them for yogurt bowls.
Pictured recipe: Quick Stovetop Mac & Cheese with Peas
One of the few green veggies that most kids don't object to also happens to be fiber-packed: a cup of green peas has 9 grams of fiber. Peas make a great addition to mac and cheese, soups and salads. Frozen peas are inexpensive and easy to keep on hand; they just need to be thawed and heated before serving as a simple side.
Read more: 5 Ways to Sneak Veggies Into Family Meals
Pictured recipe: Black Bean Tacos
A half cup of black beans and chickpeas both deliver 8 grams fiber. Fiber-packed beans are quite versatile. Whir chickpeas into hummus, roast them for a crunchy snack, or serve them straight from the can. Black beans are perfect for taco night (try these 5-ingredient Black Bean Tacos). Beans are a super-healthy food for kids to eat, and if you think your kids don't like them you may have just not found the right preparation. New bean-based pastas, made with chickpea flour or lentil flour, are high in fiber and protein and have a kid-friendly texture. Lentils, white beans and kidney beans are all kid-friendly (and high-fiber) legumes to try too.
Pictured recipe: Almost Chipotle's Guacamole
This creamy green orb is technically a fruit. Eat a half cup, and you'll get 5 grams of fiber. Avocados are also rich in heart-healthy fats. Most kids like the taste, but if yours is averse to avocado's texture or flavor, try blending it into a smoothie for a fiber boost. Avocados are excellent in guacamole (of course!) and creamy dips, and as a toast topper.
Pictured recipe: Strawberry-Almond Butter Sandwich
Almonds top the list as the nut that packs the most fiber, with 3½ grams in a 1-ounce serving. Peanuts aren't that far behind at just over 2½ grams fiber per ounce, but for that extra leg up, consider swapping your peanut butter for almond butter. Nuts are also a great source of healthy fats for kids. If allergies are a concern, try sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds for a fiber and protein boost.
Pictured recipe: Mango & Kiwi with Fresh Lime Zest
Not only is this sweet, juicy fruit available year-round, but you can also buy precubed frozen mango in the freezer section, which cuts out the prep. A cup has nearly 3 grams fiber. If your kids are mango smoothie-fiends, frozen mango makes an especially great choice. And unlike juicing, which extracts the fiber, when you mix fruit in a blender for smoothies the fiber stays intact.
Pictured recipe: Sweet & Sour Chicken
Not every grain works for every kid—some like whole-wheat pasta, some like brown rice, some like quinoa (and yes, unfortunately, some seemingly don't like any). The key is to pick whole grains that cook quickly (for the sanity of moms, dads and hungry kid bellies). It's also important to introduce whole grains early and often, so kids get used to seeing and eating them.
Whole-wheat pasta needs 10 to 12 minutes in boiling water and one serving (1 cup, cooked) has 4 grams of fiber. Quinoa also cooks up in about 15 minutes. Sure, pasta seems like the most kid-friendly starch (hello, mac and cheese!), but rice ranks high for the littler people, too. "I love the ease of microwavable rice pouches, for a quick way to add fiber when I'm crunched for time," says Holley Grainger, M.S., R.D., owner and creator of Cleverful Living. Farro, barley and oats all come in quick-cooking varieties as well and still deliver a punch of whole-grain fiber.
Also known as prunes, these shriveled fruits are practically synonymous with staying regular. A ¼-cup serving boasts a fairly generous 3 grams of fiber. For kids' smaller appetites and fingers, try individually packaged dried plums, such as Sunsweet Ones, which look like "candy" and stay very moist inside the package.
Pictured recipe: Lemon-Parm Popcorn
This airy, low-calorie snack is technically a whole grain. And while a cup only has 1 gram fiber, it's typical to eat closer to 3 cups (so 3 grams of fiber!). Don't forget—single-serve bags make for great school snacks. For babies and toddlers, popcorn is considered a choking hazard, so wait until they're older to introduce this high-fiber snack.
Too much fiber can cause some uncomfortable GI side effects, like bloating or gas. If your child is eating a low-fiber diet, ramp up slowly and make sure to give your little one enough fluids.
To keep digestion chugging along, hydration is also essential. So teach those little people to carry a water bottle, and show them how to fill it via the sink or a water filter so they can drink up when they're thirsty.
Hopefully this list helps get more nutrition into your child's diet and also helps if they are constipated (and helps prevent it from happening in the first place). Most parents can benefit from a higher-fiber diet too, so take note and eat more vegetables, fruit and whole grains yourself.