What Happens to Our Snack Inside of Us?
After snack or lunch, talk about what happens to food inside our bodies. Ask children to share their ideas.

Clarify with this explanation of digestion. Illustrate it with pictures, such as from the suggested book on this page or with an enlargement of the image above (please see the Downloadable Materials section - What Happens to Our Snack Inside of Us? link). Have on hand a piece of string 15 feet long to represent the length of the intestines of a child!

When we chew food, we are breaking it into little pieces. The pieces travel down the esophagus, which is like a pipe, to our stomach. Our stomach churns the pieces into liquid mush. That goes to our small intestines, where it is broken down into pieces so tiny they can't be seen with just our eyes. These tiny pieces are called nutrients. They go into the blood and travel all through the body to the places where they are needed. So when we have milk, the nutrient calcium from the milk goes into the blood. Then it travels to our bones and teeth to make them hard and help them grow. The parts of food that the body doesn't need go into the large intestine. We get rid of that waste when we go to the bathroom.

A good book for talking further on this subject is Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi (Kane/Miller, 1993).

Can the Soda, Drink Milk Instead
Milk's many nutrients make it the best choice of beverage for children (and adults). But in an alarming trend, soda and fruit-flavored drinks are replacing milk, even in the diets of young children. According to surveys in recent years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 5 are drinking more soda, while the amount of milk they drink is decreasing.

Other national surveys find that children who are not getting enough calcium are those with the fewest dairy foods in their diets. Vegetables have some calcium. But your child would need to eat six cups of broccoli to get the calcium in 1 cup of milk.

The Scoop on Calcium Fortified Foods
It seems like every month there's another new calcium-fortified product-orange juice, cereal bars, fruit drinks, and more. Are these good sources of calcium? Nutrition experts encourage consumption of calcium through dairy products.

This form of calcium is easier for the body to absorb. Plus the vitamin D in milk helps the process. However, calcium-fortified foods are a reasonable alternative if your child is allergic to milk protein or lactose intolerant. Get your doctor's advice before removing dairy products from your child's diet.

The Meat Group Is Important Too!
The meat group contains protein foods. It includes meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, and nuts. Feel comfortable offering meat-group foods that are family favorites. Chopped peanuts in a stir fry, pinto beans in vegetable soup, or hummus on crackers all provide protein. You may need to cook a meat a bit longer than you prefer as your child gets used to its texture and taste. Let your child choose how much meat to eat (or none at all). Remember that young children's appetites vary from day to day. With time, they develop a taste for most foods.

Whole, Skim, Or Choose A Percent?
All types of milk, whether whole, skim (fat free), 1%, or 2%, have the same amounts of vitamins and minerals. All are healthy choices for children older than 2 years. Children between ages 1-2 years should only have whole milk. Once a child reaches her second birthday, you can gradually switch her to drinking reduced-fat milk.