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Fat in Your Child’s Meal Plan



  • Fat is a source of calories and energy for your child’s body.
  • Saturated and trans fats, such as those in animal products and packaged foods, are the more harmful fats.
  • Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and oils, such as olive, canola, and fish oil, are healthier fats.


What is fat?

Fat is a source of calories and energy for the body. Your child needs to have some fat in his or her meal plan for good health because:

  • Fat is used by your child’s body to make hormones that affect blood pressure and heart health.
  • Fat helps the body absorb some nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Certain antioxidants are also absorbed much better if fat is present. Antioxidants help keep the body's cells healthy.
  • Some fats found in plant oils and fish may help prevent high cholesterol, heart disease, and other health problems.

Fats and oils also help food taste good. Most fats are found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, plant oils, packaged foods, and snack foods.

All fats, even healthy fats, are high in calories. If your child eats more calories than the body can use, your child will gain weight. Weight gain increases your child’s risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Saturated and trans fats are the more harmful fats.

  • Saturated fat increases the level of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke over time. Saturated fats are mainly in animal products such as whole and low-fat dairy products, poultry, lard, and meats. Prime rib and dark-meat poultry with the skin have more saturated fat than lean cuts such as pork tenderloin, chicken breast without skin, or fish. Saturated fat is also found in some plant foods such as palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter. Your child should try to eat as little saturated fat as possible.
  • Trans fats increase the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease the level of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood. This increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Trans fat can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Your child should avoid trans fat as much as possible.

    Trans fats can be found naturally in some animal products, but most of the trans fats in our food are made with a process called hydrogenation. It is done to keep fat from going bad and turns the fat from a liquid to a solid. Trans fats are found in margarine, shortening, packaged foods, ice cream, many baked or fried foods, and fast food. Trans fats may be even more dangerous for the heart than saturated fat.

Food manufacturers must list the amount of trans fat and saturated fat on the Nutrition Facts Label on food packages.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and oils are healthier fats.

  • Polyunsaturated fats are found mostly in safflower, corn, soybean, sunflower, and cottonseed oils, and in fish oil.
  • Monounsaturated fats are found mainly in canola, olive, and peanut oils, as well as most nuts.

Fatty acids are the building blocks that make up poly- and monounsaturated fats. Three important fatty acids are called omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. It is best to balance fatty acids to help prevent health problems.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and some plants. They may reduce the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and inflammation. They may also help children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or reading disorders. Good sources are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Omega 3 fatty acids are also in fish oil supplements. Good plant sources for omega-3 fatty acids are canola oil, soybeans, flaxseed, avocado, and some types of nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Check with your healthcare provider before giving your child supplements.
  • Omega-6 fatty acid is found in corn, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils.
  • Omega-9 fatty acid is found in olive oil, canola oil, and avocados.

How can I cut down on the fat in my child’s meal plan?

You can cut down on the fat in your child’s meal plan by teaching your child to eat fewer high-fat animal products such as red meat, poultry with skin, whole-milk dairy products, and fried foods. Even healthy fats, such as oils, nuts, seeds, and avocado, are high in calories and should be eaten in limited amounts. Encourage your child to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Try to follow these suggestions:

  • Read food labels and teach your child how to read them.
  • Choose cheese, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, and milk products that are nonfat or low-fat.
  • Cook with canola or olive oil instead of butter and margarine. Choose fats and oils that contain less than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Reduce the amount of fats and oils you use when you cook or bake.
  • Buy only lean cuts of meat, such as chicken or turkey breast without skin, pork tenderloin, flank, round or sirloin beef, and low-sodium ham.
  • Bake, broil, grill, steam, or microwave foods instead of frying them to reduce the fat.
  • Serve a meatless dinner a few times a week. Try meals with beans instead of meat.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free salad dressings. Try a flavored vinegar on salads. It has no fat and can have lots of flavor.
  • Try to have cookies and desserts only as a special treat, not every day. When you fix desserts at home, use healthy oils, egg whites, and fruit for sweetening.
  • Steam vegetables with herbs in the microwave or heat them in a small amount of healthy oil or cooking spray, instead of cooking them with butter.
  • Avoid trans fats by choosing fewer packaged convenience foods and checking labels for saturated fat and trans fat content.
  • Serve broiled or grilled fish, such as salmon or tuna, at least 2 times a week.
  • Fast food can be high in total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. If your child eats fast food, choose grilled chicken or a salad with fat-free or low-fat dressing. Ask for nutrition information from fast-food restaurants so that your child can choose wisely.
  • For a healthy snack, choose fresh fruits or low-fat yogurt instead of high-fat fried snacks or sweets.

Not all fat is bad, but it can be unhealthy if your child eats too much. Eating food low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and getting regular physical activity will help lower your child’s risk of heart disease. It will also help your child keep a healthy weight or lose weight if your child is overweight.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2021-09-27
Last reviewed: 2021-08-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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