Soyfoods: Healthy Solutions to Children's Nutrition

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To meet growing demands for healthy, plant-based foods, schools nationwide are serving tofu, veggie burgers, soy crumbles, soymilk, soy yogurt, and other soyfoods. In celebration of National School Lunch Week on Oct. 14-18, the Soyfoods Association of North America highlights the latest research confirming the healthfulness of soyfoods for children, and showcases schools offering soyfood options in their cafeterias.

The bottom line for parents – children in the U.S. and across the world enjoy a variety of soyfoods daily and have grown and developed normally.

Did You Know?

>>Soy blends well with other ingredients, even extreme flavors.

>>Soy can provide added fiber to kids' diets.

>>Soy is a cost-effective ingredient.

>>Offering healthier meals and snacks is a top priority in preventing childhood obesity and reducing disease risk.

School food service programs are increasingly taking advantage of the nutritional and economical value that soyfoods can provide their students. Soyfoods work within school meal requirements to offer a complete protein source that also supports fat and calorie reduction. Schools serve fortified soymilk in place of cow's milk, edamame as a vegetable, and tofu, soy-based deli slices, soy nuts, crumbles, burgers, soy nut butter or nuggets as meat alternates. The menu options enjoy high acceptance.

Providing nutritious food for children's growth and development is very important, and soyfoods can easily fit into the picture. Great-tasting soyfoods provide essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, potassium and high-quality, complete protein for growing kids. These nutrients help kids build strong bones and lean muscle for balance and coordination, and serving soyfoods help kids learn to make healthy food decisions early in life.

Recent studies have indicated that eating soyfoods at an early age may protect against some diseases later on in life. For example, studies show eating soyfoods during childhood and adolescence may help protect against breast cancer as an adult. Soyfoods may also help preventing constipation, maintaining a healthy weight, and enduring athletic performance.

Soy can provide high-quality protein without the high fat, saturated fat and cholesterol content of many animal protein sources. Soy protein is the only plant protein that contains all of the essential amino acids, just like animal protein.

Soyfoods can help to manage weight, as they are an excellent source of low-fat, high-quality protein that has been shown to increase satiety—thought to be a key component of weight control. With more children having high blood cholesterols, the cholesterol lowering benefit of soy protein is an additional reason to use more often soyfoods in place of animal proteins.

Soyfoods can deliver growth nutrients like iron, essential fatty acids and B vitamins. Many soyfoods are a great source of iron and soybeans are one of the only plant sources of essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Depending on the soyfood, they can also provide calcium, fiber, vitamins B and D, magnesium and potassium.

Children fed soy-based formulas have been found to have normal endocrine and reproductive development, according to several available studies to date. Some parents worry about exposure to estrogen compounds in soyfoods, but soy phytoestrogens are not human estrogens and have not been documented to result in precocious puberty. The Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center "Beginnings Study" found soy-formula-fed infants' growth and development patterns tracked closely with those of breast-fed infants. This study did not find any estrogenic effects in the soy-formula-fed infants during the first four months of life when development of reproductive organs is rapid.

Allergies to soyfoods affect less than 1 percent of children and most grow out of them by age 10. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) estimates that approximately 0.4 percent of American children, or about 298,410 under the age of 18, are allergic to soy, whereas the more prevalent allergies report milk (32 percent), followed by peanuts (29 percent), eggs (18 percent), and tree nuts (6 percent). Many schools and child care centers offer soy nuts and soy nut butter in place of peanuts, and serve soymilk in place of cow's milk to reduce potential exposure to severe allergens.

In addition to schools adding soy protein to their menus, parents can offer tasty, kid-friendly and cost-effective soyfoods at home. Grocery stores offer soymilk single-serve packs, soy nut butter and pretzel packs, soy yogurt and soy non-dairy frozen desserts in mini sizes. Tofu, veggie burgers, crumbles, hot dogs and sausages fit into any favorite chili, spaghetti sauce or stir-fry. And fruit soy smoothies made with fortified soymilk are fun ways to get added calcium. Children love the taste and never know the difference!

For family-friendly recipe ideas, please visit the Soyfoods Association's Pinterest page and for tips on how to use different soyfoods, visit the Cooking with Soyfoods page.

For additional information, please visit the Soyfoods Association website, soyfoods.org, which features resources for School Food Service Professionals as well as additional health information. A short video, "The Benefits of Soyfoods for Energetic Kids" featuring Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, is available to link to.