Kids seem to have the smallest stomach at mealtimes and an endless pit for snacks in-between meals. It is so important for children to have a balanced and nutritious diet for their growth and brain development. Poor nutrition has been shown to restrict brain development and IQ levels in kids, and may cause problems with attention span and behavior. The body grows exponentially in size during childhood, but it needs the right nutrients and energy to make this happen. This is especially important for bone development and other vital areas. Setting the proper baseline for your child helps ensure that they will make healthier choices throughout their lives, even when you are not around to assist them. No pressure as a parent, right? Parents just want to do what is right and best for their children. Let us break down children’s nutrition so that you are more aware of what nutrients they are consuming.
Let’s start with the basic food groups and what we as parents should be encouraging and avoiding when it comes to our child’s diet.
Vegetables: This is likely what most kids and even some parents have a harder time eating, but it is particularly important to keep encouraging and offering to kids. Serve a variety of fresh, canned, frozen, or dried vegetables. Aim to provide a selection of dark green, red, and orange beans, peas, leafy greens, and others each week. When selecting canned or frozen vegetables, look for options lower in sodium.
Fruit: Encourage your children to eat a variety of fruits. Whether it’s fresh, canned, dried, or frozen. Look for canned fruit that says it is in light syrup or packed in its own juice, meaning it is low in added sugar. Keep in mind that one-quarter cup of dried fruit is equivalent to one of fruit.
Protein: Parents should offer lean meats and poultry, plus things like beans, eggs, nuts, and various soy products. Make sure, however, to maintain proper portion sizes with protein.
Grains: Whole grains are recommended for children, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, or brown or wild rice. Limit refined grains such as white bread, pasta, and white rice where you can.
Dairy: Encourage your children to eat and drink fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
Everyone needs the same types of nutrients — such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Children, however, need different amounts of specific nutrients at different ages.
Based on age, gender and activity level, there are a few specific calorie guidelines you should follow. There are situations where your child’s provider may recommend different guidelines, but average recommendations are:
- Ages 2-3: 1,000-1,400 calories per day
- Ages 4-8: 1,200-1,800 calories per day for girls, 1,200-2,000 calories per day for boys
- Ages 9-13: 1,400-2,200 calories per day for girls, 1,600-2,600 calories per day for boys
- Ages 14-18: 1,800-2,400 calories for girls, 2,000-3,200 calories per day for boys
There are precise guidelines about how these calories should be divided between the main food groups, but these can vary based on individual cases. Speak to your provider about any questions you may have regarding your child’s diet.