Proper nutrition for kids is essential to support their rapid growth and development. Besides, it helps maintain a healthy weight necessary to reduce the risk of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease (1). Further, optimum nutrition helps maintain immunity, vital for children to fight infections and illnesses.
So, include various healthy foods and beverages from different food groups in your child’s diet. Additionally, involve your child in meal planning and preparation from a young age to teach them the importance of nutrition for overall health and well-being.
Read on as we tell you the nutritional requirements of children with practical tips to ensure your child gets all the nutrition they need.
Nutritional Needs Of Children
Childhood is a period of rapid growth and development. To meet these needs, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) 2020–2025 recommend children aged two and above to eat a healthy diet, including (2)
Source: Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025
- Whole grains: Whole grains are a good source of energy, dietary fiber, and micronutrients, such as vitamin B, iron, and zinc. Besides, they contain phytochemicals that can confer long-term health benefits (3). Hence, you should include whole grains in your child’s daily diet. Some of the whole-grain foods you can include in your child’s diet are oats, quinoa, brown rice, red rice, and whole-wheat bread.
- Fruits: Like whole grains, fruits are a great source of dietary fiber, energy, and several micronutrients. You can serve your child various fresh, canned, frozen, and dried fruits. Children consuming 1000kcal a day should consume one cup equivalent of fruits per day, whereas children consuming 2000kcal should consume two cups equivalent of fruits per day. A serving of 100 percent fruit juice is considered equal to a serving of fruit. However, children should avoid or limit juice intake and instead consume whole fruit.
- Vegetables: Vegetables offer significant amounts of dietary fiber, micronutrients, and bioactive compounds that promote long-term health and well-being. Experts advise children to eat different dark-green, red-orange, starchy, and other vegetables every day. Spinach, french beans, broccoli, bell peppers, aubergine, and mushrooms are some healthy vegetables that should be a part of your child’s diet.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy: Children eating 1600 to 2000kcal per day should consume three cups equivalent to fat-free or low-fat dairy. Low-fat milk, buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, frozen yogurt, and cheese are some of the dairy products you can include in your child’s diet.
- Lean protein: Lean protein foods, such as lean meat, poultry, egg, and seafood, are a great source of essential nutrients, such as protein, calcium, iron, and zinc for children. Unless you serve your child and eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, they can consume 2 to 5½ cups equivalent of protein foods each day to meet their growth and development needs.
- Healthy fats and oils: Children above two years should get 20 to 35 percent of their total calories from fats. Out of this, less than ten percent of the total calories should come from saturated fat and the remaining from unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats (2). Children should eat more unsaturated fats from different plant and animal foods, such as lean meat, avocado, nuts, seeds, oily fish, soy foods, and plant oils.
The next section shares some tips to ensure your child gets optimum nourishment from their diet.
Nutrition Tips For Children
- Consult a certified nutritionist. A nutrition expert can help plan an age-appropriate diet based on the child’s age, activity level, and overall health. Besides, they can help your child understand the importance of nutrition and learn to identify and convey diet-related issues, if any.
- Know the calorie requirements: How much energy a child needs depends on their gender, height, weight, age, activity level, and developmental stage. For instance, moderately active children between two and four years need 1000 to 1400kcal per day. On the other hand, active males between two and four years require 1000 to 1600kcal per day, whereas active females need 1000 to 1400kcal per day (2). So, know how many calories your child needs to plan a calorie-balanced diet for your child.
- Teach children calorie balance: About one in three children in the US is obese or overweight (6). The main cause for the same is excess calorie intake and reduced activity. So, encourage your child to do some physical activity and burn as many calories as they consume. Experts advise children to stay active throughout the day and indulge in 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity aerobic activity with bone and muscle strengthening exercises daily (7).
- Tell children about portions: Most children eat more food than they should, leading to overweight and obesity. Hence, it’s essential to teach them about portion control. Portion control means consuming a set quantity of food or beverage that’s just enough to satiate. Children should practice portion control always, even while eating healthy foods, such as fruits and grains.
- Break big meals into smaller ones: According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children should consume three meals and one to two snacks (8). So, serve your child well-balanced meals and snacks containing various healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, pulses, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats. To ensure children are eating healthy, serve them as many meals at home as possible.
- Focus on specific nutrients: Children require a well-balanced diet with special attention to certain nutrients, such as iron, calcium, folate, vitamin D, and dietary fiber. So, ensure you plan a well-balanced diet containing foods that can offer your child plenty of these nutrients to grow and develop healthily.
- Serve whole fruits: Fruit juices seem a quick snack for children. However, they usually lack fiber and contain lots of free sugar, which isn’t good for children’s health. Hence, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children limit their fruit juice intake and consume whole fruit instead (9). You can serve different seasonal, fresh fruits to your child in the form of fruit salad and whole fruit smoothies.
- Avoid or limit refined grains: The DGA 2020-2025 suggests that children between two and 13 years should consume 14g of dietary fiber per 1000kcal (2). To meet this requirement, children should consume fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, and limit the refined grain intake. It’s so because refined grains lack bran and germ, two vital parts of the grain that offer dietary fiber.
- Limit processed foods: Ready-to-eat processed foods, such as brownies, chips, fries, and biscuits, contain high amounts of saturated and trans fats, sugar, and sodium. Hence, regular consumption of processed foods is linked to several health problems, such as obesity and dental caries. So, serve your child fresh, home-cooked meals as much as possible and train them into reading food labels so that they can make healthy choices independently.
- Avoid or limit sweetened beverages: Soft drinks, energy drinks, and caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, are a source of sugar and caffeine in a child’s diet. Since excess sugar and caffeine can adversely affect health, children must be taught to limit their intake of such beverages. Instead, they should be served healthy beverages, such as coconut water and buttermilk, to help them develop healthy eating habits.
Besides these, be a role model for your child and practice healthy eating habits across meals at home or while eating outside. Childhood is a period of rapid growth and development. During this stage, children need optimum nourishment from meals and snacks.
So, plan a well-balanced diet containing foods from different food groups to fulfill your child’s needs. Involve your child in meal planning and preparation so that they can learn the importance of healthy eating.
- Child Nutrition Facts.
- Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025.
- Whole Grains.
- Nutrition: School-Age.
- Helping Your Child: Tips for Parents and Other Caregivers.
- Childhood Nutrition.
- How much physical activity do children need?
- When Should My Kids Snack?
- AAP Recommends No Fruit Juice for Children Under 1 Year.
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