Nutrition For Kids: 10 Dietary Tips For Steady Growth

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Maintaining proper nutrition for kids is essential for steady growth and development along with a healthy weight gain. A healthy weight helps prevent and minimize the risk for health problems like type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and different heart disorders (1). Moreover, a balanced nutritional diet can provide adequate immunity to children against infectious diseases.

Therefore, ensure to include beverages and foods from all the food groups in your childs diet. You may also involve your child participate in meal planning to teach them about the benefits of a nutritious meal.

This post will guide you through some nutritional needs and nutiritonal tips for your child to meet their nutritional requirements.

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)

Nutrition needs for kids

Source: Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025

  1. Whole grains: Whole grains are a good source of energy, dietary fiber, and micronutrients, such as B vitamins, 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 examples of whole-grain foods are oats, quinoa, brown rice, red rice, and whole-wheat bread.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 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.
  1. 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

Here are some practical nutrition tips that you can follow to effectively meet your child’s nutritional needs (4)(5).

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 caloric intake and reduced activity. So, encourage your child to do some physical activity. 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).
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 refined grain intake. This is because refined grains lack the bran and germ parts of the grain, two vital components that offer dietary fiber.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What happens if a child doesn’t get enough nutrients?

Lack of proper nutrition in children can have a lasting negative impact on their growth and development. Poor nutrition can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which can cause a weakened immune system and give way to various diseases (10).

2. How does poor nutrition affect the child’s behavior?

Malnourished children may have smaller brains than others due to lesser glia or supporting cells, delayed myelination, and dendritic growth. This, in turn, can lead to slower motor and language development and cognitive and behavioral impairment. Children with poor nutrition may also have a lower IQ and poor performance in school (11).

It is necessary that children get the adequate amount of nutrition and energy needed to have proper development and growth. To make sure you meet your child’s nutritional requirements, it is essential that you be persistent and try giving them whole grains, fruits, lean protein, and vegetables in different forms and ways. Also, make sure you consult a certified nutritionist to plan the ideal diet for your child based on their age and activity. Be a role model for your child and inculcate healthy eating and lifestyle habits in them.

Key Pointers

  • Including food from all groups such as grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, and fats in each meal can help ensure the child gets optimum nutrition.
  • A certified nutritionist can help you design a meal plan depending on the child’s age, height, weight, and nutritional needs.
  • Lead by an example. Eating healthy food yourself will encourage children to follow the same.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Child Nutrition Facts.
    https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm
  2. Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025.
    https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf
  3. Whole Grains.
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/
  4. Nutrition: School-Age.
    https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=school-aged-child-nutrition–90-P02280
  5. Helping Your Child: Tips for Parents and Other Caregivers.
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/healthy-eating-physical-activity-for-life/helping-your-child-tips-for-parents
  6. Childhood Nutrition.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Childhood-Nutrition.aspx
  7. How much physical activity do children need?
    https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm
  8. When Should My Kids Snack?
    https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/when-should-my-kids-snack
  9. AAP Recommends No Fruit Juice for Children Under 1 Year.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Recommends-No-Fruit-Juice-for-Children-Under-1-Year.aspx
  10. Ai Yue et al. (2016); Nutritional Deficiencies the Absence of Information and Caregiver Shortcomings: A Qualitative Analysis of Infant Feeding Practices in Rural China.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4830571/#:~:text=Poor%20infant%20and%20child%20nutritionaged%20six%20to%20twelve%20months.
  11. How does nutrition affect the developing brain.
    https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1372-how-does-nutrition-affect-the-developing-brain
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Dina Totosegis

(RD)
Dina Totosegis is a registered dietitian specializing in pediatrics. She has graduated from McGill University with Bachelors in Physiology as well as Dietetics and Human Nutrition. She started working in wellness clinics and fitness clubs in Montreal, Canada, and Austin, US, helping individuals establish a healthy way of life through nutritious food, an active lifestyle, and a positive mindset.  Since... more

Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more

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