Whether your child is a picky eater, snacker, or type to try anything, the right amount and mix of nutrients help them build healthy brains and bodies. Especially between 4 and 13 years old, children experience major physical and mental growth. Healthy eating fuels these changes.
“It is essential that children eat a balanced diet that involves fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and a small amount of healthy fats. A balanced diet will provide virtually all of the nutrients children need, ”says Susanna Huh, MD, associate director of the Center of Nutrition at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Which nutrients are most important for children’s growth, how much should they eat and why? Here’s a quick list to help you prepare great meals and snacks.
It strengthens the muscles and other tissues of the body of children. In addition, it helps them strengthen their immune system.
How much children need: 3 to 5 ounces per day for children 2 to 8 years old, or 5 to 8 ounces for children 10 to 14 years old.
Good sources: chicken, eggs, fish, lean meats, milk, nuts, turkey, yogurt, string cheese, peanut butter and edamame.
This nutrient helps you make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, and it helps children grow taller. Without it, they can suffer from anemia.
How Much Children Need: About 10 milligrams per day for ages 4 to 8. After that, 8 milligrams per day.
Good sources: Red meat, beans, green leafy vegetables, tuna, eggs, beans, iron fortified cereals.
It builds strong, healthy bones.
How much children need: 600 international units per day for children of all ages.
Good Sources: Vitamin D is rare in foods, but you can find it added to some dairy products and grains. Children may need a multivitamin to get enough, says dietitian Kathy Pertzborn, RD. Sunlight can also give children D, but don’t let them take too much – it increases their risk of skin cancer.
It also builds strong bones, which store nutrients for years.
How much do children need: 1000 milligrams per day for children 4 to 8 years old and 1300 milligrams per day for children 9 to 13 years old.
Good sources: Dairy products like milk and fortified soy milk, tofu, and dry grains. Serve the children 2 cups of milk a day. Avoid dark sodas, which contain phosphoric acid and make it harder for children’s bones to absorb calcium.
Fat gets a bad rap, but the good fats are essential for the growth of the brain and nerves, especially in infants and toddlers. They also help in a healthy metabolism, blood clotting and allow the body to absorb vitamins.
How Much Do Children Need: 30% of their overall diet should be fat, mostly unsaturated.
Good sources: Breast milk for infants; vegetable oils like olive, safflower, corn or soy, or proteins like fish or chicken for children over 2 years old. The fatty acids in salmon, flax seeds or walnuts are also healthy for children.
This nutrient helps children strengthen their brains and immune systems, promotes healing of cuts and scrapes, and allows their bodies to absorb iron.
How much do children need: 25 milligrams per day for children 4 to 8 years old and 45 milligrams per day for children 9 to 13 years old.
Good sources: Fresh fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, broccoli, kiwis, cabbage, peppers and fresh fruit juices.