Nutrition for children is formed on the same principles as nutrition for adults. Everyone needs the same types of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fat, minerals, protein, and vitamins. Children, however, at different ages need different amounts of specific nutrients.
So what’s the best formula for supporting your child’s growth and development? Check out these basics of nutrition for girls and boys of different ages, based on the latest dietary guidelines for Americans.
Consider these nutrient-dense foods:
- Protein. Choose lean meats, poultry and seafood, beans, eggs, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
- Fruits. Encourage your child to eat a variety of fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruit, rather than juice. If your child drinks juice, make sure it is 100 percent juice with no added sugars and limit their portions. Look for canned fruits that say they’re light or packaged in their own juice, which means they’re low in added sugar. Keep in mind that a quarter of a cup of dried fruit counts as a cup of fruit. When consumed in excess, dried fruits can provide additional calories.
- Vegetables. Serve a variation of fresh, canned, frozen or dried vegetables. Try to provide a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, starches and the like, every week. When choosing canned or frozen vegetables, look for low sodium options.
- Cereals. Choose whole grains, like whole wheat bread, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, or brown or wild rice. Limit refined grains such as pasta, rice, and white bread.
- Dairy. Encourage your child to eat and drink fat-free or low-fat dairy products, like cheese, milk, yogurt, or fortified soy drinks.
Try to limit your child’s calories:
- Sugar added. Limit added sugars. Natural sugars, such as those in fruit and milk, are not added sugars. Examples of added sugars include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, honey, and other sweeteners. Check nutrition labels. Choose cereals with a minimum of added sugars. Avoid drinks with added sugars like soda, sports and energy drinks.
- Saturated and trans fats. Limit saturated fat – fats that come primarily from animal sources, such as red meat, poultry, and whole dairy products. Look for ways to replace saturated fat with nut and vegetable oils, which provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E. Healthier fats are also naturally present in avocados, nuts, olives, and seafood. Limit your intake of trans fats by avoiding foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil.
- Sodium. In the United States, most children have too much sodium in their daily diet. Motivate snacking on fruits and vegetables instead of chips and cookies. Check nutrition labels and look for a product that is low in sodium.
If you have any questions about child nutrition or specific concerns about your child’s nutrition, speak to your child’s doctor or a registered dietitian.