Healthy Eating for Children

Healthy eating for children

It is not an exaggeration to say that feeding your children a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for their future. A child’s proper growth and development is largely dependent on whether or not they receive all the nutrients they need in the appropriate amounts for their age, gender and activity level. In addition, the food patterns that you establish for your children while they are young, will have a significant effect on their health throughout their lives.

Calories count

After the first year, when a child has left infancy behind, gains in height and weight will be fairly steady with a few growth spurts on their way to adolescence. Although individual calorie needs may vary during this period, here is a general calorie guideline to help you plan your child’s diet.

The lower number is for children who are not very active and female, and the higher number for very active children and males, with all of the variations in between. Boys generally require about 15% more calories than girls.

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines and not a strict requirement.

-2-3 year olds 1,000-1,400 calories each day

-4-8 year olds 1,200-2,000 calories each day

-9-13 year olds 1,600-2,600 calories each day

Planning healthy eating for children by food group

you don't like counting calories, another way to approach the daily food requirements for children is to look at the five food groups. These include Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Dairy and Protein. Your child should be eating foods from all of these food groups each day with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with some dairy and protein foods as part of each meal.

One easy way to do this is to make sure that at least three different food groups are included with each meal and two with snacks. Mix and match the food groups so that you include several servings from each throughout the day. Snacks are an important part of a child’s diet, so make them count towards the day’s nutritional needs.

What about fats?

Although fats are not listed as a food group, they do play a part in healthy eating for children. It is generally recommended that fat intake should not exceed around 30% of a child’s total calorie intake, with an emphasis on unsaturated oils, nut butters (not for very young children), and fish (although fish presents its own problems for children due to high levels of toxic chemicals).

There is some controversy about whether children should be given low fat or non-fat dairy products, especially when they are very young, but if they are getting enough fat from other sources this should not be a problem. It is almost never advisable to put children on an extremely low fat diet, since they need sufficient fat in their diet for proper development.

Kids need fiber, too.

In addition to promoting good digestion and elimination, the fiber in many carbohydrate foods can contribute to a healthy colon and decreased exposure to harmful toxins. Sufficient fiber in the diet has also been associated with decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and irritable bowel syndrome.

A rule of thumb for determining the amount of fiber a child needs is “age-plus-five,” meaning add five to the child’s age to determine the amount of fiber they need. (i.e. an eight-year-old would need about 13 grams of fiber [8+5] each day.)

Skipping meals

Since children are developing so fast, they use up nutrients quickly. Each meal and snack throughout the day is important in maintaining a steady flow of energy and nutrition that the child needs to grow, learn and avoid sickness. For this reason, skipping meals should not be a regular occurrence in your child’s life. Breakfast, in particular is important, since they will need to replenish their store of nutrients after a night’s sleep.

School-age children are particularly vulnerable to problems associated with skipping breakfast, since it will affect their ability to concentrate and absorb new concepts as well as make them more susceptible to any illness among their classmates.

What does a healthy child look like?

There are definite signs that you can look for to indicate that your child is well nourished.

-Is the child growing taller and putting on weight proportionate with his height? 

-Is the child’s hair shiny and firmly attached to his/her scalp?

-Are the child’s teeth white and firmly attached to his/her gums?

-Does the child have bright eyes that properly adjust to changes in light?

-Is the child’s skin firm and smooth with a healthy color, free of dryness or scaliness?

-Does the child have good muscle tone and posture?

-Is the child’s tongue red and bumpy?

-Does the child digest food well, have a regular heart beat and good reflexes?

-Does the child seem cooperative, cheerful and engaged, at least much of the time?

-If you answered yes to these questions, your child is most likely eating a healthy diet. However, if you answered no to one or more of them, you may want to examine your child’s eating habits or consult a professional to determine if there is a nutrient deficiency.

Children are getting fatter at a younger age.

No one is happy to hear that obesity has become a serious health problem in our society, but it is particularly difficult to hear that this problem is affecting the most vulnerable in the population—our children. 

Even with all the scientific and medical advances, it may be that this current generation of children will be the first group not to live longer, healthier lives than their parents.

Obesity related disorders, such as Type II Diabetes and Hypertension, are being diagnosed at younger ages. In addition, overweight kids are experiencing difficulties that used to be associated only with adults, such as joint pain, heart problems and even social isolation.

What can you do?

Here are some tips to help you make sure your kids are eating healthy:

-Take your child for a physical check-up with a pediatrician to rule out any problems.

-Limit or eliminate, soda and sugary fruit drinks, from your children's diet, and encourage them to drink water instead.

-Model healthy eating habits, by choosing healthy foods yourself.

-Make healthy eating for children fun by creating attractive and even whimsical menu items.

-Resist rewarding your kids with sugary treats, but reward them instead with attention and other non-food incentives.

-Eat more meals at home, since fast food is generally loaded with unhealthy fat-and empty calories.

-Eat together as a family whenever you can. A recent study showed a connection between the decline of family meals and the increase in childhood obesity.

-Educate yourself and your children about which foods are healthy, along with the matchless benefits of healthy eating.

-It's not rocket science!

In simple terms, healthy eating for children involves providing your kids with a variety of nutritious foods from all of the food groups on a daily basis. Teaching them to choose and enjoy foods that are good for them will give them a huge advantage as they grow up and take on the challenges of adulthood.

I hope this page helped you learn more about healthy eating for children.

Click here to go from Healthy Eating for Children page to Healthy Eating support home page.

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