Nutrition for children

As a parent, you are modeling behavior for your child. If she sees you eating healthy foods, she will be more apt to follow suit. Consider it an opportunity to revisit your own food choices and perhaps improve your own eating habits for the benefit of all family members.

A healthy diet includes:

  • Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products.
  • Lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • A diet low in salt, added sugar and artificial colors and flavors.

Good choices for your young child should include:

Food Group Most Days Some Days
Whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta, and rice Whole-grain mini bagel or English muffin
Pretzels, baked chips
Graham crackers, crackers, fig bars, vanilla wafers
Low-sugar, high-fiber granola bars and baked goods
Donut or Danish
Fried potato or corn chips
Cookie or cupcake
Vegetable Baked potato
Raw or cooked vegetables
French fries
Creamy cole slaw
Fruit Fresh fruit, dried fruit, and 100% fruit juice (unsweetened) Pies or desserts with fruit
Low fat milk, yogurt, and cheese Reduced-fat or skim milk
Reduced-fat cottage cheese or reduced-fat cheese
Low-fat yogurt or low-fat frozen yogurt
Ice cream
Meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts Baked or grilled skinless chicken
Baked fish
Beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter (1 to 2 tablespoons)
Fried fish sticks
Fried chicken fingers

The preschool food pyramid describes the components of a good diet.

Use the MyPyramid Plan as a guide to help you feed your preschool child. Do not be concerned if your preschooler does not eat the exact amounts suggested.

Mealtime is always a struggle! Suggestions?

It’s normal for children to pick and choose their favorite foods. Remember, you’re the one who decides what is offered, when and where. Let your child decide how much she will eat, if she will eat, and what she will eat of the foods you offer.

Offer foods from the basic food groups – serve three small meals and 2 to 3 snacks a day – and hold any favored food for later in the meal.

Fear of new foods is normal. You may offer them tofu 50 times before she decides to nibble at it. (For some reason, cookies are always appealing.) Hang in there! Eventually, she’ll decide that they love some of those healthy choices. As a rule, don’t feed your child in the car or in front of the TV.

Make servings very small at first (1 tsp to 1 Tbsp). Provide a second helping after the “courtesy bites.” Don’t fuss over a child who won’t eat what she’s served. She may need to see a new food many times before she accepts it.

Don’t bargain (e.g. “If you eat your peas, you can have a cookie”). In your child’s eyes, this makes certain foods more desirable than others. And don’t threaten or force a child to clean her plate.

Additional suggestions:

  • Ensure that your child is hungry at mealtimes by keeping them from constant grazing and beverage consumption between meals.
  • Avoid letting your child be a “milk-aholic.” Limit milk intake to no more than 3 cups a day to avoid filling your child’s tummy with milk instead of food.
  • Don’t be a short-order cook, making only what your child likes. Offer small servings of every food served to everyone else.
  • Consider the “back-up meal” approach. Pick a nutritious, easy-to-make food that is not her favorite (e.g. PB&J on whole wheat bread). If your child refuses your meal completely, give her the same back-up meal every time. Eventually, she will tire of it and decide she’d rather try what everyone else is served.
  • Model good eating behavior. Eat because you’re hungry (not because you’re stressed or upset). Enjoy mealtime with your family. Avoid discussions about your weight issues or dieting in front of your children.

Does my child need vitamin supplements?

Vitamins and minerals are important elements of the total nutritional requirements of any growing child. The best way to ensure that she receives the necessary vitamins and minerals is by offering a balanced diet. To guarantee that your child receives enough vitamin D, offer 400 iU (until age 1 year, and 600 iU after age 1 year) each day in food form, or as a supplement. If you are concerned that your child has a poorly balanced diet, you may offer an over-the-counter vitamin with adequate vitamin D while you work toward better eating habits.

Does my child need a low fat diet?

Many children in the U.S. consume too much fat, calories, carbohydrates and protein. Often, a child’s future body proportions are determined during their earliest years of life. Allowing her to become obese sets the stage for a life-long struggle with weight problems and potential health risks.

Before age 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) generally does not recommend limiting fat intake because of the critical importance of fat for early brain development.

If your baby is significantly heavier than she is tall, if parent(s) struggle with weight problems, or if there is a strong family history of obesity and its complications, we may recommend a low-fat diet after 12 months. If you think your child falls into one of these categories, please ask. We may recommend a low-fat diet following her first birthday.

After age 2, your child should be offered a diet that’s lower in fat. In general, about 30 percent of a child’s daily calories can include fat, preferably healthier fats, such as those found vegetable oil, fish and low-fat dairy products.

Unhealthy attitudes about weight and dieting begin early on. Try to avoid making harsh judgments about people’s weight (especially your own) in front of your child. Model a love for yourself by placing less importance on appearances. Your children love you for who you are inside, not the size of your clothes.


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Is my child getting the proper nutrition?

When it comes to children’s nutritional needs, parents often have questions: How many calories should my child be consuming? Is he or she getting enough calcium and iron? Are they eating too much fat?