Children's Nutrition Guide


As children grow up, it is very important that good nutrition be a part of their early years leading to adulthood. Most of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the parents, who need to teach good nutrition habits to their children.

In the United States, about one-third of children are either overweight or obese. These numbers show that more and more children are not getting the proper nutrition that they need, or that they are eating foods that contribute to weight gain and other weight-related issues. By knowing what foods to eat and not to eat, kids can have a better chance of growing up healthy.

The sooner that children learn about healthy nutrition and develop good eating habits, the more likely they are to carry these habits into their adult lives. Starting early can help reduce the risk of various weight-related diseases and conditions that people may develop as adults. Nutrition is important at every age, so it’s best to get a head start.


Children’s Dietary Requirements

Dietary requirements for children are different from those of adults. It is important for parents to understand what foods are beneficial to their kids, what foods can be detrimental, and how much of certain foods their children should be eating. By setting healthy goals, parents can start their children off on the right foot when it comes to eating healthy.

Children of all ages can benefit from various foods that are high in nutrients. These foods include fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy.

For vegetables (1-2 cups a day), children should have a variety of servings on a weekly basis. This can include fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables, as long as they are low in sodium. It’s good to mix in colors like dark greens, reds, and oranges. Your child may not like the taste of all vegetables, so it is important to test some out to see what they like best.

Fruits (1-1.5 cups a day) should also be found in a balanced, highly-nutritious diet. Fresh fruits are very healthy, but canned and frozen fruits have nutritional value as well. Dry fruits are also recommended, but eating too much can add more calories than desired. Parents should also check out the labels on certain packaged fruits to make sure there isn’t too much added sugar. Fruits packaged in 100% juice are lowest in added sugar, making them healthier.healthy-snacks-for-kids.jpg

The right proteins (2-5 ounces a day) can be very nutritious for children. Although protein usually includes meat, it is important to be selective about the type of meat a child eats in order to stay healthy. Lean meats and poultry, like chicken or turkey, are low in fat and high in nutrition. Seafood, beans, eggs, and nuts are also healthy proteins. Red meat and meats with high fat or sodium content should be limited.

When it comes to dairy (2-2.5 cups a day), children should drink milk that is either fat-free or low in fat, such as one or two percent milk. Yogurt and cheese are also good options, as long as they don’t have too many additives. Parents should check the labels on these items before giving them to their children.

Grains (3-6 ounces a day) can be healthy items as well. These include whole-wheat breads, brown rice, and more. White bread, white rice, and pasta consumption should be moderate because they can be high in calories, less filling than other foods, and could lead to obesity or blood sugar issues when they make up too large a portion of the diet.

Daily recommendations for each food depends on a child’s age, gender, growth, and level of activity. As a child gets older, their servings of each type of food will likely increase slightly. It is best to pay attention to labels and consult a pediatrician to determine what levels are best for your child. Setting nutritional goals for yourself and your child is a great way to get them eating healthy, and can be a habit that they carry with them as they get older, which will result in better health and quality of life overall.


Benefits of Healthy Eating

There are plenty of benefits to a healthy diet, especially in children. In the formative years of a child’s life, building good nutritional habits can carry over to the adult years, making nutrition and good health a lot easier to maintain.

 One of the biggest reasons to eat healthy is weight. By eating foods that are high in nutrition and low in fat, a child will be less likely to become overweight. Weight gain is typically the first visible sign that a proper diet is not being utilized. By eating healthily, children can maintain a proper weight for their age while remaining slender and gaining lean muscle. This makes exercise and physical activity easier to do without become fatigued quickly.

Other benefits of an appropriate diet include reduced risk of certain conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, tooth decay, and cavities.


Consequences of Unhealthy Eating

Just as there are many benefits to a healthy diet, there are plenty of consequences of poor nutrition. When a person eats poorly, it usually means they are eating more calories than their body needs. This can lead to weight gain, low energy, and even obesity. Poor nutrition can also increase the risk of certain cancers like lung, prostate, and stomach, as well as heart disease. Although even obese children are not at high risk of having a heart attack, it can become a serious issue when they are older.

Undernutrition is also a risk for those who do not have the means or available access to healthier foods. This can lead to under-eating or not getting the necessary nutrients the body needs. In children, undernutrition can hinder physical development and the ability to learn in school.


Foods to Avoid

Most children have a hard time staying away from sugar and carbohydrates. Sugar is in their cereals, candy, and many other things kids like to eat. However, sugar (particularly added sugar) is the big food that needs to be avoided when it comes to a healthy diet.

Sugar is naturally occurring in foods like fruit or milk. These are considered good sugars and are essential to nutrition. However, foods with added sugar should be limited as much as possible. Added sugar can include sweeteners, corn syrup, and brown sugar. Many packaged food items marketed toward children can contain large amounts of added sugar. Parents should be mindful of the foods they give to their kids by reading the nutrition labels on these items and by limiting how much they let their children have. Putting a limit on caffeinated, sugary drinks and sweets is an important factor in a child’s nutrition. However, sweets can certainly be allowed in moderation to prevent overindulgence.

Other foods to avoid are those that contain trans fats and saturated fats. These fats are found in red meat, some poultry, and high-fat dairy products, like whole milk. There are healthy fats that are found in vegetable oil, nut oil, and other non partially-hydrogenated oil. Healthy fats are found in seafood, nuts, and other items. This doesn’t mean that a child should never be allowed to have a hamburger or other red meat. It is important to practice moderation while focusing on foods that contain healthy fats for a majority of meals.


Strategies for Healthy Attitudes

Child nutrition is more than just putting healthy foods in front of kids and that being that. It’s no secret that a lot of children just aren’t big fans of vegetables or other healthy foods. It’s a known fact of life that most foods that aren’t healthy taste delicious. Children know this as well as anyone.

The good news is that there are ways to get a child to eat their vegetables and try new things. It just takes a little bit of strategy.

When introducing a child to a new food, it is a good idea to keep it small. For instance, start them out with just one small piece of a vegetable, like a single pea or bean. The child can eat the small bite and then have a food they like as they slowly work their way up to bigger portions a day at a time. If they end up liking the taste and texture of the food, they can have more of it.

Although a child may eat more of a particular food day after day, it is also important to create variety. A child shouldn’t eat the same vegetable for many days in a row. If their foods are rotated, they will get used to eating something different every day.

A good practice for children at mealtime is to let them play with or examine their food. If they are pushing their food around or taking it apart with their fork, they may be trying to become familiar with it. Having them actually eat the food is a step that can eventually follow. Also, don’t make it a rule that they have to eat everything on their plate. A child may only eat a small amount at one meal and may eat more at the next. They are still getting comfortable with their own eating habits. Developing good eating habits to children at a young age will make it easier to introduce new and healthy foods as they get older.


Childhood Obesity

Obesity in children has become an epidemic in the United States. Nearly one-third of children in America are considered obese. It has become a serious health problem that cannot be ignored by the parents of an overweight child. Action must be taken even at an early age to prevent health issues in the future.

Obesity in children and adults is often determined by calculating body mass index, or BMI. BMI is determined by a person’s height and weight. There are several calculators available online to determine BMI.

The main contributor to childhood obesity is diet. Changes to the way we eat over the past several decades have also been an influence. People are eating out at restaurants more than before, which means they are typically eating larger portions of foods with higher calorie contents. School lunches have also been known to have more calories than food that is consumed at home.

In addition to larger food portions, soda sizes have increased over the years. What was once considered to be a medium soda is now a small, and a large is considered to be a medium. Over the last 20 years, children have increased their intake of soda drinking soda by 300 percent. In addition to sodas, kids are consuming juice drinks and sport drinks with high amounts of added sugar and calories. Sugary drinks like these account for 20 percent of overweight children.

In addition to poor eating habits, children today are much less active than in decades past. Fewer children are going outside to engage in physical play than those who are staying indoors watching TV or playing video games. Children that eat in front of the TV tend to consume unhealthy foods and snacks that have a higher sugar and caloric intake.

Children that struggle with obesity have a much higher chance of struggling with the same issues as an adult. Obesity can also lead to conditions like diabetes, depression, and other physical and psychological ailments.

The best way to treat and prevent childhood obesity is by setting goals for health and diet. Eating healthy foods, limiting foods with high calories and sugar are the best ways to start the process of treatment and prevention. Starting exercise routines at young ages is also important to instill the value of physical activity early in life. Playing outside on swing sets and other jungle gym equipment is a good way to get young children involved in activities that they enjoy.

Parents play the most important role when it comes to the nutrition of their children. They cannot rely on school alone to teach good habits. Parents can help out with creating good habits and leading by example when it comes to engaging in healthy eating habits and exercise.

Obesity doesn’t have to be something that follows a child through their life. With help from parents and doctors, a child can develop habits that will contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Take a look at the infographic below for more tips, ideas, and facts.


Recipes to Try

Vegetable Lasagne

  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce
  • 2 cups low fat cottage cheese
  • 1 ounce cream cheese
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 ounces lasagna noodles
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Dice carrots, green pepper, and onion. Spray a skillet with cooking spray, heat over medium.  Saute the veggies until tender. Add the spaghetti sauce and heat through.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together cottage cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella (reserving a little for the top), Parmesan cheese, salt, and eggs.
  4. Spread 1 cup sauce mixture into the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish. Layer 1/2 each uncooked lasagna noodles, cheese mixture, and sauce. Repeat layers and top with remaining mozzarella cheese.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil for last 10 minutes of baking.
  6. Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes before cutting.


Mini Turkey Burgers

  • 2 slices white sandwich bread
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 2 ounces cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 small onion, grated
  • Coarse salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 12 party-size rolls
  • Lettuce, slice tomatoes, ketchup, and mustard

1. In a food processor, pulse bread until fine crumbs form. Transfer to a medium bowl; add turkey, cheese, and onion. Season with salt and pepper, and mix gently just until combined. Form twelve 2-inch patties (about 3 tablespoons each).

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook patties until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Serve on rolls with lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, and mustard, if desired.



Strawberry Banana Overnight Oats

  • ½ cup strawberry yogurt
  • ½ cup vanilla almond milk (or any milk)
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup fresh strawberries , diced
  • ½ banana , sliced
  • 1-2 Tablespoons chia seeds (optional)
  1. Mix yogurt and milk together. 
  2. Stir in oats.
  3. Stir in fruit and chia seeds (if using). 
  4. Refrigerate overnight. 
  5. Top with additional fruit and or honey in the morning, if desired. Enjoy!