Making Healthy Food Choices: Baby to Toddler to Teen

Nutrition is important to your child’s physical and mental development, no matter what age they are. Here are a few guidelines to help you make healthy food choices throughout your child’s life.

Babies: Got Milk?

Breast milk, formula or a combination of the two will provide almost every nutrient that your baby needs during its first year. Around the six-month mark, your baby should be ready for solid foods like cereal and pureed fruits, vegetables, and meats. Introduce a variety of options to your child, one at a time. The more foods you introduce to them, the more they may like, and the broader their menu will be. A healthy amount of fat is important for a baby’s developing brain, so don’t worry about keeping everything low-fat. They key is variety.

Toddlers:

From age 3-5 your child is going through growth spurts and so will their appetite. Don’t get frustrated when they don’t want to eat or they go through a picky phase. Continue to offer them a variety of healthy choices focusing on each of the five food groups.

Milk is still an important part of a toddler’s diet — the calcium is needed to develop strong, healthy bones and teeth. If they don’t like milk or experience lactose-intolerance, try these calcium-rich alternatives:

  • Lactose-free milk or soy milk
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Cereals
  • Waffles
  • Oatmeal
  • Tofu

Fiber is also very important for a growing child. Kids tend to lean towards a bland and starchy diet that includes chicken, pasta, cheese and fries. Eating foods with more fiber like fruits and vegetables will helps prevent constipation, heart disease, and aids digestion.

Grade-schoolers

As children go to school, they have more freedom to make choices in what they eat. Packing your child’s lunch is one way to help keep their options on the healthy side. Going over the lunch menu that the school offers is another way to encourage your child to make good choices and discuss the five food groups and why they’re important. The body needs carbohydrates, fats, sugar and sodium, but moderation is the key. Too much of these can lead to unneeded weight gain and other health problems.

Here is a simple breakdown of the five food groups and suggested servings for each:

  • Vegetables: 3-5 servings per day (1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, 3/4 cup of vegetable juice, or 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables)
  • Fruits: 2-4 servings per day (1/2 cup of sliced fruit, 3/4 cup of fruit juice, or a medium-size whole fruit)
  • Bread, cereal, or pasta: 6-11 servings per day (Each serving should equal 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of rice or pasta, or 1 ounce of cereal)
  • Protein: 2-3 servings of 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish per day (This group may also include 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for each ounce of lean meat)
  • Dairy: 2-3 servings per day (1 cup of low-fat milk or yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese)

Tweens and Teens

As children go through puberty, they need more calories to fuel the changes of the body and more calcium to build bone mass. Encourage your child to drink milk, eat yogurt or other calcium-rich foods. This is also a time where some kids may try to restrict their diet as they become more body conscious. Parents should pay attention to their child and recognize when unhealthy eating patterns develop, like too much fast food or skipping meals all together. Having family dinners at least a few days a week is a great way to promote healthy eating and simply connect.

As teen girls start menstruating, they will need to increase their iron intake. Foods high in iron include spinach and broccoli, cereals, beans, quinoa, red meat or tofu. Teen boys will need to increase their protein intake as they’re growth rate increases. High protein choices include eggs, nuts, Greek yogurt or milk, broccoli, quinoa, and lean beef or tuna.

From toddler to teen, water is vital in order for the body to function properly. Did you know water makes up more than half of a kid's body weight? Although there is not a set amount of water that a child should drink, encouraging them to sip on it throughout the day, especially when it's cold outside or they're participating in physical activities. Avoiding sugar drinks, juices and sodas is always encouraged. If your child doesn't want water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or a few pieces of fruit to sweeten it.

Getting your child to become a healthy eater may feel like an uphill battle at times, but it's worth the fight. Children's Medical Center is in your corner and ready to answer any questions you may have.

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