Child nutrition guidelines for healthy kids: Find out how your child should be eating, and some fun ways to get him to do it

Is your child eating enough, and of the right things? It’s a question many parents worry over – often times needlessly. The first thing you should know is that if you’re offering your child a variety of healthy foods and allowing him to eat as much as he likes, he is eating a good diet. Unless there’s an obvious medical problem, he is fine.

What constitutes that healthy diet? And how much is enough? It depends on how old the child is. First, cow’s milk should never be given to any child under 1 year of age. Consult a pediatrician on what to give your child instead (ordinarily formula or breast milk). Once a child is 1 year old, give him whole milk. Around age 2, switch to 2%. Once the child is at least four years old, he can drink whatever the rest of the family drinks. Ask your pediatrician, because the fat in the milk depends on the child’s size, not only his age.

Child nutrition guidelines for healthy kids

Milk is an extremely important food for young children (indeed, for anyone) because it promotes bone growth and healthy teeth. Make sure your child is getting plenty of milk, but remember that it’s not a miracle food. Especially once your child begins to eat a diverse, “adult” diet, he will not drink as much milk as he used to, and don’t expect him to. A lot of milk means a lot of calories, and could make him gain too much weight. Also, don’t put cereal or any other additions in his bottles or cups of milk. Always give him plain milk.

Introduce your infant or toddler to new foods one at a time, in case they cause allergies. Don’t give your child anything tough or likely to cause allergies (like raspberries, strawberries, steak, etc.) until he is at least two years old, or when your pediatrician advises that it’s okay. Also be careful with any food that others in your family are allergic too.

Offer your child choices of fresh fruit or vegetables for any snacks that you give him, as well as part of meals. If a child complains he is hungry, give him some fresh fruit (bananas and apples are easy to keep around) and some water. Always give your child water when he is thirsty, although you could also give him 100% fruit juice. The more “natural” foods you give him, the better. Even a child as young as 1 year can be given real juice (usually diluted), or frozen peas to play with and eat. Fresh vegetables are very important; offer them with every meal and for snacks.

Fruit smoothies are a fun way to get kids to eat well. You can prepare them with fresh fruit, ice, and plain yogurt (if your kids like yogurt), or you can prepare them with fruit juice and frozen fruit. Aim to give your child about 6 – 8 oz. of the smoothie at one time, which is roughly one serving of fruit. You can also throw in a cooked carrot, which the child won’t even taste. You can also freeze 100% fruit juice in ice cube trays for fun popsicles in the summer.

At dinner, mix some vegetables into a casserole or stir-fry, or put them on the side. The more you expose children to different healthy foods at this time, the more likely they’ll be to choose them on their own later. Baby carrots can be a fun addition to any meal, as well as apple slices (and perhaps a little low-fat caramel dip for a treat).

In addition, children need lean meat and whole grains. Serve them plenty of fish, chicken, turkey, pork, and beef – what exactly you serve depends on the family’s tastes. Try to serve them baked, broiled, or grilled – don’t serve them fried very often. If a child never really has fried food now, he won’t develop a taste for it (most likely). Allow him 2 or 3 oz. of meat for his main dish; he may or may not eat it all. Adjust portions to what your individual child will eat and don’t restrict him when he is young. He will eat what his body needs and not more than that, unless he is taught to eat more. His body will tell him how much is enough; it’s best not to try to tell him otherwise.

Whole grains are important. Serve your child wheat bread, brown rice, bran muffins (throw in some fresh blueberries for extra fun and flavor), and any other whole grains you have. White bread is not a BAD thing to eat, but it doesn’t have the nutrition in it that the whole grains do. It also tends to have more simple sugars, which turn into quick energy and burn away. Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains are better.

Never try to put your child on a diet, unless his pediatrician recommends one. If your child is eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat, and drinking plenty of water, he is fine. If he is on the heavy side, try to get him moving during the day more; don’t restrict his food in any manner. He will likely outgrow his chubby phase.

Also, never make food a reward or a punishment, because it attaches emotional meaning to it. A child who cannot have dessert (which should not be served regularly, and should be served only in small portions) until he finishes his meal will attach particular significance to that dessert and will want it more than his meal, because it is “special.” Dessert should be a rare, nice-tasting treat that people have because they occasionally want it, not because they “need” it or can’t have it because they were “bad.” Don’t refuse to let a child eat because of bad behavior, either. Take away his toys or his privileges, but don’t use food as a punishment.

Get your child started a path of healthy eating right from the beginning. If he enjoys this food right from the start, and rarely has anything else, he will come to expect and like this food while his peers are eating burgers and fries all the time. No, eating fried, sweet, or other “bad” foods on occasion won’t hurt your child. However, it should be rare that he eats these foods. When he does, it should be a special occasion for all, but not an emotional reward.

As long as your child is offered these healthy foods in good combinations on a daily basis, he will eat what he needs and will stay healthy. Think about a vitamin syrup or tablet if you’re worried about that; talk to your pediatrician about which one.

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