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Healthy Diet for Children 1 to 11 Years of Age


What is a healthy diet for children 1 to 11 years of age? A healthy meal plan has enough nutrients for children to grow well and be healthy. The amount of nutrients your child needs depends on his age and his physical activity level. A healthy meal plan limits unhealthy foods that are high in fat and sugar. This can help your child stay at a healthy weight and prevent certain health problems later in life. These health problems include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Which foods should I avoid feeding my child?

  • Foods high in fat and sugar do not have the nutrients he needs to be healthy. These foods include snack foods (potato chips, candy, and other sweets), juice, fruit drinks, and soda. If he snacks on these foods throughout the day, he may eat fewer healthy foods during meals. Added snacks and drinks between meals may cause your child to gain too much weight. Your child may also develop anemia (low levels of iron in his blood). Anemia can affect your child's growth and ability to learn.

  • Foods that cause your child to choke include hot dogs, raw vegetables, hard candy, and nuts. These foods may cause children under 5 years old to choke. Young children who do not have all their teeth cannot chew and swallow these foods easily.

What are some guidelines for feeding my child who is 1 to 6 years old?

  • Children between 1 and 2 years are still developing eating skills. Food may end up on the floor or on your child instead of in his mouth. Be patient and let your child learn how to use a spoon to feed himself. Avoid giving your child a fork or knife until he is able to use it without hurting himself.

  • Give your child whole milk until he is 2 years old. His body needs the extra fat in whole milk to help him grow. After he turns 2 years old, he can drink skim or low-fat milk (such as 1 or 2% milk).

  • Feed your child a variety of healthy foods from all of the food groups. You do not need to count calories, make him stop eating, or tell him to eat more. Most children know how much food their body needs at one time. Let your child decide how much of the food he wants to eat. Give him small portions and then let him have another serving if he asks for one.

  • Do not force your child to eat new foods if he does not want to. Offer the food again after a few days, and let your child decide if he wants to eat it. Children need to see a new food as many as 8 or 10 times before they are willing to eat it.

  • Small children can be very picky. Your child may like a certain food on one day and then decide he does not like it the next day. He may eat only 1 or 2 foods for a whole week or longer. Your child may not like mixed foods. These eating habits are normal. Offer 2 or 3 different foods at each meal.

What are some guidelines for feeding my child who is 6 to 11 years old?

  • Provide low-fat healthy foods for your child at home. These include lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. If your child regularly eats high-fat foods, this may become a habit as he gets older. Avoid keeping high-fat foods in your home. Examples of high-fat foods include fried foods, chips, and many snack foods. A high-fat diet can cause children to become overweight and develop other health problems when they are adults.

  • Teach your child how to make healthy food choices at school. A healthy lunch may include a sandwich with protein such as lean meat, cheese, or peanut butter. It could also include a fruit, vegetable, and milk. If your child takes his own lunch, it should be kept cold so that it does not spoil.

What are some guidelines for children of all ages?

  • Offer your child regular meals and snacks and let him decide how much to eat. Your child will be very hungry on some days and want to eat less on other days. He may want to eat more on days when he is more active. He may also eat more if he is going through a growth spurt.

  • Make meal and snack times calm and fun for your child. Turn the television off and have your child sit at the table to eat. It is a good idea to eat meals and snacks with your child. Children like to eat the same kind of food they see their parents eating. If your child sees you eat healthy food, he will learn to like healthy food too.

  • Do not offer food as a reward. This teaches your child to eat for reasons other than being hungry. Offer other rewards, such as stickers, a special toy, or a special activity.

Which foods should I feed my child? The number of servings that your child needs from each food group depends on his age and activity level. Ask your dietitian how many servings your child needs.

  • Fruits and vegetables: Half of your child's plate should contain fruits and vegetables.
    Plate Model

    • Fruits: Offer fresh, canned, or dried fruit instead of fruit juice as often as possible.

      • 1 cup of fruit juice

      • 1 cup of sliced, diced, cooked, or canned fruit

      • 1 large peach, orange, or banana

      • ½ cup of dried fruit

    • Vegetables: Offer more dark green, red, and orange vegetables. Dark green vegetables include broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, and collard greens. Examples of orange and red vegetables are carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and red peppers.

      • 1 cup of cooked or raw vegetables

      • 1 cup of vegetable juice

      • 2 cups of raw leafy greens

  • Grains: Half of the grains your child eats each day should be whole grains.

    • Whole grains:

      • ½ cup of cooked brown rice or cooked oatmeal

      • 1 cup of whole-grain dry cereal

      • 1 slice of 100% whole-wheat or rye bread

    • Other grains:

      • ½ cup of cooked white rice or pasta

      • ½ of an English muffin

      • 1 small flour or corn tortilla

      • 1 mini bagel

  • Dairy foods: Offer fat free or low-fat dairy foods.

    • 1½ ounces of hard cheese (mozzarella, Swiss, cheddar)

    • 1 cup (8 ounces) of low-fat or fat free milk or yogurt

    • 1 cup of low-fat frozen yogurt or pudding

  • Meat and other protein sources: Offer lean meats and poultry. Bake, broil, and grill meat instead of frying it. Include a variety of seafood in place of some meat and poultry each week. Offer a variety of protein foods.

    • 1 egg

    • ¼ cup of cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils (1 ounce)

    • 1 small chicken breast or 1 small steak (about 3 ounces)

    • 1 small lean hamburger (2 to 3 ounces)

  • Fats: Limit saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. These unhealthy fats are found in shortening, butter, stick margarine, and animal fat. Offer the following healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats).

    • 1 tablespoon of canola, olive, corn, sunflower, or soybean oil

    • 1 tablespoon of soft margarine

    • 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise

    • 2 tablespoons of salad dressing


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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