Healthy Diet for Children 1 to 11 Years of Age
What is a healthy diet for children one to eleven years of age?
- A healthy diet for children has enough nutrients for them to grow and have energy. The nutrients children need include protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The amount of nutrients your child needs changes as he grows. His nutrient needs also depend on the amount of physical activity he does every day. A healthy diet also limits unhealthy foods that are high in fat and sugar.
- A healthy diet helps a child to stay at a normal weight. Staying at a normal weight during childhood may keep a child from having certain health problems later in life. These health problems include obesity (being overweight), diabetes and heart disease.
What foods should I avoid giving to my child?
- High-sugar, high-fat snack foods, juice, fruit drinks, soda, and milk between meals can decrease your child's appetite. This may cause him to eat less at mealtimes and not grow well. Your child may develop iron deficiency (dee-FISH-en-see) anemia (low levels of iron in his blood). Iron deficiency anemia can affect your child's growth and ability to learn. In some cases, your child may eat all his food during mealtime in addition to these snacks and drinks between meals. This could cause your child to gain too much weight.
- Some foods may cause younger children (under three years old) to choke. Young children who do not have all their teeth cannot chew and swallow easily. Some of these foods include hot dogs or chunks of meat, large pieces of fruit or vegetables, potato chips, hard candy, nuts, and popcorn.
What can I give my toddler (one to two years old) to eat and drink?
- Feed your toddler a variety of foods from all the food groups. Serve portions (amounts) that are right for your toddler. One tablespoon of each food for each year of your child's age is a good way to decide how much to give him. For example, if your child is two years old, give him two tablespoons of each food at mealtime. Serve more food if your child is still hungry. Your child will tell you if he is still hungry or he has eaten enough. Do not force your child to eat.
- Limit the amount of fruit juice your toddler drinks to four to six ounces (one-half to three-fourths of a cup) each day. Toddlers who drink too much juice may not drink enough water and milk. Drinking too much juice may also cause a child to get full and not want to eat solid foods.
What can I give my child (two to eleven years old) to eat and drink? The number of servings that your child needs from each food group depends on his age. Ask your caregiver, a dietitian, or a nutritionist how many servings your child needs. Below you will find a list of food groups and serving sizes for children.
Grain Group: Children should eat six to eleven servings each day.
- One slice of bread, half of a hamburger or hot dog bun, or half of an English muffin or bagel.
- One ounce or about one cup of ready-to-eat cereal.
- Half of a cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta.
- One 7-inch flour or corn tortilla.
- Two to three graham cracker squares.
- One 4-inch pancake or pita bread.
Vegetable Group: Children should eat three to five servings each day.
- One cup of raw, leafy vegetables, or one cup of bean or vegetable soup.
- Half of a cup of chopped raw or cooked vegetables.
- Three-fourths of a cup of vegetable juice.
- Half of a cup of tomato or spaghetti sauce.
- One medium baked potato.
- Ten regular size french fries.
Fruit Group: Children should eat two to four servings each day.
- One medium apple, banana, peach, pear, or nectarine.
- Half of a cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit.
- Three-fourths of a cup of fruit juice.
- Half of a cup of berries or watermelon pieces.
Milk Group: Children should eat two to three servings each day.
- One cup of milk or yogurt.
- One and a half ounces of natural cheese (such as cheddar).
- Two ounces of processed cheese (such as American cheese).
- Half of a cup of cottage cheese, ice cream, frozen yogurt, or pudding.
Meat Group: Children should eat two servings each day (one serving equals two to three ounces).
- Two to three ounces of cooked lean meat, fish, or poultry.
- One egg (one egg equals one ounce).
- One cup of cooked dried beans or tofu (one cup equals two ounces).
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter (two tablespoons equal one ounce).
- One-half of a cup of drained canned salmon or tuna (one-half of a cup equals two ounces).
- One soy burger patty (one patty equals one ounce).
What are some guidelines for feeding my preschool child (one to six years old)? Preschool children have eating habits that are different than school-age children. Below are some nutrition guidelines for preschool children.
- Children between one and two years of age will make a mess while they learn to feed themselves. It is important to 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.
- Small children can be very selective (picky). One day they may like a certain food and the next day they will decide they do not like it. They may eat only one or two foods for a whole week. Your child may not like for a food to be mixed with other foods. For example, he may like plain spaghetti without meat sauce. These changes in eating habits are normal. Continue to make healthy meals and snacks for him with two or three foods at each snack or meal.
- Give your child whole milk until he is two years old. His body needs the extra fat in whole milk to help him grow. After he turns two years old, he can drink skim or low-fat milk (such as one or two percent milk).
- Serve a variety of healthy foods for your child to eat at each meal and snack. 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. Your child will decide how much of the food he wants to eat. Serve your child's food on a small plate. Give him small portions and then let him have another serving if he asks for one.
- Your child may not want to try new foods. 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. Sometimes, children need to see a new food as many as eight or ten times before they are willing to eat it. Forcing your child to eat a food he does not want to eat may make him dislike it even more.
What are some guidelines for feeding my school-age child (six to eleven years old)? School-age children usually have fewer feeding problems than preschool children. School-age children make more of their own food choices.
- Encourage your child to choose low-fat healthy foods such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk products. If your child regularly eats high-fat foods, he may want to keep eating them as he gets older. Avoid having high-fat foods available 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 have other health problems when they are adults.
- Children eat most of their meals at school. Many children also take their own lunches. If you pack your child's lunch, pack a healthy lunch. For example, pack a sandwich with a protein such as lean meat, cheese or peanut butter. Add a fruit, vegetable, milk and a dessert. A simple dessert could include graham crackers or a cookie. Make sure that your child's lunch is kept cold so that it does not spoil. Teach your child what food choices make up a healthy diet, especially if he eats lunch from a school cafeteria. Visit the school at lunchtime and look at the foods being served. You may decide that your child's diet would be healthier if packed lunches were sent instead.
What are some guidelines for children of all ages?
Provide healthy meals and snacks for your child. Breakfast is an important meal for your child. Eating breakfast may help your child to pay attention in school and eat healthier throughout the day. Prepare healthy meals with foods from all the different food groups. Buy healthy snack foods for your children. Good snack ideas are dry cereal, with or without milk, crackers with cheese, fruit, raw vegetables, yogurt, popcorn, and pretzels.
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.
Your child will be very hungry on some days and want to eat less on other days. Your child will be more active on some days than others, and he will have growth spurts at times. Your child will want to eat more during these times. As long as your child eats a variety of foods during the week, it is OK if he eats more on some days and less on other days.
Do not use food as a reward for eating all of a meal, or for doing other good things. This teaches your child to eat for reasons other than being hungry. Find other rewards that are not food, such as stickers, playing with a special toy, or doing a special activity together. Praise your child's good eating habits.
Other healthy tips:
- Make sure your child gets regular physical activity. Regular physical activity can help your child to be at a healthy weight and have healthy bones. Regular physical activity can also improve your child's mood, and self esteem (your child's feelings about himself).
- Teach your child to brush his teeth at least twice every day. Some foods, especially sweet, sticky foods can cause tooth decay. Talk to your caregiver about whether your child needs a fluoride supplement.
- Ask your caregiver, a dietitian, or a nutritionist any questions you may have about what to feed your child. A dietitian or nutritionist works with you to find right foods to eat. Dietitians and nutritionists can also help to make a healthy diet a regular part of your child's life.
Risks: Not eating a healthy diet can keep your child from growing well. Some children may develop iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can affect your child's growth and ability to learn. Eating too much food or eating too much high-fat foods can cause your child to become overweight. Being overweight during childhood may cause your child may to be overweight as an adult and have other health problems.
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.
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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.
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